One of the things that I really need to do is to find a way of improving my starts in Laser races. But until a few days ago I hadn't really worked out what I was doing wrong or how best to practice to improve.
Then I came across an article and video by Vaughan Harrison on the International Sailing Academy website. If you haven't heard of ISA before it's a training center in Mexico for Laser, Laser Radial and Optimist sailors. I'm hoping to spend a week there soon but the dates didn't work out for me this season.
Reading the article and watching the video, I came to the conclusion that I have been doing starts all wrong.
Assuming that I actually manage to secure a place in the front row on the start line, my current approach is basically to sit there with the sail luffing and to try and stay level with the other boats before it's time to pull the trigger and go. If I find myself drifting too far to leeward I shoot up a bit. And if I feel that I'm pointing too high and am actually in irons and have lost steerage, I will scull down a bit closer to a close-hauled course. Apart from that I am fairly quiet and passive in the boat.
But the article and video from ISA recommend a much more active approach using three maneuvers....
1. Sculling down to close-hauled and then shooting up. Apparently if you do this right you can open up a larger gap to leeward. I had never thought before of linking these two into one move to gain height.
2. Sailing backwards. A good way to escape if you are too close to the boat to leeward or have fallen back from bow even with the boats around you. Once you have escaped from the line of boats you can decide whether to go and search for another hole, or to sail back into the same hole. Again, I have never (deliberately) sailed backwards at the start line before.
3. Double tack. If done right (by pushing the boom away from you immediately after shooting into the wind) you can gain distance to windward without accelerating forwards. I did learn how to do this in Menorca last year, but have never tried it in a real race yet.
And, of course, you can practice all three maneuvers on your own. Definitely something I plan to do once it's warm enough for some solo practice on the bay. Then when I have got the hang of doing these properly... watch out!
Here's the video...
And do go and check out the full ISA article. Vaughan explains it much better than I can...
Downspeed Maneuvers: The Key to a Better Start