Running starts

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I was helping out at the 2005 MYA RM National Championships when the day 3 wind veered 90 degrees and came off the lakeside onto the water, making a conventional start more or less impossible to set.  Graham Bantock had told me about a discussion he had with sailors at an Italian event earlier in the year on setting a course with a running start, and I suggested to Farquar, the Race Officer, that this might be worth trying.

After extensive consultation and discussion with competitors and officials, Farquar put the untried idea into practice and a running start line was set.  There were some key ideas.  First, it seemed important to have a leeward gate so that the fleet could round in two directions. Second, the gate would need to be set pretty much parallel to the start line, so it wouldn't matter too much if the wind backed or veered, since most boats would arrive at the gate at roughly the same time and would then be able to beat to a "properly" set windward mark.  That is, other things being equal, the running start line would not show any particular bias.  Third, from there, the course would be set "as usual", with the gate taking the part of the "normal" start line, set to the wind as usual with bias and in relation to a windward mark.  Add an offset or wing mark and the remainder of the course falls into place.

As it turned out, the idea worked well.  The race officer was able to play with the leeward gate alignment to give it the same sort of bias that would be given to a start line, encouraging as even a distribution of port or starboard roundings as possible after observing the first couple of heats.  It also turned out that some boats were able to "downwind tack" quite effectively, and did not need to commit to either the port or starboard end of the gate until they were well down the run.  As Graham said afterwards, "Maybe we have the solution to a 40-year-old problem of setting courses with a highly unfavourable wind direction!"  The problem is forty years old, of course, for radio sailors;  vane sailors have been setting off on running starts since the sport began.


2011 Lester Gilbert