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Waste Time Like a Pro

Use these tips from North U's Bill Gladstone to hit the line right on time, with speed.

February 12, 2008
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Waste Time Like a Pro

Dave Reed

Once you’re late approaching the start, there’s no way to recover. Even if you approach with perfect timing, you’re still in danger of being late if anything slows you down. Therefore, your best option is to approach the line early and kill time accordingly.

While most of us are highly skilled at wasting time ashore, many racers could use a little help wasting time around the starting line. Here are a few ways to control your speed and time your approach so you hit the line on time at full speed.

Set up a Runway
In an ideal world, we’d accelerate to the line on a reach then blast off on a closehauled course with room to leeward. In the real world, we rarely have room for a full speed run, so the challenge becomes securing a space in the front row without getting too close to the line.

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You need to set yourself up with a runway leading towards the place you want to start. The length of runway you need varies with boat type and wind speed and also depends on your initial speed. If you’re stopped, you’ll need a longer runway than if you are already moving at half speed.

As you taxi towards your runway on your final approach to the line, you want to be a little early and then kill some time, keeping far enough from the line so as to allow yourself enough room and time to accelerate to full speed by the time the gun goes off.

Kill a Little Time

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One obvious way to slow the boat is to luff the sails. Don’t turn the bow into the wind; just dump your sheets for a full luff or ease partway for a partial luff. Luffing can be an effective way to kill a little time, but the difficulty is in retrimming. If you call for trim at the instant you want speed, you’re already too late. Call for trim early in order to allow both the crew and the boat time to respond. On boats with large, overlapping genoas or big mains, retrimming the sails after luffing can take a particularly long time. Another problem with luffing is that it tends to drag the boat to leeward, giving away space we’d rather preserve for acceleration. Luffing the jib and overtrimming the main is one way to squeeze up, slow down, and build space to leeward. A better option may be forereaching (see below).

One alternative to luffing is overtrimming. When reaching, trimming the sails to closehauled will slow the boat. As opposed to luffing then retrimming, it’s much quicker to overtrim then ease (or head up).

A variation on overtrimming is forereaching. From a closehauled course, overtrim and head up above closehauled by about 15 degrees. This will slow the boat and also create a space to leeward for accleration. To accelerate, hike hard, bear off, and ease just past closehauled trim. Easing the main first will allow the jib to help pull the bow down.

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Oversteering is another effective way to kill time. Big sweeping turns increase your sailing distance and slow the boat, while sharp turns can slow the boat dramatically. To accelerate from oversteering, ease the sails from closehauled trim (much as you would when coming out of a tack).

Kill a Little More Time
There are a number of reasons why you may find yourself with a lot of time to kill: you’ve turned back early to avoid sailing into a big crowd, the breeze is up, you misjudged the current, or you just made an error in judgement (yes, it happens).

To kill a bunch of time, try a 360. Spinning a 360 burns a significant amount of time without using up any runway. Make your move early enough in the sequence and far enough from the line so as to allow yourself enough time and distance to accelerate, as the turns will definitely slow you down. When planning a 360, allow at least one second per foot of waterline. Often it’ll take a bit longer, particularly given how long it takes to get back up to full speed. Practice making tight turns in either direction and time each maneuver.

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The double tack is another great time-wasting trick. Pulling a double tack scrubs off a lot of speed and shifts you to the right on the line, creating space for you to bear off and accelerate. By varying the angle you sail between tacks you can control how far right you shift and how close to the line you end up. The double tack requires practice, and you may find it necessary to back the jib in order to get the bow around quickly on the slower second tack. As with the 360, it’s critical to practice this maneuver in order to see how much time you really burn.

The most dramatic stall tactic is the Big Dive. This move shifts you left and, as compared to the small burn techniques above, takes you further away from the line. For every second you dive you also buy yourself a second of distance, a double payoff as compared to parking. One advantage of the Big Dive is that it allows you to carry speed. Techniques that slow you down can leave you vulnerable to attack while you’re waiting to accelerate, but the Big Dive allows you to keep your speed and add distance, so you won’t run out of runway.

The 360, double tack, and Big Dive all take room and can be difficult to pull off in a crowd. The real secret in all these techniques is recognizing when you are early. As you approach the line, guess how long it will take you to get there, then see how long it actually takes. This is a technique you can practice any time you are on the water (or even in your car). If you can recognize early that you’re early, you can make good use of your time-wasting techniques and leave yourself with a runway long enough to get you to the line on time at full speed.

Bill Gladstone is the director of education at North U. He’s been teaching sailing and racing since 1973. Learn more about North U books, CDs, clinics, and coaching at www.northu.com.

Want more advice on starting? Check out these Experts stories:

Better Starts in Current
5 Steps to a Better Start
Spread the Work in the Pre-Start
Consistency Is Made Before the Start

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