Successful starting in big fleets

Published on September 7th, 2014

With nearly ninety teams expected for when racing begins Wednesday at the 2014 J/70 World Championship, getting off the start line will prove vital on the fabled waters of Newport, Rhode Island.

Bill Hardesty, who won the 95-boat Etchells Worlds in June at the same venue, explains how his team succeeded off the start line…

This is about risk management. We had a hard time determining the advantages on the course, whether a side would prove favorable. It proved to be a very tricky venue, where the right side would be favored on one upwind leg and the left side would be better for the next upwind leg, with no obvious reason why. We found it to be very mysterious.

So to manage the risk, we almost always started in the middle of the line. With the long line, there was a mid line boat, so we started near the boat, most of the time to the right of it, which helped us with our distance to the line. This allowed us get safe starts, and let our speed pull us to the front group. Our speed was top 10%, and after a few minutes off the line, you get a sense of which side of the course is favored. We’d dig in a bit, and get to the first weather mark no worse than 20th. From there we would chip away and post decent finish scores.

Another factor in start line placement is seeking low density areas. In big fleet starts, the wind is affected by bunched areas. An end might be favored, but if that end attracts a pack of boats, the advantage will be negated.

Our strategy, during our set-up to the line, would be to get on starboard tack a little sooner than the boats around us. We’d set-up high, aim deep on a broad reach to get down to the line, and this let people know we were going to start in that area, which most of the time would push people to other areas. We had a reputation as getting off the line well, and with decent speed, nobody wanted to be aside us. As the regatta progressed, it became easier to achieve low density starts.

NOTE: Scuttlebutt editor Craig Leweck is also a columnist for Sailing World magazine, where he interviewed Bill Hardesty following his Etchells Worlds victory. The complete interview is in Sept/Oct 2014 issue of Sailing World:

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