The Reaching Start

AC45 wingsailed catamarans © Ricardo Pinto / ACEA

When the AC45 wingsailed catamarans were unveiled as the weapon of choice for the America's Cup World Series, it was clear that the boat would be just one of many innovations in the racing.

From making the races much shorter, to bringing the courses alongside the shore to make for 'stadium sailing', to changing the course configuration, everything was on the table as a possible refinement, including how the races start.

Both fleet and match races now start on a 'reach' with the wind blowing approximately 90-degrees from the boats (in the video below the wind is blowing from the bottom of the screen to the top for the start pictures).

This is the fastest point of sail for the catamarans and with the first mark just a couple of hundred meters away, it puts tremendous emphasis on timing the run to the start line, finding a 'lane', and accelerating to top speed quickly.

In the video below, analyst (and ex-skipper of China Team) Mitch Booth talks us through what the teams are looking for on the reaching start.

As boats cannot cross the starting line ahead of the start gun, being as close to the line as possible, while powering up to top speed, is of paramount importance. In the video, ORACLE Racing Coutts initially appears to have the best start, but in fact is just over the line early by a fraction of a second and must return to restart, putting them well behind the rest of the fleet.

Emirates Team New Zealand elects to start near the Committee Boat end of the line, upwind of the fleet. The advantage of this position is that they get clean wind first, but with the first mark being a left hand turn, the Kiwis are on the outside, and unless they can get clear ahead of the boats underneath, they may be forced to give room to the boats 'inside' them at the first mark.

Artemis Racing chooses to start closer to the pin end of the line, further away from the wind. This has two advantages - for this race it is closer to the first mark by 20 meters, and it is also the inside lane for the first turn to the left. If Artemis is able to get to the zone around Mark 1 first, boats on the outside of the turn have to give them room to get around.

And in the event, that is exactly what happens, and Artemis Racing is able to convert the narrowest of leads at the first mark into a solid advantage that would hold up over the course of the race.

The reaching start, combined with a short first leg to the turning mark just a few hundred meters down the track, means the start of each race is an action-packed and adrenaline-fuelled couple of minutes, before the teams can focus on tactics for the (slightly) longer subsequent legs. And getting off the starting line well to grab an early lead is as important as it ever was.