North Sails LOFT NEWS

August 2, 2019


Pre-Race Homework Is Key

Dent Passage is one of the world’s most picturesque start lines. Surrounded by the Hamilton Island Yacht Club, the Golf Club on Dent Island and the beautiful water the Whitsundays are famous for, it’s easy to understand why Hamilton Island Race Week has such a strong following. While it may be scenic, don’t get fooled into thinking it is an easy race track – the islands create localized wind shifts and pressure changes that differ from the big picture prevailing wind, as well as creating some interesting tide challenges. Let’s have a look at the Dent Passage starting line and think about some of the factors that will go into choosing the best starting strategy.

Find out as much as you can before you get there. A quick look at the historical wind data for Hamilton Island in August shows 72% of the time the wind is in the South-Easterly quadrant. We can also find out what the tide times are for the week of the race, which you can see below.

Putting together these two pieces of information, we can start to map out what the starting situation will look like well before we are even at the venue. Assuming that the start times are around the usual – 11am – there’ll be an incoming tide at the start every day except the last day, which will be slack tide. Around this area, the tide floods to the south, and ebbs towards the north.

Let’s map out the information we have so far.

As we can see on the chart, with the wind coming from the South-East and us racing towards the North, the TWA will be anywhere from 170 – 100 on Starboard tack. This means we will be using either a spinnaker or Code Zero to get us to the top corner of Dent Island – our first turning mark. We also know that the tide will be pushing us backwards, so getting out of it will be important – especially in light winds. Here’s a checklist of the things you can to do on race day to make sure you are as prepared as you can be:

Wind Check

For a Dent Passage start, it is always a good idea to motor over to the NW corner of Dent Island before the start to check how the start line wind compares to the big picture wind in Dent Passage. This is important because it will tell you which sail combo you’ll be using as you around the island and during the next leg.

Tide & Depth Check

On your way back to the starting area, take note of how fast the tide is moving. You’ll be able to tell this by comparing your speed through water to your speed over ground. If your speed over ground is faster than your speed through water, the tide is going with you and vice versa. You’ll often find that there is less tide pushing you backwards on the edges of the course, but it’s a very good idea to check the depth along the Dent Island shoreline if you think you might go that way, there are some shallow spot along the shore that you might not see on a chart – very important to know if your particular boat can go there or not!

Start Line check

Once we are back at the start line, check the TWA and distance to the first mark – either using a navigation program like expedition or manually by sailing to each end of the line and checking the
wind. Comparing this information to the big picture wind will help choose which sails you’ll use at the start and into the next leg. It’s important here to take into account your crew’s ability, there’s not much point planning to peel from the Code Zero to A2 if you and your crew have never practiced it before.

Getting a transit

Well before your start, get a 4 boat length transit – that is – a transit that your bowman can use to tell you that you are 4 boat lengths below the line. Do this by slowly motoring up towards the pin end, when you think you are 4 boat lengths away get your bowman (standing on the bow) to look through the Hamilton Island Yacht club mast to the land behind. Remember the object, it could be a particular tree, or maybe a house. Once you’ve got this transit, keep motoring towards the eastern end of the line and get another transit when the bow of the boat is at the pin, this is your start line transit, so you’ll know exactly when the bow of the boat is on the line.


Get your strategy sorted nice and early, and make sure everyone on the boat knows the plan. There’ll be lots of boats around so stay out of the chaos of the people starting before you. Assign someone on the boat to keep an eye on how far from the line you are from at least 10 minutes until your start. With the tide pushing you away from the line, the last situation you want to find yourself in is 5 minutes away from the line with 4 minutes to go!

The best strategy is usually a simple one…

Don’t over complicate it! It is simply a matter of prioritizing the information you have to make the correct decision. Don’t forget, strategy is the fastest way to the next mark in the absence of other boats. Tactics are how you manage all the other boats in your way. There’s no point starting at the pin end with 30 other boats all going nowhere!


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