Thursday, 20 February 2014

Starting; a three mark solution.

Traditionally in fleet racing the starting line is a 'line' on the water perpendicular to the wind and defined by two marks on either end. The Race committee vessel as a mark on the starboard side and a 'pin' boat or mark on the other end. By moving the pin upwind or downwind the RO can influence the angle of the line and make it more or less favoured at one end.

Several larger fleets have run into trouble with this traditional set-up.
Because of the number of boats the line becomes impossibly long. (The standard formula for the length of the line is hull-length times X number of boats times 1,5). For instance; a fleet of twenty 'Valken' (6.5 m1) is 20x6,5x1,5= 195 meter. But if you take 72 Melges 24's you get: 72x24x1,5=2591 feet = just shy of 800 meters!
Even with a double pair of eyes on each end, chances are the Race Committee is not going to be able to recognize all boats who are OCS.....

So, large fleets get split up into groups, and those groups get hustled for two separated starts.
(A-B/C-D. A-C/B-D, A-D/B-C), Half the fleet, half the length of the line and 400 meter is manageable. After three races the fleet is split into gold and silver. Top and bottom half of the results.

Many classes hate group sailing. You never compete to all in all races and the split is always disappointing to some. Sailors want large fleets where everybody participates.

At a Melges 24 European Championship I was attending this summer, the class and Race Officer had found a different solution. Perhaps not new for you, but it was my first time seeing it on the water. They did not use two marks on the starting line, but three!

The Race committee vessel took station in the middle and there were two pin ends. One on the left and one on the right. The line was split into two lines. Here's a diagram:

three mark starting line

The advantages in sighting are clear. By adding a middle boat with two pairs of eyes on each side, you half the change that an OCS boat is missed. The line is effectively only 400 meters even with 70 Melges. The whole fleet can be started in one go.

Mind you, there are also some problems to solve. The first being that it is much harder to line up three boats exactly perpendicular to the wind. specially in shifty conditions. And that is very much needed!

If the RC doesn't, all the 70 boats will go to one end and you will have too many boats starting on too short a line. But in all fairness, that can also happen with a two mark line.

Secondly is the 'return round the end' rule. (rule 30.1)
With long lines the India flag is effectively as deadly as a Black. Boats starting in the middle who find themselves over the line have to sail so far and long to get to an end, that they might as well quit. They'll never catch up with the fleet.

So how to use the middle boat? If rule 30.1 isn't 'tweaked' you end up with boats returning around the middle boat from both ends and crossing behind the committee boat on different tacks. The Melges class have a 'adjustment' of rule 30.1 in their Sailing Instructions.

Both OCS boats have to start on the right....

This way returning boats comply with the requirements of rule 30.1 but always on the same tack. Much easier to sort out right of way and keeping clear.

And lastly you do need more people sighting on the starting line. The communications calling OCS is more complicated as the number of rubber boats is one more...

The three days I spent on the water with the Melges 24 class I saw this set-up. It works! You have a shorter line manageable by the RC and still a large fleet of 70 boats starting at the same time. When the fleet bunched up at one end the RO usually had to call them back with a general recall, or postpone before the signal, but that would have happened on a two mark line as well.

So next time you get a request from a class with many boats you can offer them this solution. You'll have some work to (re)train your race committee volunteers, but it might be worth doing..

Please leave a comment if you have done this three mark starting line set up before...
And tell what you think about it.


  1. Have seen this work well with Dragons. Mike B

  2. Has been used in US for Optimist fleet with great results. With the I Flag RC at New England Champs was able to run 100 boat starting lines with just a couple OCS for 400 boat regatta and no general recalls in a venue with current in Newport, RI. They actually used 4 boats and had three line sections, not perfectly straight but still spread the fleet out and had many eyes to manage and hail boats over in the 1 minute.

  3. They did this for the SB3 worlds in Hyeres last year (100'ish boats) - I felt it worked well

  4. The Stars have used a three boat start line for many years. It was used at the Worlds in Medemblick in 2001. With observers on each boat calling OCS boats this works well.

    One point - with 3 boats the line does not have to be straight. The Race Officer can adjust each half of the line for differing wind or tides.

    As for the I flag - I have not seen it used for some time, as it isfelt that it encourages bpats to start near one end of the line.



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