Hamlin's Gate-Start Tips

Supplement to "For Big Fleets, A Better Way to Start?" a story in our November/December 2009 issue.

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Rich Roberts

Former 505 world champion Howie Hamlin shares his advice for getting a good gate start:

Follow a Routine
"I do the exact same thing every start. Basically, with two and a half minutes to go, I round the limit mark and sail off on port tack. This gives you a sense of the wind direction. I'll have my crew look for where there's the most pressure, and we'll decide which side of the course we want to go to.

"We tend start about 30 to 40 percent of the way down the line. That's not based on time, but on the number of people we've passed. We look for a spot where there's a low density of boats, and gybe into position.

"At this point, it's all about looking for the rabbit. That's the crew's number one job. As a skipper, my job is to figure out how to position the boat in relation to other boats.

"The key to getting a good start is, in the last minute, when everybody's stacked up on the line, you've got to carve out a hole so that you've got a gap to leeward and you're tucked up beneath the boat to windward. In that way, a gate start is not unlike a line start.

"Once you see the rabbit, you've got to pull the trigger at the right time. As the gate launch approaches, you want to accelerate so you hit the line with speed. The launch usually causes a surge as it's going by, so you need to compensate for that, especially in light wind."

Choose Wisely
"One thing about gate starts is you tend to get locked into a side of the course depending on where you start relative to the fleet.

"If you think the right is favored, you'll want to gate late; if you think the left is favored, gate early.

"Frankly, over the course of a regatta, you're generally best off to start in the middle or about 40 percent of the way down the line."

The Ups and Downs of Being the Rabbit
"Being the rabbit is either really good or really bad. The good news is you're guaranteed a good start because you've got a two-boatlength jump on everybody. The bad news is you're automatically forced to the right side of the course."

Dive Right In
"Don't bother practicing gate starts with a small fleet. You can't simulate what it's going to be like with a big fleet. If you try to practice a gate start with just a few boats, you may actually be worse off. There's just too much space. When there are 100 boats on the line, everybody's gunnel to gunnel. You're better off just throwing yourself into the fire in a big fleet. It's really hard."