Spread the Work in the Pre-Start
Spread the Work in the Pre-Start
Getting a good start is an essential part of doing well in sailboat races-that much we all know. There are tricks and techniques specific to just about every flavor of start. But there's one fundamental technique that will help a team's chances of getting off the line in good shape no matter how it chooses to cross the starting line: it's something we call the "division of labor."
The concept is simple, but effective: assign specific jobs to the right people onboard and make sure each person focuses on doing his or her job, no matter what else is going on in the pre-start.
In setting up the division of labor for a pre-start, it's important that each crewmember is comfortable and confident they can do their assigned job in a consistent manner. Consistent is the key word here. It order for the division of labor to be effective, each crewmember must remain focused on their assignment regardless of what else is happening. One of the most common errors a crewmember can make during a start is to neglect their assignment in order to watch what is happening off the boat. For example, if the entire crew's attention is drawn to the bow of a leeward boat that is luffing up during the pre-start, then the crew assigned to watch up the course could miss a big wind shift or not see that a quick tack could result in a good start somewhere up the line. Likewise, the trimmers might lose track of their sail trim and fail to keep the boat at maximum speed. If each crewmember focuses on their assigned role, then only the helmsman and maybe one other crewmember should be watching that leeward boat.
In an article with Curtis Florence (Sailing World, May 2009), the veteran bowman talks about his role in getting a boat to the starting line on time. I won't go over that again here; just go back and read the article (www.sailingworld/0911florence). However, one bowman responsibility that Florence doesn't mention in that story is judging whether your boat is overlapped or clear behind a boat ahead. This knowledge is vital for the helmsman in a match-racing situation, and it can also be very important in fleet racing. Most bowmen use a swinging-arm motion to indicate that the bow is clear to swing past a transom.
In addition to the bowman's duties, there are several assignments that should be given to individual crewmembers, thereby taking the load off the helmsman and the tactician. One of the most obvious roles is calling the time to the start. Only one person should be in charge of this countdown, and they shouldn't have any other time-related responsibilities during the start. I like to know that when I hear this crewmember's voice, I'm hearing the time remaining until the starting gun. If that same person were, for example, calling the time remaining to the line, things could get very confusing for those at the back of the boat. In general, most boats do not call the time frequently enough. I like to hear it every 15 seconds until 1 minute remaining, then every 5 seconds until the last 15 seconds, which should be counted down individually. The person calling the time to the start should also be listening to the VHF radio for race committee communications-such as a course change or OCS calls-during and after the start.