Twenty Takeaways from Al Declercq


Al Declercq from North Sails Detroit visited South Port Sailing club for a pre-season talk about starting and sailing the first beat. His advice was especially useful for tactics and strategy in handicap fleets. Thanks to Al for coming over and also to Gary Gavin for organizing the food and refreshments.

Here are twenty takeaways from Al’s talk:

1. Consider your boat’s relative performance when determining where to start. If you are a slower boat, consider being closer to the starboard end of the line so you can tack to clear your air.
2. For downwind starts, be sure to consider the other boats’ downwind sailing angles, like asymmetrical sport boats, which might prevent you from sailing your course.
3. The best method to determine the favored end is to compare the true wind direction with the start line heading.
4. A rough rule of thumb for conservative and consistent starts is to get on starboard tack with 2 min to 1:30 min before the gun and work to find a spot on the line.
5. Be careful with jargon when teaching new sailors: “Sailors refer to the same thing seven different ways.”
6. Find the layline to the committee boat. When in doubt set up a little down from the boat so you can head up to slow down without barging.
7. On a windy day the trailing boat is in control but not on a light air day. In light air, be between the starting line and your competitors.
8. For the port tack approach , the rules state that you have to complete your tack (be on your new close hauled course) before you establish your luffing rights.
9. It is important to have space to leeward at the start so you can bear away to build speed. Before the gun, protect your leeward hole by pointing your boat at port tack approachers.
10.  “The most important thing for starting is to get your crew to do their jobs. Remind your crew not to be spectators and only feed you relevant and useful information.”
11. In light air, steer with your sails.
12.  For downwind starts, be sure to look behind you for approaching boats that might give you dirty air. Give yourself time to find a perfect place with clear air.
13.  For downwind starts, make sure you don’t have a boat too close to leeward so you can fall off and get on your course – especially when starting with boats that sail high angles downwind.
14.  For downwind starts, look upwind for puffs coming toward the start line and position your boat to  take advantage.
13.   For downwind starts, having clear air and be able to sail your course might outweigh being at the favored end.
14.  Downwind, know your target heading in different wind conditions.
15.  Consider your boat’s tacking performance when sailing in oscillating breeze: if your boat takes a long time to tack, you might want to sail through small headers.
16. When coming out of a tack, the key is to get up to speed. If you pinch when on the new tack then you will have a lot of leeway. Bear away a bit and go fast. If you have adjustable leads, pull the leads forward to compensate for the eased sheets as you build speed.
17.  Current is a known variable: if you know its effect and all other things are equal, use it to your advantage.
18. Go out with your team and practice boat handling to eliminate it as a variable.
19. If you sense the great circle happening, bite the bullet, tack, and duck transoms as you sail toward the new shift.
20. If it’s going to take you more than three min on the lay line then tack early and below it – if you get lifted then you didn’t overstand and if you get headed then you can take advantage of the final shift and tack.