It Starts With a Good Start

Ace the start, and you'll look like a genius the whole way around the racecourse. As SW's Michael Lovett found out on Wednesday, the reverse holds true, too.

As I have most Tuesday nights for the past few summers, this Tuesday I raced in the Jamestown YC's PHRF series aboard Bill Porter's J/22 Conundrum. Because we race around navigational marks in Narragansett Bay, the races can get a little screwy, especially when the wind blows out of the west, as it did this week.

Trying to make sense of these screwball racecourses is part of the fun. When the RC posted the course, we realized we'd have a downwind start, that port jibe would be favored to the first mark, and that we'd want to take the chute down on the starboard side, since we'd be rounding the next windward mark to starboard. I told you these races get a little screwy.

Miraculously, our plan went just as planned. We set the chute on starboard seconds before the start, jibed to port, and left the fleet in our dust. We went on to complete a real-live horizon job—the first one I've experienced in years—and it felt great.

But I must have used up my luck, because the next night the polar opposite transpired. Sailing in Ida Lewis YC's Wednesday-night Shields series, our perfect start was foiled by a general recall. As always seems to happen, we tanked it on the start that counted, tacked to the wrong side of the course in search of clear air, and never recovered past mid fleet. After the race, we wondered why we were going so slow. Was it our rig tune? Our halyard tension? Maybe those factors played a role, but, for certain, it was our lousy start that flicked the all-important first domino.

So here's what I learned last night: Until you get a really good start, you have no idea how much it helps to get a really good start.