Better Starts in Current
Better Starts in Current
When there's current flowing across the starting line, there are opportunities aplenty to score the perfect start. "From the Experts" in our June 2010 issue
Starting at the pin in foul current will be very difficult, because the layline gets increasingly thin. The pin’s anchor chain can be a snare trap for not only the pin-most boat in the fleet, but also its windward neighbors, as they all pinch to fetch the mark. Fighting the current is a losing battle, especially in a slow-moving pack, so think ahead.
Conversely, starting at the boat will become easier in foul current. Often times, being late at the boat can be a genius move as the fleet is pushed down away from the line. Boats waiting above the committee boat can easily swoop into the widening gap with great acceleration in the final seconds.
Sideways to the current
When the current is flowing across the starting line from starboard to port, treat the scenario as if it were foul current. The committee boat end will be relatively open and the pin will be crowded thanks to the laylines shifting to shallower positions. It will take no time at all on starboard tack to get clear under the committee boat, so be patient. Setting up late outside the boat end might be a viable option if you want to promptly get to the right side of the racecourse. The pin end, however, will be getting closer even when you don’t want it to, so being proactive about starting farther from the pin will greatly reduce risk.
When the current is moving from port to starboard, treat the scenario as if it’s fair current. The committee boat end will be crowded, shutting out a lot of the regular traffic in that zone. The best plan is to establish yourself in a hole early because there will be a lot of boats squeezed out at the boat end looking for lanes down the line. On the other hand, the pin-end will be much easier to win because you can afford to get very deep in the starting box and still lay the anchor chain. This could be a great opportunity to win the pin with a late hook. The risk of a pin-end start is severely diminished as the current increases left to right across the line.
1. Always do a current check as soon as you get to the racing area. In big breeze, you can see wind-drift current lines even on lakes or non-tidal situations.
2. Review local tide charts. Many local boat shops have detailed current maps broken down hourly. When it comes to current geography: Locals know best, so ask at the local bait shop, too.
3. History can be dangerous! Even with good local knowledge, the current will not be the same day-to-day or even year-to-year. For instance, if it rained for three days before the regatta, the incoming tide at the surface may be less as the rainwater ebbs.
4. Make sure the reading is worthwhile. Sail by the committee boat or the leeward mark and drop a current reference. A specially made stick, a sponge, or a full water bottle will work—the ideal device is something that sinks to the depth of your keel or centerboard, is not impacted by the wind, and is easily retrieved. Let the reference float unimpeded for a timed minute so you understand the distance and direction over time. I like to refer to current in boatlengths-per-minute so that we can better gauge the distance we need for our final approach in the last minute of the start.