Chris Goodfellow (Trophoblast 761), 2001 Cowes week winner, gives advice to the mid-fleet club.
Mid-fleet priorities may seem to be satisfied with a clear start in the second row - but inevitably you will be left with dirty air and a middle to back of the fleet result. Remember that all the front boats were back of the fleet once. A clear start will give you a clear track up the first beat, all you have to do is keep on sailing. This is really much easier than thrashing about in mid fleet and is what you must aim for.
So where to start?
At first, I would suggest it is where everyone else is not. This is often the pin end. Thus you need to know how long it takes to sail down the length of the line, so as not to arrive early. Set off on time and it will probably be a little slower because of other boats. You may also find a nice gap and wish to slow down to stay in it. With 30 seconds to go or a minute if there is space, reach away down and below the line to gain speed before coming up hard on to the wind for the gun. Then if in close company point up high to lee bow the boat above you. After the lee bowed boat has fallen well back, or tacked off, you can foot away with maximum speed. If you have plenty of space, just speed off and keep going until you are well clear of the start. Tacking back towards the fleet in the start area is usually a bad move.
Remember that the purpose of the start is to be sailing in clear wind up the first beat. The tide can completely change the best way to do this.
If the tide is from either side, you can wait at the up tide end - by the committee boat or pin. The water the fleet will be sailing in may be disappearing down tide rapidly. If so you can pop out onto the line after the start into clear water, although at the pin end on port tack you must be ready to tack quickly onto starboard well clear of the starboard tackers.
The battle of the bulge
When the tide follows ‘beware the bulging middle.' The boats in the middle of the line, busily manoeuvring against each other, finish with (surprise! surprise!) black flags. It is no use starting behind them because they usually stay up wind a long time. If you start near an end it is much safer, but waiting behind the ends won’t give you clear wind unless you ‘bang a corner’ very hard.
With a contrary tide the middle is safe, but often ‘bulged down.' (A dip start, sailing above the line to reach down for the gun can be great but don't try this when the I, Z or black flags are flying.) Beware entering a situation near either end where you might have to tack. The tide will force you back onto the ends, where you may find yourself larking around with the committee boat!
At the ends
At the pin you may sometimes fail to make the line with a solid mass of starboard tackers where you want to go. If this happens, try gybing round on to port and dipping sterns, reaching till a clear space emerges. At the committee boat end spaces appear just before the gun, or afterwards. Come in late at speed or wait for a gap. Don't go until you can shoot through a gap to the line and get clear at full speed.
When you do get a clear start enjoy sailing fast in a clear wind - not merely up the first beat but right through to the bar afterwards.