Once again , the Merlin Championships have been marred by quite appalling starting discipline at the start, even the practice race. The veiw seems to be that, never mind the rules, if there is no black flag, just sail over the line in the bunch with 30 seconds to to. Waste everyone's time whilst we only then go to a black flag. I'm sorry, but in any other field (I'm a pilot and engineer), this would not be tolerated.
If we cant do better, then we need to ask OODs to go to a black flag straight away, or better,put up Flag G and use a Gate. Never mind "We have always used lines in the Merlins".
Actually I thought we were pretty good this year, at least in the races i sailed in.
The practice race is always a bit of a shambles, and noone really cares about it. A black flag is no deterrant as it doesn't count for anything. Might have a chat about this at committee level.
Other than that I though given what we had to contend with we did pretty well. yesterday was always going to be a bit "pushy" and the wind was very changeable, but the black flag was out and big fat discards handed out as appropriate.
Well done Jerry and team.
The I Flag rule (Rule 30.1) was also used in several starts ... with some success it seemed, except that it cluttered up the starboard end much favoured by cautious starters like me!
I am 100% with Chris on this. I don't think the discipline was appalling, its just that in a fleet of this quality it is essential to get a good start and people will push.
Some specifics. I don't like the "round the ends" rule as it encourages boats to start at the ends, rather than spread along the line. And if you think you are over in the minute before the start, the best solution is to sail over the line to get round the end quickly - but the boats around you will, not surprisingly, go with you resulting in a general recall.
The delays. If you take Friday as an example, a lot of the delay was not due to the general recalls but to allowing time for the wind to settle and to relay the line. When you take a transit it really brings it home just how much the line was moved.
Gate starts. It is a complete fallacy that gate starts are fairer. Again take Friday as an example. With the wind moving around as much as it was, it would have been very difficult to have a fair gate start, and if you look at what happened after we started, the pathfinder (going right) would have been condemned to going the wrong way up the first beat and a rounding somewhere in the 30's. That is not fair sailing.
Line starts are all part of the skill of racing in Championship fleets and I believe Jerry did an excellent job in pretty tricky conditions. In particular, because he was prepared to put lots of numbers on the naughty board, we knew exactly where we stood and that all helped set the standard.
Will's spot on. Although Gate Starts can be a quick way to get a fleet started, they aren't fair if there's an unexpected wind shift and the race officer lets it go.
I thought the line discipline was fine for an 80 boat (competitive) fleet. On Friday it was better when they moved the outer distance boat to make the line less biased.
I have been making a study of 'starts' to use on RYA start racing courses. The Salcombe starts are especially useful because of the elevation, including the incredible ballsy port start of William Warren in 2011. I have video of 7 of this years starts but yet to compile them properly.
The Olympics has provided some excellent material because of the elevation from the helicopter and shows that even in a top fleet near/over the line starts are not the norm. The race 4 Laser radial start showed a classic and significant dip in the middle of the line, perhaps even poor. Overall, it seems to me that the olympic discipline was good with a few obvious errors (the great dane port end for example)so I think that there is plenty of room for Merlin improvement and the excuse/reason that it is reasonable for a top fleet to be so naughty is not correct. Anyway, I would like to hear Stu B's view of the comparison to olympic starts.
Everyone at the Olympics is very disciplined when starting because there are so few boats and letters on your score line at the games can be devastating. However, when there are more boats in a world championships or a world cup regatta we very rarely start a race that is NOT a black flag. Like Will says, everyone wants to get a good start. It is possible to get a good start in the middle of the line whilst hidden by the boats around you even if you are miles over the line. any competitor would take this start over a third row start. I don't think the merlins need to change anything, it's just one of those things. Also last week there was a lot of tide pushing boats over which doesn't help matters. I think the race officer did a good job in bringing out the black flag when he did.
Moving forwards I would suggest coaching in startling awareness for those people who need it, there are certain techniques and routines you can use to 'know where the line is'.
Certainly it's vital to get off the line in the leading bunch but the issue (as has been discussed before) is around a bunch of boats pulling the trigger a few seconds early. We all line up carefully beforehand but when everyone else starts to go there's little else to do, either go with the bunch or bail out onto port and hope for the best. It was noteable that the very vigorous conditions of Tuesday and particularly Thursday kept everyone back behind the line & normal service was restored in the light conditions on Friday. The number of BFD's helped to restore some order, the boats involved were not all in contention for a top 10 place
As a 'back of the fleet' competitor, I don't really see any problem with the starting at Lyme. Although we had some recalls, there was, as far as I could see, little in the way of collisions, protests, raised voices or ill feeling.
I would certainly not want to see gate starts, in my limited experience they are more prone to problems for the average competitor.
Maybe some coaching would help some people (me definitely!) and maybe some sort of aid to judging your position near the line would help, such as a transit mark or a buoy (which is not a mark) near the middle of the line.
It would be nice to reduce the 'cycle time' between start signals, if this might be possible. I appreciate that's not easy, having dabbled in RO'ing myself.
Perhaps it would be a cunning strategy to fix the champs date so the tide is against us on the start.....?
But 80 boats suggests the current formula is working.
Am in alone in feeling a sense of deja vu on this - following last year at Hayling, the whole topic of start line processes, from both the competitor and PRO viewpoints got a healthy airing.
Taking that view along the line from the Committee Boat - whilst you were all enjoying Lyme Bay, at Netley we had a reason influx of ex-Merlin sailors racing in the RS 500 and RS Vareo Championships (not to mention the welcome figure of John Murrell out afloat with us taking pictures). By the sound of it the problems we experienced were not that far from those you had out in Lyme Bay, with a strong weather going tide pushing the fleet up high on the line plus, as the event wore on, helms pushing hard for the advantageous front rank spot.The result was a number of General Recalls, though the early use of the Black Flag (after one attempt under P) tended to just pull the fleet back a tad.
If helms are happy to risk an OCS or BFD on their scorecard, then that is as much a judgemental call on their part as any other decision they make afloat; it is neither a good nor a bad thing but just the way the rules of the sport work. (incidentally but on the subject of the RRS, the RS SIs now allow boats to hit marks which has rather equated to a 'bargers in' charter - a salutory lesson in tweaking rules in the mistake belief that it somehow makes things easier/better.
There might be the errant cavalier PRO who delights at using the Black Flag, however most Race Officers that I know would rather see people out sailing rather than having their week tainted by a 'lost race'. But if the conditions and fleet demand, then use the Black Flag and keep using it and if this culls out the persistent offenders, then so be it. At last years Hornet Nationals, I had a 'serial offender' who kept pushing the line; in the end he scored an OCS and BFD to go with a series of otherwise Championship winning scores. So maybe the fastest boat did not win, but the boat that sailed the best 'event' did!
Thanks Stu B for your thoughtful and informative reply.
Fully agree with the later comments, black flaggings should be seen as a sign of just how competitive the Merlin fleet is rather than poor discipline..
It's a long time since I raced a Merlin Rocket but I hope I'm still allowed to comment.
The racing area at Whitstable often has strong tides. There was a persistent rumour, probably true, that the paragon of PROs Frank Dwyer used to let the start line drift when there was a weather going tide.
Like Robert I am a former Merlin Rocket sailor, like anyone who raced under his flags there has never yet been anyone as good. I last spoke with Frank about a year before he died in the company of Fed Imhoff another fine sailor and a fine race officer. Frank confirmed that he did let the line drift with a weather going tide (Remember this was in the days of very long first beats.) He also confessed to having let a fleet go when whilst all were over as we were as lined up as they were going to be, personally I like this realistic rather than legalistic approach but I doubt these days it would be acceptable. (National Hunt rather than flat race starting.)
Maybe PRO's should consider firing the gun 1.5 seconds early, bet that would do it! However I also bet that if the fleet got wise to it by the end of the week it would have to be 5s early to have the same effect!
The whole object is to have everyone set off in the same direction with an assessable advantage to being spot on the right bit of the line moving forwards. In an ideal world with absolutely square lines to a steady wind we just line up and set off but there will always be some advantage to one or other end. I thought the starts were just right, the black flag came out as expected, the fleet was culled and disciplined and we did not spend an inordinate amount of time doing it. There may have been boats over that were not called, but that again is part of the game as Stu says, & knowing both where you are on the line and whether you are visible are skills that can be learnt. Starting is part of the skill set for sailing, and has little to do with the rest of the skills. Much work is done on this at Rutland, there were not many boats looking down the line for the transit considering the fleet of 80. If you are not aiming for top 10 placings a start towards the right end of the line in clear air or room to tack is all you need and the lines were long enough for me to get that every time.
Former Whitstable Pro
I've been fortunate in having few black flag starts over some 15 years but for Merlins I adopted the practice of sounding the horn for the 5 , 4 and 1 minute a second or two after the flag has been hoisted but correcting my ' error ' at the start . But please take note that I 'll not be doing this in future !!!!
I remember a champs where a bouy was laid in the middle of the line - it was there as an "indicator" only but I seem to remember that we got away most times first time. It probably moved 3 - 4 metres either way but it helped I think? Maybe there were so many protests that the idea was abandoned - where was it?
Former Whitstable Pro
My recollection is rather different Stu - it was abandoned 'cos too many people knew where the middle of the line and instead of a sag there was a bulge - I think the PRO was Nick Robinson . Was it Poole ?