Starting a Model Sailboat Race

The start is the place on the course where you can pass the most boats, but it is not easy because everyone else wants to do the same thing. In general, our starting lines are a little crowded which makes a port tack start very difficult except for days when there are extreme wind shifts happening. Port tack starts are not for beginners.

I begin my preparations before I leave for the pond, by checking the forecast for wind direction and wind speed during the time we have scheduled. That can help to set expectations about when shifts will take place and what direction the wind will be turning through the day. Of course, you need to remember that the pond is a micro-climate within that forecast and will throw some curves at the sailors through the day.

Rather than practice racing before the scheduled start, I like to sail up and down the expected course, looking for any shifts that I can detect. I do this several times to see if the shifts are persistent, and time them to see what patterns may emerge. 

For example, at Sullivan’s Pond there are often two patterns near the south end of the pond near the bridge. On the left, a port tack shift will often occur at a regular interval. Michael Kennedy can be seen out there looking for that shift. The other shift is a more persistent starboard tack shift that will lift close to the marks. The port tack shift is usually a stronger velocity.

After sailing the upwind and downwind course a few times I formulate a plan for the first beat, which will inform my start plan as well. As I develop my plan for the start, I will sail along the line on both tacks to see which end is favored (which end allows a higher sailing angle to the first mark). I also pick a starting point for my final approach to the line and count down in my head to time my approach to the line.

My plan generally revolves around where I think the first shift will happen, and where all the other boats are clustering on the line. I like the starboard end of the line most of the time since it is easier to see my boat.

Some people like to wait and force other boats over the line early, it is legal and part of the game so while you have a great start plan devised remember to keep a watch out for those boats.

Also be aware of the skill level of the other boats, if you get tangled up with a new sailor, that is on you. If you are a new sailor, do your best to heed the rules of the road and remember all those other sailors were once in the same place as you.

In summary, make a plan based on observations of wind shifts and the behavior other boats. Sometimes they work out, sometimes not. In sailboat racing you must be prepared to adapt and innovate, there are a lot of moving pieces and you only control a few.
The Halifax Area Model Yacht Clubs sails primarily at Sullivan’s Pond in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia. Our largest fleet is the Soling One Metre which is one of the largest classes of RC Boat in the world.