Could we have it backwards at the start?

Published on May 17th, 2023

The format is always the same. The Race Committee boat is positioned at the starboard-end of the start line and is the location for the Principal Race Officer. At the start, this is where the flags are raised, the horns are honked, and early starters are recorded. But as the esteemed William Smoak, M.D. reports, we may have some of this backwards:

In the recent Scuttlebutt article, Start Sequence Sound Signals, it states how “…in a competitive 60 boat One-Design fleet, it is more important to look DOWN the line at the flags on the Race Committee signal vessel…” Good advice as racing Rule 26 is quite specific, “Times shall be taken from the visual signals.”

However, observation from a starboard-end signal vessel of a 60-boat One-Design fleet approaching the starting line may reveal few if any faces turned your way as the crew are facing the port-end. The Racing Rules of Sailing are obviously the reason for their orientation.

Rule 10 favors boats that start on starboard-tack, with boat and crew approaching the line on an angle towards the port-end. Rule 11 promotes the crew to face the port-end, to observe and keep clear of favored leeward boats. The resulting scenario: a race committee that displays visual signals on the starboard-end makes them behind the port-end facing crews.

Display of visual signals from a port-end signal vessel would facilitate the port facing crew to, “look DOWN the line at the flags”. Optimistically, this might improve starts and reduce the number of boats OCS, at least until technology develops sufficiently and supersedes visual flag signals for race management.

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