A-CAT NATIONAL & WORLD CHAMPIONSHIPS

A few days have now passed since we said au revoir to all the ‘A’ cat sailors who came from 3 continents, some travelling tens of thousands of kilometers to be here, and all have gone back, some to snow and ice, or freezing rain and political turmoil.   Now is a good time to reflect on what actually happened on the golden sun drenched beaches of the Fraser Coast. 

We saw a few of the very best sailors in the World strut their stuff on these thoroughbred carbon fibre racing machines.  And by very best, we actually do mean that.  The ‘worst’ of the top five sailors in the Open fleet is a triple World Champion in two catamaran classes, the others have Gold and Silver Olympic medals, and three have actually held up high the World’s top sailing trophy, the America’s Cup.  And the guy who won the Classic division fleet is an Olympic medalist for Australia back in the day.  That is the caliber of visitor Hervey Bay has hosted. 

The World Championships for the ‘A’ Cat follows a sequence of Europe – Americas – Europe – Australasia – Europe and usually attracts about 100 to 130 sailors.  Many will ship their boats around the world in containers, others will charter boats in that country.  As a result, the whole place has the atmosphere of a circus, or a festival.  Sailors meet up, often after not seeing each other for several months or even years, but simply continue their conversations from where they left off.  It is a very friendly class by and large, possibly because we all rely on each other and help out when things go awry. 

This year was the first time that the class had held a dual championship for its two divisions.  The Classics – essentially the original ‘A’ Cat, with straight or C shaped dagger boards that are not allowed to have more that one hull out of the water, and the division actually sailed by most of the World’s ‘A’ Cat sailors, and the Open or Foiling Division, which are the spectacular seat of the pants boats capable of reaching nearly 30 or more knots in the right hands.  This was done to avoid a damaging split of the class when the foiling J and Z boards, with their L and T rudders emerged back in 2015, provoking avid discussions and arguments, which were successfully put to and end by the twin division decision.  In smaller fleets, both divisions run together on the same course, as both are still legally ‘A’ Cats and measure as such. The results are then split out.  However, in bigger fleets, because of the speed disparity and differing sailing angles, this is now considered too dangerous for a big fleet, hence the two courses. 

This year the Worlds were preceded by the AUS National Championships. This is a good warm up event for many sailors, and will provide a boost to the numbers the country usually gets at its annual championship regatta.  This also provided a valuable shake down for the race committee and particularly the shore crews and rescue boats.  These volunteers are absolutely indispensable and any regatta cannot be run without them.  This became obvious toward the end of the Worlds week when the beach ramps were washed away and they rebuilt a whole new one in a couple of hours like the Roman Army Engineers. 

The racing on both fleets went smoothly, particularly during the worlds.  The winds were generally higher than forecast, which lead to some exciting racing.  Even though 3 race days were lost, the Race Officers managed to get 9 races into the 3 suitable days, which gave the sailors two races to be able to discard leaving them with their 7 best results to count.  This was appreciated by the sailors as there have been occasions in the past where a regatta was declared finished after the minimum number of races had been completed and everyone went a couple of thousand km home again rather unfulfilled. 

The winning sailors were never really in doubt, particularly as the Nationals provided a good clue as to the form.  Andrew Landenberger got 8 straight wins on his new Exploder Ad3 Classic, the first time such a boat had been sailed in anger, and it has proved to be a very good version of this popular Polish design.  The boat only differs from it’s foiling brother in as much as the curved dagger boards are 200mm further from the front beam, and most of the board rake gubbins has been done away with, resulting is a new winning design for the Exploder stable which is bound to prove popular with Classic sailors. 

On the open course, the NZ America’s Cup winning team had their big guns in action.  Glenn Ashby, chasing his 10th World Title, held off a challenge by the Dutch double Champion, and reigning F 18 World Champ, Micsha Heemskerk, and also a late surge by his Emirates Team NZ winning helm Peter Burling, together with the third of the trio, namely Blair Tuke, Burling’s Olympic 49er Gold winning team-mate. 

The largest overseas fleet was the USA/CAN team.  They arrived at the Pink Galah in their fetching pink blazers to huge amusement from all.  Their top sailor, the US National Champion, Bruce Mahoney, finished a very creditable 10th in the Open fleet, and is a testament to the strength of that field. 

Designwise, the fleet looked to have stabilized somewhat as regards radical developments.  Subtle things, such as a slight reshaped foil or rudder tip are the thing now.  The ETNZ team had new boards arrive the day before the start.  They tested them, and they proved good.   Booms look to be making a comeback in the decksweeper sails after many did away with them, but the boomless sail is a black art as regards setting up, and not everyone has grasped that skill set yet.  This is a development class after all, so it won’t stand still, but after the last few year’s upheavals, it’s nice for things to settle for a while at least. 

The sheer workload of these ETNZ professionals has to be seen to be believed.  Not a single opportunity is missed, nor a mistake learned from. Ashby is know for his relentless pursuit of excellence.  His attention to detail and resulting feel make him at one with his boat in a way we’ve not witnessed in anyone else.  His ability to process and deal with setbacks, being it a wrong choice of windshift, or a misjudged gybe, make him the superstar that he is.  The whole team were in a different league to the mere mortals making up the rest of the fleet. 

In the end, this was a regatta that will long be remembered for the way it was run, particularly by their head Darren (Mr Fixer) Everard, and Dr Paul Neeskens who ran the day to day operations, alongside sailing in the classic fleet.  The sailors were welcomed into the local community, who sponsored boats, provided superb coffee and breakfasts, beers, accommodation and all manner of other delights.  Several have expressed their desire to return to the area for a holiday. 

And it was fantastic for the rest of the fleet to witness the sailing skills or display. You’ll never get to race Lewis Hamilton on race track and so few other sportspeople will ever get the chance to be on a start line with their idols, but you can do that in this sport and particularly in this class.  And you will even consider it an honour when you were lapped by them at the second bottom mark.  They can all say they were there, and that is something they will remember that for the rest of their lives with pride. 

Thank you Hervey Bay, you did Australia proud.  And see you all in Weymouth next August! 

Gordon Upton