Anthony Kotoun: How a ProStart Aides Racing in Current

A professional sailor since he was 25 years old, Anthony Kotoun has earned accolades in a variety of classes; including the Moth, J-24, Melges 20, and Melges 32.  One item he never leaves the dock without is his Velocitek ProStart.   Below, the former J-24 World champion describes how his ProStart helps him make tactical decisions when sailing in current, when everything is not always as it seems.

Anthony Kotoun:

Having just returned from two events where current was a major factor, I’d like to share a few ways the ProStart helped us around the racecourse. Current can wreak havoc on a sailor’s mind, but once you learn how to use the features of the ProStart, things can become a little less confusing.

First the basics:

Heading- where your bow is pointed.
COG- Course over the ground- where you are going.
Speed- How fast you are going through the water.
SOG- Speed over the ground- How fast you are actually traveling over the ground.

If the current is on the axis of the wind either with it or against it, the current will impact your Speed-SOG relationship more than your Heading-COG relationship. If the current flow is 90 degrees (perpendicular) to the wind, your Heading-COG relationship will be affected more than your Speed-SOG combo. Another key thing to remember – current has a bigger effect on your race in light wind conditions.

The Starts In Charleston

At Charleston Race Week we had current with the wind, against the wind and across the wind. To help us get our heads around what was happening, we did a few practice starts near the RC boat to see how the boat behaved when we did our usual routine. To put it mildly, things were way different than what we were used to.

A Melges 20 usually goes upwind at 5.5 -5.8 knots. Going upwind with the current,  the ProStart told us we were SOGing 7-8kts. That means we were doing our normal speed plus 1.5-2 kts additional, thanks to the current. Even in our down-speed mode (when the jib’s furled and where we usually do 2kts) we were doing 5 kts.  So, judging our closing rate to the starting line took a little mental recalibration.

Later on in the day the current switched 180°, fighting us upwind.    As you can imagine, it took some practice to get used to going 3 knots upwind instead of 7-8.

Throughout CRW the ProStart’s SOG display was very helpful. Since the start line is anchored to the bottom, you need to know how fast you are traveling over the bottom, not through the water!

On the last day we had current perpendicular to the wind.  I thought – “Great, now we have to get our heads around how this is going to affect our heading-COG relationship.” Adding fuel to the fire, the wind was under 7kts which meant the current’s effect would be more pronounced.

We sheeted in and headed upwind. On starboard tacks the current hit us on our leeward side, pushing us to the right.  Axis wise let’s say the weather mark and wind were at 360,  the current was coming from 270 and we were sailing a heading of approx 325. BUT, the ProStart told us we were COG’ing at about 350-355.  So with the mark set at 360 and us having a COG of 355, we were only 5 deg off the mark.

With this information I was able to make a quick decision: spend the majority of the race on starboard and make any time on port short- or we stand a very good chance of overstanding or worse: getting flushed out of the harbor for an unscheduled tour of Ft. Sumter.

The Beats in West Palm

The week after CRW I sailed Melges 32s in West Palm Beach. This was my first time buoy racing in Palm Beach and I was surprised to experience the power of the Gulf Stream first-hand.  Along the beach there wasn’t much current, but once you reached the weather mark (about 1.5 miles off the beach) it was going at 4 kts!  It was so strong that on the first day it ripped the bottom off a mark! In the name of preserving RC assets, the rest of the week we had powerboats motoring in place as our weather marks.

Come race time we had wind out of 90 and a current flowing from the south. With this cross current we had to keep an eye on our COG-Heading relationship. On port tack, near the bottom of the course, our heading and COG were very close together. As we progressed up the beat to the east, however, the current strengthened and created a divergence between our COG and Heading. At some points this difference was up to 25 degrees.

The ProStart was helpful for two reasons.  First, it helped us find the easy to overstand port tack layline (which seemed to be a honey hole!) Once on port, it helped us to know what mode we needed to be in.

To find the port layline when we were on starboard we would recall our port tack COG.  Peter Holmberg, our tactician, would use his handbearing compass to tack us onto port when the weather mark’s  bearing lined up with our port tack COG.  Once on port, our heading would be far below the mark but the ProStart revealed that our COG was right at it!

On the port layline, speed is how gains are made.  Hence, our mode was important.  We could sail high and slow or low and fast.  Which mode?  was decided by inevitable inconsistencies in the current and boat on boat tactics.

As the mainsheet trimmer these decisions are my responsibility.  To help me make good decisions and to not let me get too low or too high, Peter let me know what the bearing was to the mark.  I would then compare that number to the ProStart’s COG and use the difference to make trim adjustments. For example, if someone tacked on us and we were COGing low of the mark, I knew it was ok to sheet in a little and set up in clear air above.

Wrap Up

Sailors are wired to think they’re heading wherever the bow is pointing or they’re going as fast as the water is moving by.  However, this is not often the case when you sail in current.   Having a ProStart and knowing a few tricks to unlocking its potential can help you understand what is actually happening with your course and speed. You can use this information to make far better decisions, which in turn, will help you achieve better results.

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