Bump's World - November 2019
November 12, 2019
The single most import part of a sailboat race is the start. There are many different starting techniques. Most have some logic to them. One of the more popular is the Vanderbuilt start. Vanderbuilt owned a few J Boats of the 1920s that were about 130 feet long. He sailed with a professional crew of about 30, mostly from Sweden. He defended the America's cup several times. He was famous for sailing 5 minutes away from the starting line with ten minutes to the start. After 5 minutes he would turn around and sail back to the starting line expecting to arrive at the second the race started. At 130 feet and over 150,000 lbs, maneuvering was not easy. Hard to speed up or low down.
Assuming an upwind start, if you started at the windward end of the line, and sailed the opposite course hard on the wind, you would be sailing the reciprocal course of the starboard tack lay line approach. This means that when you turn for your starboard tack approach you are hard on the wind to the windward end of the line, usually the committee boat. This approach can work well as long as someone to leeward of you does not take you up above that line.
Coming in on the starboard tack lay line, everything to the right of you is the coffin corner or death zone. If you are in this area in the last 5 minutes before the start you are taking a huge risk. As you get closer to the start this risk increases. Everyone to the left of you has the right of way. Therefore they can force you above the committee boat and the starting line. You can try going slow and falling in behind the other boats or do a circle again putting yourself well behind.
So the coffin corner start begins by getting well to the right side of the committee boat. At first everything looks good. You make your approach on a beam reach heading just below the committee boat. All you have to do is harden up when the race starts. If the pin end of the line is favored, and if you don't get to the committee boat too soon, you can at least start on the line with speed. The problem is you are in last place since you are on the wrong end of the line.
If the line is square or boat favored you got a big problem. Here you come beam reaching toward the line. Every boat to the left of you has the right of way. When you reach the first one you can go behind them, putting yourself at the back of the pack, or head up parallel to them with no rights heading above the boat. Your only hope of paralleling the first boat is, if everyone is early for the start and they head down the line opening a hole for you. Most, even if early, will head you up forcing you above the boat.
I have seen this coffin corner plan on several different boats and it does kind of work. Make your approach from the coffin corner making sure you cross behind the committee boat at least 20 seconds before the start. Continue to beam reach down the line. You will be well inside of the starting line so you can not be forced above the committee boat. The key is to avoid eye contact. Do not communicate or look at the other boats. Act like you have no idea they are there. You need to just kill a little time. When the first boat approaches hard on the wind on starboard ignore any communication. They will yell "stay up". Maybe even "you have no rights'. Make them see that you are willing to make contact. Having rubber tires hanging over your boat would reinforce this position or a really crappy boat. Duck tape on the hull and bent stations helps. Remember no eye contact.
They will turn down toward the pin believing that you will hit them. When they do that head up quickly. This will open up a hole between you and them. You now have a position for a great start. On the line, at the gun, with speed.
You may on occasion get protested. If questioned, you apologize saying you thought you responded quickly to their yelling to go up. Most important act surprised that they are protesting. You can even with draw saying you feel you did nothing wrong but you don't want to upset anyone.
Most people will not protest, the apology will suffice. Always act surprised that your fellow yachting people seem to be up set with your actions. Point out that you are out there to have fun and you always adhere to the rules.
You might at some point have to hit another boat. This will greatly strengthen your plan.
Every crew member should have a beer can in hand. Empty cans rolling around the cockpit is good too. Someone sitting in the bow pulpit and hanging off the stern is all good. Remember no eye contact.
Please mail comments to me at Bump@newwaveyachts.com