Yours is a common difficulty as even the best sailors sometimes make a mistake and start at the back. Luckily, the knack of making consistently good starts can be learnt. But to see why some people haven't yet caught on, we have to go back a bit - back, before the start, back even beyond the Warning Signal.
These were (probably) the sailors sailing aimlessly about, not doing their warm-up exercises - not the sort of warm-up necessary in athletic sports (although there are some who say that sailors should warm up their muscle groups before the race). No, the warm-up we mean here is getting used to the conditions. So that both the crew and boat are in sync with their environment and can give it their all from the start. This will involve going through a series of simple exercises.
1. By sailing hard on the wind on each tack for a few minutes, it is pretty usual to note how the boatís heading alters as the wind shifts, etc. However, this routine should also be used to get into the rhythm of the waves and wind. The sailors should be working hard at "feeling" what the boat is telling them, of course. They could even take it in turns to close their eyes to use other senses - but the other should keep a good look out!
2. There should be lots and lots of tacking, feeling how the boat is affected by the waves. Here, we are trying to find out what effect they have on the boat, and how long it takes to get going again if we stop. Because gybing is (usually) not needed until later in the race, it's not quite so critical but nonetheless a good few should be tried.
3. Acceleration is everything at the start. So, stop the boat, and then see how long it takes to get going back up to hull speed. This obviously varies with the conditions. If it is difficult to judge, then use a mark as a fixed point.
4. If we are early for the start, we may need to stop. How can we do this? Practice letting the sails out, backing the sails, moving aft. Luffing up (and therefore going over the line) will not be a good option. Then, see how long it takes to get going and what is the best way of doing it. Work at sheeting the sails, at heeling angles, etc.
5. By this time, the line should be laid. So, which is the best end to start? Work it out by sailing along the line, sheeting the mainsail perfectly to the wind. Then tack without altering the mainsheet and sail back on a reciprocal course. If the mainsheet has to be eased to get the main to set perfectly to the wind, then the end of the line you are sailing from is the paying end. If the main has to be sheeted in, then the end you are sailing towards is the paying end. Then go and make a few starts there just to see.
6. Practise your run up to the line, seeing how long it takes and the effect of waves, etc., but remember the actual start will have more boats about, so that getting there will be slower.
Whilst doing all these things, keep a really good lookout all around. It would be a great shame to damage your boat, or even worse, to damage someone else's because you were concentrating too hard on other things.
Going through this routine gives you the confidence to go into the start knowing that you can spring into action instantly because you know what is going to happen.