The Power of the Port Tack Start
In a recent Thursday night race, the smallest boat in the fleet was the only boat to read the wind on the starting line correctly and as a result won the start and the race. On the skewed starting line Emmett Dickheiser sailing the Beneteau Platu 25 RIPPLE, crossed the line on port at the left end and was able to comfortably cross in front of the whole fleet in clear air going fast, while all the boats on starboard were going slow in each other’s bad air as they had to pinch to cross the line.
Remember, not all starting lines are set square to the wind. The easiest way to know which end of the line is favored is to sail to the middle of the line and head straight into the wind. Your bow will point to the side of the line that is farther upwind. Starting at the favored end puts you ahead and in clear air.
When the starting line is skewed enough to the left, it is possible to catch the fleet off guard so that you can start on port tack as shown in this video. The video is a great example of how much of a lead you can get when the move is pulled off successfully. Most sailors are hard-wired to start on starboard at the right side of the starting line. It is what they have done forever. But to start well, you have to be a fast-thinking opportunist. You need to assess the fluid maneuverings of the fleet and the shifting wind – all while knowing where you want to go after the start. With so much to think about, many sailors cut out a few steps and just set up on starboard to play it safe. That creates an opportunity for alert sailors.