On Saturday, Island Barn hosted their annual Laser open meeting which, as part of the popular Thames Valley circuit, attracted a decent fleet despite a pessimistic forecast. Rather than provide an event report, I thought I'd share a few thoughts on recovering from a bad start, as I seem to have had a lot of practice at this lately, especially at this event! Perhaps this might be a sign of which part of my sailing I should be focusing on...
Anyone interested can read the excellent report from Island Barn here
Not everyone will get a clean start, so what should you do if you find yourself having to recover from the back of the fleet?
So... the gun has gone, and it's all gone wrong: you're buried in the second row, or perhaps you've been called back in an individual recall. What to do? It's important to keep a clear head and not abandon your race plan - if you had good reason to go left before, it's unlikely to be worth going right just to try something different. How you approach your fightback will be different depending on the venue - on open water with stable wind you might try banging a corner for clear air, while on a small pond with shifty winds, it's crucial to be sailing towards the next wind shift - in these conditions it's surprising how much distance you can gain very quickly by being on the right tack. Try to find a clean lane as best you can, and sail fast in the right direction.
Hopefully as you approach the windward mark, your measured approach to the first beat has gained you some places, and it's likely that you'll be in the middle of a pack of boats. It's really important not to let frustration get the better of you and cause you to take unnecessary risks - you're not going to catch the leaders by doing 720s! How you choose to position yourself going around the mark depends largely on whether you want to go high or low on the next leg, which depends on the type of boat and the course. With a Laser on a triangle course, big gains can be made by going low and avoiding the luffing match of boats ahead of you - plus you'll be on the inside at the next mark. In boats with a spinnaker, I've generally found that going low on a reach is extremely painful and costly, so being high of the bunch around the windward mark tends to work out better as you can get onto the hoist earlier and heat up over people.
The next lap will be more of the same - try to keep a clear lane on the beat, and don't take unnecessary risks just because you're further back than you'd like to be. If you are out of place in the fleet, your boatspeed should be better than those around you and picking off one boat at a time should be relatively straightforward, so don't be greedy and try to take everyone in one leg - it's very unlikely to work.
On the run you want to stay well away from other boats - if you are close behind a bunch who are all fighting for the inside position on the next mark, try sailing around the outside of them all if the run is long enough; on a shorter run you might be better off going for an inside overlap on one or two boats at the back of the bunch. Mark roundings are a great place to jump several boats at once, but also somewhere that is easy to get involved in incidents, so be careful.
The key things to remember are to keep your distance from other boats, avoid incidents, and sail fast in the right direction. It sounds easy really! If only it were so simple in practice... probably better to just get a good start!