Gate Starts

Ann Keats recently gave an introductory talk on gate starts to the Thursday night ladies’ group. Since it was such a clear introduction, I thought it would make a useful article for the website.

Gate starts are used by the Laser class for the Monday evening and Perisher series races. The advantage is that since there isn’t a fixed start line, it is easier to lay and adjust the course which means the races can get underway quicker.

In a gate start, one of the competitors is nominated to be the path finder. About 10 seconds before the starting signal, this boat sails behind the committee boat close-hauled on port. As the path finder moves forward, it opens up an imaginary start line between itself and the committee boat. All the other competitors pass on starboard tack between the committee boat and the path finder. After 45 seconds, the path finder tacks onto starboard and this marks the end of the start line.

The starting sequence is 3 minutes:

-3 minutes: warning signal: Laser class flag (W) up

-2 minutes: preparatory signal: P flag up

-1 minute: P flag down

0 minutes: Start Class flag down.

Whether you start early, close to the committee boat or late, just before the path-finder tacks, will depends on a variety of factors like favoured side of the course, tide, wind-shifts, course bias – and of course, where you can find room, but your aim should be to pass as close behind the path finder’s transom as you can.

A couple of key points to remember are:

  1. During his initial 45 seconds on port tack, the path finder boat has absolute right of way – impeding or colliding with the path finder will earning you an automatic disqualification – and the path finder boat’s word is law on that.
  2. The windard-leeward rule applies during starting, so don’t expect to be able to reach in towards the path finder’s transom and barge in on boats underneath you that are close hauled – you’ll make people cross if you do that. In the diagram, the red boat is in danger of doing this.
  3. On Monday nights in particular, there is close racing with a large fleet, so rule infringements are bound to occur  (sometimes unintentionally !). If you are guilty, please do your turns (360 tack and gybe) even if no-one shouts at you. The rules are RULES, not the Pirate Code (more guidelines).


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