Ben Ainslie: Reaching starts
Ben Ainslie: Reaching starts
Another first in my current list of new experiences came today with the start of the fleet racing series. With eleven boats on the line and a high speed reaching start to the first mark, this part of the race is crucial. We’ve practiced as much as we could in the limited time since getting here, in particular I’ve worked on nailing the timed run into the line, but there’s nothing like doing it for real.
Clearly I’m used to sailing big fleets so I wasn’t that concerned about the move into this type of racing, but that’s not to say it wasn’t tough. The speed that you’re travelling at means that you have to make very quick and clear decisions. These are big powerful boats that do not manoeuvre quickly. It’s certainly not like sailing my Finn where I can flick in a few quick tacks to get into a better position. With a reaching start, before turning downwind, you are pretty limited on what you can do to recover from a tricky situation, tacking off is simply not an option.
But I think the lesson from today for me is that I need to think more about my strategy for the first leg. It is so easy to lose places in a few seconds here.
In the first race we had a nice start but we had a terrible exit from the first mark in which we were passed on both sides. We went from third or fourth to last in the space of about 30 seconds which was frustrating, but there is very little you can do when it happens. Having said that, we pulled back a bit in the first race which at least helped to demonstrate that our boat speed and handling is good, you just can’t afford to get spat out of the back of the fleet.
Our second race was equally tricky at the first mark but we didn’t lose places and managed to stay within touch of the leading pack, so overall I’m very pleased that we don’t have any major issues with speed or boat handling.
It’s clearly very important to think a bit further ahead, which is one of the things I will be working on. The trouble is, that’s easier said than done, especially on this race course with gusts and shifts funneling into the bay. The tide is also an issue, even at the high speeds we are travelling at and I think everyone’s finding it tricky to read the conditions. I can see why so many of the teams consider this to be one of the most challenging racing areas in the world.
Overall I do feel that I’m in at the deep end, but the racing was superb. I don’t think we should be surprised at our position in the fleet at the moment, quite the contrary. I never expected to walk into a class with some of the best sailors in the world who have been sailing these boats for a year and start winning from the outset. But I am still very happy with our progress so far. Once again it’s very early days and I’m facing a steep learning curve which I’m very excited about.
It might sound strange but I came into this without any expectations, I think that’s how it has to be.