Monday 8 February 2010

America's Cup: Race course review - the pre-start

The start box has been modified for the 33rd America's Cup in the interest of safety. Image copyright Alinghi.

by Alinghi media

The pre-start is one of the most exciting aspects of a match race. The two boats enter the start box and engage in a series of circling or luffing trying to get an advantage over the other. That advantage is obtained either through a penalty on the competition or leaving them in your wake.

Aficionados of match racing will quickly recognise a different starting procedure when Alinghi 5 and the challenger line up for Race 1 of the 33rd America’s Cup Match.

The start line will look familiar, set as square to the wind direction as possible with the official race committee boat at the starboard end and another committee boat at the pin end.

The timing is also familiar. The competitors will be given an attention signal at 10 minutes, a warning signal at 6 minutes, preparatory at 5 minutes, followed by the start. After the 5-minute preparatory signal the two crews have 2 minutes to enter the start box. If one or both boats fail to enter into the start area within the 2-minute period they’ll be assessed a penalty by the on-water umpires.

That’s all standard stuff. What isn’t standard is the pre-start entry line.

In an attempt to keep the two multihulls from going bow-to-bow at incredible speeds – for argument’s sake we’ll say a closing speed of 50 knots – a second port-end vessel will be placed downwind of the pin end yacht, creating a diagonal entry line (see diagram above). The distance the entry pin end is placed to leeward will be determined by the race committee.

“The idea is that neither team would like to see the boats aiming at each other at 30-plus knots,” says Ed Baird of the Alinghi afterguard.

Once both boats have entered the start box the temporary port-end boat will be removed and the start line will be live. If one or both boats are on the course side before the start gun they’ll have to re-round one end of the start line.

In a wind square to the actual start line, the skewed entry line should nullify the starboard-tack advantage. If the port-tack boat enters the start box at the 5-minute gun it should be able to get into the lower right corner of the start box without incident. But then the fireworks could start.

“This means that the boats can get into the starting area in a safe pattern and the first time they get next to each other is more likely to be on same tack,” Baird says. “So the speeds could be closer and they should be able to manoeuvre around each other in a much easier way.

“This is an intelligent way to avoid a high speed multihull dial up that could end in large tears,” Baird says.


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