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the thorpe theory

Quantum’s Jeff Thorpe is not only a good friend, he is one of the premier sailor/navigators here on the Left Coast (get it?). He led the SC 52 Triumph to the overall win in the most recent Newport to Ensenada race, but it didn’t start off too well. The dark blue boat floundering on the right in the picture is Jeff putting his powers to work…

So one of the things that you hear about offshore racing is the start does not matter much. But for me I always want to win the start which I am typically pretty good at, but the last 2 times I won the Ensenada race overall in 2013 on the R/P 52 Meanie which we were over early, and in 2021 on the SC 52 Triumph where I had a senior moment and was confused by by the 3 boat starting line, and inside outside line. I thought my approach was to the pin ’till my good friend Bob Little informed me at the last moment of where I actually was (ed: They were not at the pin). Our owner Steve Sellinger was kind enough to share his perspective and steps on this race winning strategy…Enjoy the roast !!

Morning fellas. What a day! Hope everyone is feeling well rested this morning. Normally we would have a zoom call to recap the race but we sufficiently rehashed the important aspects of the race enough to have the newly named Thorpe Start stamped in our amygdala for life. (The amygdala is the part of the brain for fear and confusion.). This is key guys – Fear and Confusion must be channeled just perfectly to enact this perfect Thorpe Start. Once mastered, you will own the racecourse.

In summary, The Thorpe Start Strategy is defined as:

1) First and most importantly, you must get the buy in from your crew. Since many will be well versed in the various starting strategies, it is best to keep your strategy secret and convince the crew that they should never question you. They must act spontaneously and with extreme loyalty to your every word. Any hesitation must be met with a stern rebuke.

2) At 20 seconds from the start, shoot in at the boat end convincing your crew the boat is actually the pin. The louder you yell, the more convincing you will be. This is about where the Fear & Confusion starts to play a critical role.

3) Tell your crew we are going to be early when you are really not.

4) Refocus your crew on an external enemy – another competitor is best. This is a trust building mechanism. This is often most effective when you choose the nearest boat and tell the crew we must give them a wide berth because of their unpredictability. This further enhances the confusion part of the strategy.

5) At the start go above the “pin”. Yes, that is correct, above the line. This is especially challenging for the driver as it will take every bit of your powers of persuasion to keep him from driving the boat to the real start line and critical point here – you must convince him or you may crash the committee boat aka “pin”.

6) Go above the boat, fake left – faking a gybe down into the entire fleet – this builds the fear in crew and in the entire fleet. While the committee boat erupts in laughter, tack around and come in behind the fleet – this is where the ruse unravels and we no longer call “the boat” “the pin”. The “boat” is now called the “boat”.

7) Pound your fist on your head and try to convince your crew you screwed up the start. Act like all is lost
? Sail low and straight. Ignore commanders’ weather service and the Expedition optimized routing

8) Finish ahead of your fleet and moments before the wind shuts down and win the race.

And that is how it’s done.

We will be in touch on next practice/sail. And btw, never practice The Thorpe Start. This is one of those things that gets worse the more you practice. You just feel it and go for it.

Photo thanks to Mary Longpre.