Harken Derm

The Three-Boat Starting Line

Published on July 7th, 2016

by Ken Legler, National Race Officer and Head Sailing Coach of Tufts University
Long before there was a Black Flag rule I had the honor and challenge to PRO the 470 class World Championship with 75 boats. Former Olympian Gardner Cox came along one day as an on-board observer. So I asked him, “What do you do if you set square lines and too many boats keep starting over early?”

“My son, at some point you have to start sending them home.”

I didn’t want to do that. Every entry in that event traveled a long way, some from halfway around the planet. We were using a mid-line boat and discovered two tricks that solved the problem. By dropping the mid-line boat back just two to four feet, competitors arriving in the front row could see two flags lined up and stopped moving forward. They could see the line! They also knew they would be caught if they went any further because we used the one-minute, round-the-ends-rule, now known as rule 30.1, I flag rule.

Using three line boats properly and flag I for prep signal this method virtually eliminates recall problems. When competitors first arrive on the line they know to go no further because they can see the line flags lining up. More important the race committee has not one or two, but four sets of eyes watching different parts of the line, one spotter on each end and two spotters in the middle boat looking both ways.

Why flag I? It’s not about the penalty or threat of having to sail all the way to an end if caught. It’s about the ability of the race committee to write down any boat they see from one-minute on, rather than trying to take a mental photograph at the gun.

It is my firm belief that general recalls are very unfair. General recalls are also a huge waste of time. Let’s say boats A, B, and C make awesome starts but boats C-J are over and only a few can be identified. Two guns, first repeater, do-over start. Now the Black Flag comes out. On the next start A, B, and C are over but C-J make great starts. A-C are told to stop racing but C-J are fully exonerated. What happened to the great starts by A-C at the scheduled time and where is the penalty for C-J starting illegally the first time? See the inequity?

With a little race committee practice it can be done when it counts. Write a script for different possibilities and practice on the water with ground tackle and radios for twenty minutes before the first race.

Some sailors like the Black Flag. Why? Because it eliminates some of their competition before the race even starts regardless of entry fee or distance traveled. What a shame.

Source: Bacardi Miami Sailing Week

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