Top Tekkers: recovering from a bad start

Written by 2nd August 2018 Analysis, Featured-post, World Championships

In the first of our daily race analysis pieces from the Sailing World Championships, renowned sailing expert Mark Chisnell looks at how to recover from a bad start.

The first race in the Qualifying Series for the men’s 470 fleet at the Sailing World Championships saw British title contenders Luke Patience and Chris Grube showcase a skill that no-one wants to unpack – particularly in the first race of a world championships.

It’s nevertheless essential for anyone hoping to compete at this or any other level – recovering from a poor start.

Let’s set the scene first: the conditions are difficult, a light gradient wind from the west has been fighting with a sea breeze that was trying to fill from the south-east. The westerly had just about won the battle, but it was patchy and very shifty.

After a lengthy postponement the race officials had finally got a race underway in four to six knots. The men’s 470 yellow fleet had started ahead of them with the leaders coming from the left-hand side of the course at the first mark – although both sides had looked good at times.

The problems started for Patience and Grube with thirty seconds to go as we can see in Image 1 below – they are the highlighted blue boat GBR4. They were the windward boat of a group that had all ended up head to wind, ghosting towards the line.

Problems start for Patience and Grube.

Image 1: problems start for Patience and Grube.

This was a bad place to be, since the standard starboard tack start in a big competitive fleet like this demands a gap to leeward to accelerate into… and they have five boats all tight to leeward of them. Worse, there was no escape route to windward.

In Image 2 we can see the situation a few seconds after the gun. I’ve highlighted the three British boats at this point since the red boat, GBR 878 (Arran Holman and Marcus Tressler) and yellow boat GBR55 (Martin Wrigley and James Taylor) deserve an honourable mention for excellent starts, with Holman/Tressler leading off the line. Wrigley and Taylor went on to finish third – great work by two young teams.

Image 2: the situation just after the start of race 1

Image 2: the situation just after the start of race 1

Both those two teams had managed to create a little gap to leeward and get their nose in front of the boats around them. In doing so, they may have been partly and unwittingly responsible for the big bunch jammed up under the leeward bow of Patience and Grube.

It’s the calm and classy way that the latter pair responded to the situation that I want to look at here though – they could have tried to tough it out and carried on on starboard tack. After all, if the left was going to pay at the top, that was the way they needed to go… but it rarely pays to sail in that much dirty air for that long.

Instead, they bailed out onto port tack the instant it was possible and a gap opened up, as we can see in Image 2. At this moment, they were ranked 27th out of 32, and that’s not a great start to the championship for one of the British Sailing Team’s top medal contenders. The key to recovery was to stay calm and do the right thing…

In Image 3 we can see them execute beautifully, demonstrating the advantage of getting onto port tack as they broke through into clear air almost immediately. Just thirty seconds after the start – after going behind a couple of boats – Patience and Grube were in clear air, with no one to dictate tactics to them they could sail their own race.

Image 3: Patience and Grube break into clean air

Image 3: Patience and Grube break into clean air

In Image 4 – now the light green highlighted boat – we see them do just that to great impact. This was a couple of minutes after the start. They have picked the perfect moment to tack back to starboard. They were nicely positioned to leeward and ahead of the only boat coming from their right, while they will cross in front of the group immediately to their left.

Image 4: Patience and Grube tack onto starboard

Image 4: Patience and Grube tack onto starboard

There was a big bunch still ahead of them further to their left (at the bottom of Image 4) but they are back in the middle of the pack. And they had bought themselves some time in clear air to make their speed work and get them back into the front row.

We can see in Image 5 how they complete the recovery by holding that starboard tack all the way out to the left-hand side of the first leg. They found a good wind shift to come back on port tack towards the mark and were as high as tenth as they approached it.

Image 5: Patience and Grube complete their recovery

Image 5: Patience and Grube complete their recovery

They eventually rounded the mark in twelfth, after negotiating the long line of nose to tail starboard tackers that had overstood the top mark. Four legs later they had converted that initial recovery to a very respectable seventh at the finish, all in conditions that could best be described as tricky.