July 09, 2013

Sailing in the Middle of the Fleet - Using the Unfavored End

By Doug
Getting back to thoughts about sailing in the middle of the fleet, we looked at getting clean air at the start, doing circles before the start, and judging whether the pin or a person is behind or ahead. In doing this, we can see which end of the starting line is favored and which end is not.

If the line is square, there is usually a crowd near the committee boat. If it's boat favored, there will definitely be a crowd there. If it's pin favored, then the pin will be crowded. Rarely will the boats be evenly spread along this line. In most cases, boats will be drawn towards the favored end of the line as though pulled there by a magnet.

Most sailors put too much emphasis on which end is favored. For example, if it's pin favored, they start there and often end up going left in a group. Tacking on a shift or into better pressure is often a group decision, and many good sailors get trapped going the wrong way. The closer they are to the pin, the more dependent they are on others tacking before they can. The sailor who wins at the pin can sometimes tack and cross the fleet, but this is risky and rarely will more than one be able to do this. Definitely a low percentage option.

I personally do not like starting at the pin because there are lots of sailors who are more skilled there than me, and there are few options unless I get a really good start. Why waste a good race with a bad start? I'd much rather be more conservative, go for clean air, play the shifts, and use boatspeed. For me, this is a much higher percentage option.

And this is where middle-of-the-fleet sailors actually have an advantage. If they start at the unfavored end of the line and get clear air, they do not have the problem of getting trapped. So, if it's pin favored, start near the committee boat or in the middle of the line.

The same is true if it looks like the crowd will be at the committee boat end - there will be places further down the line where there will be clear air. But remember that your tacking options are not as good there because the boats starting at the committee boat will block your chances of tacking onto port tack.

So next time you see a line that's really favored at one end, be grateful because it will pull the good sailors off to one side and clear the way for you to have good start and clean air.


  1. Good advice. I often do that. Hate being trapped in a bunch without freedom to sail my own race. I figure that the advantage of being in clear air and having freedom to play the shifts is better for me on average than being in the pack, and can sometimes pay off big-time if the wind ends up favoring me and not the herd.

    1. Agreed 100%. The lead pack is smart, but not right after the start!

  2. Doug; I've held a bias to the boat with the idea that I'm only 2 tacks from a clean lane. I hate getting pushed left (though many times I want to go left). And I believe no matter how bad the line is, buried at the favoured end is far worse than clean air at th other end. Whatdoyathink?

    1. Agree. In many of these starts with the pin bias, the first one to tack has the best start. In a good fleet, I avoid the pin by starting at least 10-20 boats away, asking the person behind me if I can tack out of their way (they usually say yes), and then getting out of there.

      Tacking onto port and getting away from a crowded line is one the best feelings in sailing.


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