Winning an End
Winning an End
The ends of the starting line are high-risk, high-reward zones. Good time and distance management can put you where you want to be. From the Experts in our July/August 2010 issue
A few months back, we talked about the importance of establishing a set routine for starts—something that will help ensure you’re in a predictable place at a predictable time (January/February 2010). A natural extension of the routine is to use that system to help win either the pin end or the boat end of the start—and determine when to bail if things start to unravel. Let’s take a look at each situation.
Win the pin
The problem with trying to win the pin is that, if you’ve decided the pin is the best place to start, five other people have probably reached the same conclusion. This usually results in a string of boats coming in on port tack with most headstrong people trying to be at the tail end of the line. That group is like a magnet—teams fighting for the pin generally fight to be the last boat in the port train and arrive too late to have a good start.
When I’m trying for a pin-end start, my whole plan is based on the idea that I don’t want to be part of the magnetic pack fighting to be the last boat in. Let the other boats congest that area and leave yourself in a position where, with around 2 minutes left, you still have the option of deciding whether it’s worth the risk or whether you should go for a more conservative start further up the line from the pin.
Here’s how it’s done: From the start routine described in my previous article, start by shortening the time you’re passing by the pin, on port tack, to around 2m:30s rather than 3 minutes. Instead of slowly diverging from the line, as you would if you were planning to start further up the line, sail more parallel to the line, perhaps two to three boatlengths to leeward of it. By sailing more parallel to the line and not getting into the parade, you can make your final decision at less than 2m:00s. If there’s a pack 30 seconds from the pin when there’s 1m:30s remaining, you can say, it’s just not worth it—let’s go behind them; there’s plenty of time to get up the line a little bit and create a hole.
This does two things: First, from the perspective of the other boats, there’s no real indication you’re going to be going after the pin end. Secondly, if we look back and see a huge clump of boats at the pin, suggesting the odds of winning it are really slim, we are still in good shape for a mid-line start. If we stay at the pin and it becomes congested with teams more concerned with being the last boat in the train than having a good start, the only way out is to leave on port, go up the line early, looking for a hole to tack into. If this happens, you’re guaranteed there will be 10 other boats right behind you, doing the same thing—you’re in the wrong spot, in front of a big pack of boats rather than behind them, where you have more control over your destiny.
If you decide it looks clear at the pin, you can see everyone is on port following you, and you decide to go for it, the next move is a jibe. Turn down, jibe, and sail back toward the pin on starboard. Now, you want to be the last boat in line, unless there’s an outlier that’s just being an idiot. Then, trim up to close-hauled and tack as close to the last boat’s transom as possible. Now you can attack. Depending on the wind, the boat you tacked behind can’t tack because of your position, and you’ll be able to tack into his hole. If there’s a starboard-tacker coming in that will force him to tack, you do need to give him room to do that, however. The goal is to be close behind so you are in control of the decision about when to tack. If you’re coming in a little late, position yourself just to windward of that boat; if you’re early, position yourself slightly below him or right on his line. Then, using your knowledge of the time and distance required to get to the pin, it’s a standard tack into his hole and accelerate to the pin.