*How to Win the Start*

By Tradewinds Member Eric Pederson

5:05 PM my cell rings. I am in the marina parking lot gathering my gear, the flags are ripping hard in the wind. I am the skipper and scheduled to meet my race crew “around 5PM”. It is Lorenzo.

Laughter. “Where are you – we’re going to leave without you. The boat’s all ready.” The crew is rarin’ to go!

There is a huge finger of dark low cloud above us as we motor through the chop in the marina. We share jokes, and remember all the lessons we have learned over the last 3 races, some by excellent outside tutelage, some by our own mistakes. We raise the reefed main in 20 knots of wind and we are sailing; we unfurl the genoa and the boat heels until our rail is in the water. The boat is wet but full of high spirits, laughter and gusto.

It has always been a fearless team, but now we have technique.

Team predictions? We don’t want to jinx ourselves, but we can sail pretty well. This could be our night for victory in this little fishbowl.

Gene works the main sheet, and is our start tactician. He explains he spent 10 minutes sitting with the race marshall just to make sure he completely understood the starting flags and sequence, which is a little convoluted. We could be aggressive with such certainty of when the gun would go off.

When we started racing together, we sailed in races; it was like how people day sail, except we were more focused and in a race. Now, it is a whole new ball game: sheets are never cleated, but instead are playing by hand the whole time. and adjusted instant to instant. I steer for the puffs of winds and to ride each wave. Gene and Lorenzo ease and tighten the sheets in reaction to how the helm feels. We are coordinated, nearly of a single mind.

Finally the race committee boat is out, anchored, and we watch for the first flag. There it goes! Stop watch clicked. 5 minutes to the gun. We tack and jibe around the start line, moving through the water fast and wet, taking and yielding right of way, and trying not to hit any of the other boats who sometimes look at the limit of control, as perhaps do we. We get back to the long diagonal line with 2 minutes to go. Down one way, up the other, and finally, boom, the gun goes off and we shoot across the line, alone.

The start of a race is an exciting moment. Tonight the wind is very fresh, and we are sailing well and fast. We notice one competing boat windward and slightly ahead of us, but my crew tells me they jumped the start. Ha ha shame on them, we’ll protest, they need to go back over the start line. They turn around and go back, and we look behind us.

We have really gotten an amazing start, for there are no boats on our tail, in fact, the other boats seemed to have misjudged the start completely. We are sailing fast down The Reach, closing in on the first mark, and we are sailing absolutely alone. This is perfect, this is too good to be true.

We know this is too good to be true, but our tactician is sure we got it right. The wind suddenly dies down and we hunt for some race collateral in the cabin. It appears we needed to wait for the second gun shot. We crossed the line precisely 5 minutes early.

Looking back now we can see our race coming at us. We tack and head back toward them, but we are sailing slowly in a light spot of wind, so we motor back toward the line as fast as we can; but even as we do this we know our race is over, there is no way to get back to the line and into our race.

We kill the motor and decide to sail and to just have fun. We sail back toward our race wave until they are all ahead of us, then we tack again and follow behind them.

While we are out of the race, we can still race for fun. We are perhaps 10 boat lengths behind the rear most boat. We keep trimming the sails and working the helm, after making the first mark, and suddenly we are even and pulling ahead. The next boat is 6 boat lengths up, but we seem to be gaining. Our speed is good, our spirit is better. They beat us to the second mark, but not by much.

We tack around the second mark and steer windward of them on a hunch the wind will favor us there. Slowly, foot by foot, we gain on them. We try sail adjustments to find that extra half-knot of speed. The wind, which has been off and on, is light here, and we wish we were allowed to shake out the reef in our main. Get the boom vang on, I say, but when the boom vang is hardened, the boom comes right with it midships, as there is so little wind on the sail. Laughter.

Still we gain and come up along our competitor and, putting them in our wind shadow, we move ahead nicely. They respond, re-trimming their sails, and trying to go windward of us. We play a game of cat and mouse in close quarters over the next half mile to the finish line. We manage to keep our slight advantage and beat them to the finish.

And as we cross the line, the wind rises, and we sail fast and furious for home, re-invigorated. “Wing on wing?” someone asks. We turn downwind past the WWII ship Red Oak, and sailing by the lee, we put the genoa out opposite the main. It is a bit of sailing we all take joy in, beautiful and on the edge.

Coronas are promised. In minutes we are docked, the boat is buttoned up, and we are in the club house sharing our joy, angst, and excitement, all wanting to go again.

The race marshall sees us. “Exactly what start were you on?” she asks with a knowing smile.

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1 Response to *How to Win the Start*

  1. Marianne Wheeler says:

    I really enjoyed reading this and can so much identify with all that was said. It put me right there with you. Very well written, thank you, Eric,
    Marianne.

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