A-Class Catamaran World Championships 2015 – The A-Class world community has assembled at the Italian camping resort of Punta Ala in Tuscany. Top sailors from 18 nations are competing in the sailing equivalent of Formula One. Some 173 competitors entered, making it by far the largest A cat event ever, and one of the largest cat events in the world this year.
The multiple World Champ and ETNZ skipper Glenn Ashby will be trying to retain his title. Those attempting to deprive him of it include the 2012 World Champ Mischa Heemskerk, former World Champions Stevie Brewin and Andrew Landenberger. Also Aussies Jason Waterhouse and Scott Anderson, Spanish Champion Manuel Calavia, Americans Bruce Mahoney and Lars Guck, British Champions Sam Newton and Chris Field and German aces Helmut Stumhofer and Bob Baier.
The American fleet though, has been depleted by the Italian customs refusing to release a container of boats after error in paperwork concerning US custom stamps, or absence thereof. And, up until Tuesday, they are still in the port.
However, the due to the generosity of the A Class world, and in particular the Polish Exploder company, Ben Hall was offered a boat but chose to pass it to Lars Guck as he was a higher US ranked sailor. Now currently lying in 13th after the first two races.
Always a class for innovation, the A class being a development class boat, has this year seen the development of the ‘Deck Sweeper’ sails and is being seen for the first time in a major competition after their unveiling at the Dutch Nats last month.
The sail is proving fast in the hands of the few top sailors who have them, but is thought to be the sail shape for the future. Looking similar to a windsurf sail, it has a curved boom fastening about three foot up the mast, and the sail extends down to the deck to create an efficient end plate effect. Also, as the total area of 150sq ft must remain the same, the sail shape has a lower centre of effort and is therefore considered better for the new breed of foiling A Cats. Less side force higher up, more power lower down.
Trampolines have also received attention. Lower drag is the trend now. Double skinned with the control ropes passing between the two layers and leaving the underside smooth and drag free. Even the holes are taped over and the sides are sealed to the hull, allowing these drum-skin tight tramps to have a tunnel hull effect. ‘Aggregation of Small Gains’ it is know as, and to quote Sir Chris Hoy when the French asked him why he was so fast at cycling he replied ‘Our wheels are just very very round!’
The winds at Punta Ala are variable to say the least. From drifty six knot affairs, to full on 25+ kt blasts.
The first racing started on Monday. The fleet is split into two and sail identical courses at the same time but some 1nm or so apart. The fleet split at the moment is basically random, but a little seeding has resulted in Ashby and Heemskerk being in different fleets.
Race one was sailed in eight to nine knots conditions. The light wind specialists, in particular the Southern German sailors were well up in both the fleets but only Ashby, on the fleet I was watching, managed to foil downwind, as if on some magic carpet ride. The rest went into low drag mode, sitting on the front beams. This didn’t stop Glenn foiling though.
Race two, I switched courses for the Mischa Show. By then the wind had increased to about 13 knots, allowing many more who had the J and Z fitted daggerboards, so get foiling. Most had a bit more fun now. This also resulted in Mischa simply going like a train upwind now, rounding the top mark on the first lap a good four minutes clear of the second placed sailor. He then simply jumped onto the foils until the bottom mark, consolidating his lead.
The gauntlet has been thrown down, the two main contenders both had good wins again today Tuesday, but again in different wind conditions, so now it will be crunch time as they meet head to head on the same course. The physicality and skill of Heemskerk vs the innate natural talent of Ashby. All bets are off so far.