By Airwaves Writer Zach Brown
Team racing is comparable to a soft science major like psychology because it requires a healthy balance of rigid by-the-book-plays and creative genius to succeed. At certain times in the race you must be disciplined and at others you need to be smart. Successful starting demands the key mix of structure and creativity that is shared between the positions of the boat end, the middle, and the pin end.
A modified zone starting strategy is the best approach to the start because it provides structure while offering the ability to switch and shift. The boat end starter is the gate keeper who is risk averse and very disciplined because 95% of his/her role is predetermined. The middle starter is the most creative and similar to a rogue James Bond character with the license to kill because he/she must be opportunistic in each situation. The pin end starter is 80% disciplined and usually the most risk loving because he/she lives and dies by the sword.
One of the best ways to view the role of each position is to recognize the percentage of time a boat leads or chases in the prestart. The table below outlines some general strategies. Other factors come into play such as wind strength and shiftiness. The stronger the wind, the more power to the chasing boat. The lighter the wind, the better it is to lead. A shifty northerly wind favors leading.
Pin Starter: Stone Cold
Pin end starters play a tough game that usually results in either a first place or a sixth place start. The best pin end starters love to get deep in the bottom left of the starting box and make an educated guess of where the pin end starboard tack layline lies. If the starter executes an accurate layline call and smartly manages his/her distance to the start line than the opponent can only do two things, setup on the hip and hope to live in a thin lane off the line, or kamikaze underneath and take out both parties. The best pin end starters exude confidence, work well with the middle teammate during the start, and understand how to stretch out the line to make space for teammates mix it up in the starting box.
Middle Starter: Ferocious
The middle starter’s job is not easily defined and usually undervalued do to its complexity. A middle starter must juggle many jobs and prioritize them on the fly. While the boat and pin starters work within the confines of rules and plays, the middle starter uses creativity to orchestrate a great team start. The first thing to consider before the start is which side of the start line is favored and then focus on being on that side of the opponent at go. The second strategy to develop is picking up/taking out opponents at vulnerable times and controlling them until the start. Many times the boat or pin opponent will cycle out and that is a prime opportunity to shake up the system and get the other team out of their rhythm by engaging a new opponent. The third job, which occurs at 20 seconds to go, is to organize the sandwich and determine if it’s an animal burger (two teammates at the pin), a single burger (blue, red, blue, red), or a double burger (blue, red, red, blue). Traits of a good middle starter include working well with teammates, recognizing opportunities to switch positions, saving teammates from tough situations, and organizing the team’s start in the last 30 seconds to go.
Boat Starter: Disciplined
The boat position is a duty that all other teammates should sincerely appreciate. It’s considered a duty, not a privilege because no matter how great a start you can achieve at the boat, you still have to obey the rule of protecting right at all costs. The boat starter embodies the phrase “I got your back” because if your blind side isn’t covered, the whole team could be in a world of pain. The boat starter is the gate keeper because he/she manages the entire right side of the course and can let teammates get back into the game on the right side of the course after ducking out, or can eliminate the other team’s options to get back in the race by slamming any boat trying to escape to the right. The attributes of a boat starter include extreme discipline and excellent timing. There is little room for error at the boat and timing is everything.
Positioning is only important if the timing to the start gun is correct. Having control of an opponent at 25 seconds is entirely different from having control of an opponent at 10 seconds. It is important to recognize that each boat has its unique cycle time. The best way to learn how to start a boat you’ve never sailed is to count the time it takes to tightly circle out of the startline with a tack, gybe, and full acceleration. An FJ is maybe 15 seconds in medium wind while a Sonar is 35 seconds. Once the cycle out time is known for the breeze velocity and current strength, you should be able to judge if your opponents are early, late, or right on time to the line.
A good rule of thumb is that if you are consistently starting poorly it’s usually because you are too early to the start line. The best fix is to cycle out at the 20 second time period by letting the trailing boat hook your leeward stern while you tack out and re-setup. The goal is to put the opponent in a position that is awkward and vulnerable in the last seconds to the start.
It’s Called TEAM Racing
Take some time to sit down with your teammates and have an honest discussion with constructive criticism about how each of you can work together better to generate some strong team starting chemistry. Having good prestart rhythm is an unquantifiable skill that makes two seemingly equal teams on paper vastly different on the score sheet. The discussion doesn’t start with “you were in my way.” It takes a real leader to get up and admit their mistakes.