On the starting line, you have done a great job creating a “hole” to leeward of you; i.e., space between you and the boat leeward of you, so that you can bear off and build some speed before the start, while remaining on starboard tack for some time after the gun. But there is one thing you can count on in the pre-start: if you build a great hole, someone will come and try to steal it!
The key to defending your hole is to be a “pitbull” about it. This is no time to be a nice guy. Being “nice” will get you nothing but a reputation! You need to be prepared to aggressively defend your hole. One way is to post a lookout. Someone on your boat needs to be assigned the task of watching for potential attackers. Maybe it is the mainsheet trimmer looking aft for starboard tackers trying to come in to leeward; and maybe it is the jib trimmer looking to leeward for port tackers trying to tack in to leeward of you. Advanced warning is the key to defending your hole.
The defense is essentially the same regardless of where the attack is coming from. One is a verbal defense: “Don’t go in there; don’t even think about it!” Another, and possibly in conjunction with the verbal, is to let your boat do the “talking.” The trick is to noticeably bear away to discourage the other boat from going in to leeward of you, while at the same time minimizing the distance you move down the line closer to the boat to leeward of you. The key here is to be sure both jib sheets are free to be let out (it is usually the windward sheet that is the problem), and that your mainsheet also runs out quickly. You don’t want either sail to fill with wind as you turn down.
Then, once the attacker has gone by, the trick is to regain back as much distance to windward as possible. This is done with a hard jab on the tiller or turn of the wheel in conjunction with a rapid trim of the mainsheet or pull of the boom to centerline. This quick turn down with sails luffing followed by a quick turn up using the rudder and mainsail can and should be practiced. If you are going to get a “reputation” for something, it might as well be that it is tough to steal your hole.
by Dave Perry, author of Understanding the Racing Rules of Sailing 2009-2012, 100 Best Racing Rules Quizzes 2009-2012, and Winning One Designs offers up these racing tips. Thank you to US SAILING for sharing them with us.