My starting tactics are a bit different from the other guys writing, who are mostly pushing to win events and titles. They all have the speed and know that in a head to head showdown they can take on anyone. I don’t have this luxury, so my main focus is to stay clear of trouble, so I can at least be in contention at the first gybe. If you are downwind on the line, and somebody sails over the top, you are straight away in their dirty air / water and going nowhere. In the beginning my tactic was to always start at the boat and then you know that nobody can come over the top of you. However a number of times I got either squeezed into the boat, forcing me to pretty much stop and then start last, or even worse there is no room for manoeuvre if you are at the boat, so if the timing is wrong, there is not much to do and it’s very easy to get pushed over and get disqualified. The pin is out of the question for me as it’s where the “big boys” tend to hang out, and I am not armed for that fight. Which leaves the middle, and it tends to be where the most space is. It is harder to be exactly on the line as there is no direct reference, but for me I prefer the space. My typical routine is to approach the start line quite high and check how the other riders are forming. Quite often there will be 1 or 2 fighting for position at the boat and then a pack of around 3-4 towards the pin. I therefore look to see where the biggest space is and try to shoot downwind into that with around 40 seconds to go, typically sitting just above the pin end pack. Once there I do my best to stop the guys below me from coming upwind too much, hopefully creating a space upwind which is free of people. Finally as I approach the line with 15-20 seconds on the watch I drive upwind a bit to create a nice space downwind, and (if all goes to plan) with 5-10 seconds to go, I can accelerate downwind, back into the space I just created and fly across the line at Mach 10, just above the main pack below. It rarely plays out like that, but that is my typical goal. All this is much easier to do if it’s windy. When it’s light wind you have less possibilities to slow down and speed up, so the timing is much more critical.
For PWA starts it is also important to be strong and not get bullied. The positional play in the final minute of the start is where much of the race is won or lost. You have to hold your position well and not get pushed around. I had Bjorn sail me straight into the back of the boat once and although I always avoid it, you often see huge battles for the pin end with guys pushing each other upwind and downwind fighting for position. Like I said, for the moment I do my best to stay out of trouble. When I see I have the speed to overtake Antoine or Ross, then probably I will need to rethink the tactics.
“ When it’s light wind you have less possibilities to slow down and speed up, so the timing is much more critical. ”