Oops bad start!

Published Wed 27 May 2020

Oops bad start!

It has happened to all sailors, some on a more regular basis than others it must be said. That horror start where it just doesn’t seem to happen? It could come down to many factors, which may have been an error of judgement on your behalf, a malfunction or because of other boats actions (or sometimes inactions). But we have been there, back in the ruck watching the other boats sailing away from us. This is usually accompanied by feelings of disappointment and frustration.

Address the issue

It is so very important not to wallow in self-pity but to look at ways to overcome the problem. Whilst there is no doubt that a loss has been made. It is our immediate priority to minimise the loss and try and get back into the race. We can look at the factors that caused the bad start later and rectify them for the future, no point bawling out the crew for that override on the winch when you need to be in recovery mode. We can’t change the past but can learn from it. It’s just spilt milk!
Get over it, get speed and get clear
The main thing is to get the boat moving and get out into clear air. Chances are you will be stuck in disturbed air and falling down across sterns. Don’t panic and try and pinch with everyone else but get the speed up, even if it means sailing low with cracked sheets, just get moving! Look around for the closest way to clear air, we will usually have to tack to get clear as often a sizeable number of the fleet will continue along on starboard tack. So tack and get out in clear air even if it means dipping other boats, just get to clear air as quickly as possible. On the odd instance the fleet may be tacking off early due to a wind-shift or a biased course, the closest way to clear unencumbered wind may be to keep going, but once clear, reassess the situation and work from there. If you are pinching or trying to point with the front row and as a result slow through the water, you will be doing a down speed tack and will lose further ground. Throw in another unplanned down speed tack to a starboard tacker you can’t dip or a mark you can’t lay and you will in all likelihood be stopped dead in the water. While the rest of the fleet races away literally leaving you in their wake.

Don’t wait for a miracle

There is a moment in all bad starts that we realise it is all going wrong, we have lost control of the situation. The earlier we recognise this, the sooner we can get into our recovery plan and minimise the loss. If you are struggling with no hope of getting up to the line, pinned above or below it and stuck in bad air with time to go. Then use that time to bear off, build speed and head toward clear air. Sitting there with no hope until the gun goes is just an exercise in frustration. Miracles don’t happen! If you wake up early enough and bale out you may be able to turn a potential shocker into an average start. Following that you will be well toward minimising the damage. If you can recognise the inevitable outcome with 30 seconds to go, you can use that 30 seconds to get out and begin to reposition. You will be a lot better off than waiting for the gun to go.

Grind it back

If we have lost a significant amount of distance early in the race, it is important to remember our race is not over. We have made our day a lot harder but not impossible. Don’t try and get all the ground lost back in one big grab by taking a flyer or risk. There is still a lot of race to unfold and many things may occur. By having a bad start we have set ourselves back and for a while will have to be reactive to other boats in our strategy and tactics. Once the fleet opens up and we get settled we can begin to try and be a bit more proactive in our decision making. Looking up at the boats ahead sailing the shifts can be beneficial in narrowing the gap. Invariably a few leaders that got away well will be very hard to haul back. But particularly in larger fleets there are generally clumps of boats being a nuisance to each other and slowing boats down and wide at marks etc. Opportunities may arise where you can haul back significant numbers. Just keep focussed and look to work your way back into the race.

As a coach I quite often point out to sailors that the races that start badly and end with a reasonable result are the races that win you regattas. The race where you lead all day is the most memorable and satisfying. But the race that you fight back in is more a testament to ability, level headedness and focus. In a regatta or a series, we are simply trying to finish with as few points on the board as we can. By limiting the loss after a bad start and we can go a long way toward achieving this.
So don’t lose your cool or give up, just remember the race is from here onwards.

Good Sailing



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