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Three weeks to go until the A Class Cat Worlds

by Gordon Upton 27 Jul 08:19 BST 18-21 & 24-30 August 2019
Twice World 'A' Cat Champion Mischa Heemskerk (NED) © Gordon Upton

In three weeks, the most beautiful people from the 'A' Cat world will be assembling at the Weymouth & Portland National Sailing Academy for the 'A' Class Catamaran World Championships. The 'A' Cat class is over 53 years old and this is the first time the Worlds have been held in the UK in living memory.

It follows an initiative by the International 'A' Class Association to help stimulate growing fleets in counties that have not had big representations in recent years. 2016 saw a great Worlds at a new European venue for the class of Sopot, Poland. Now, finally, it is the UK's turn, the 'A' Cat is coming home! To date, there are 86 competitors, but although the Earlybird entry is now finished, entries will still be accepted right up until the day before. The GBR team is leading the fleet numbers at 14 boats, with more registered for the Nationals sailing the week before.

This is a thoroughbred development class, meaning that the boats only have to conform to a maximum length, beam, a 150sqft sail area, including the wing-mast and a 75kg minimum weight. You can make the hull or sail whatever shape you like and from whatever you like, and you can rig all your setups to your personal desires. There are a few other rules, usually concerning foils, and these have been the cause of controversy for a couple of years from about 2015. It centred on the innovation of foiling whereby it was discovered that using certain foil shapes you could get the boat to foil. This was driven by innovations in the America's Cup and multiple World 'A' Cat champion Glenn Ashby and a few others were keen to push the technology to it's limits.

The controversy centred on the now famous 'A' Cat rule 8, which stated that main foils must be inserted from the top of the hull, and the tips be no closer that 1.5m apart. This resulted in an alphabet of new foil shapes, from the classic C, to the J, the JZ and now the Z in it's various derivations seems to have been the shape settled upon as an optimum shape. The boards can be raked manually, but no automatic controls, such as a wand, is allowed. Body movement is the way. However, as some people converted or bought the new shaped boats, many sailors in the existing fleets began to worry that they would be left behind as many, particularly in the more mature bracket, were unable/unwilling to afford, or unable/unwilling to learn the new circus skills that seemed to be needed to sail the foiling boats.

However, a decision was made in 2016 by the International A-Division Catamaran Association (IACA) whereby the class was separated into two divisions. The Classic Division, which were the non-foiling straight or C board boats, and the Open Division consisting of all the foilers. Both divisions gained slightly different handicaps and the Classic sailors were by and large happy again. This also resulted in a new dual World Championships with both Classic and Open titles being contested.

The GBR fleet has been growing steadily over ten years. And recently, given the average age of the GBR sailor fleet, the Classics have been gaining in popularity as their closer racing has become a draw to cat sailors who have been unable to find crews or helms, and to other single handed class sailors looking for an exciting and exquisite upgrade. For the more athletic (read fitter) though, the Open foilers still provide the ultimate in speed, and with new techniques being learned, the upwind foiling techniques make the boat a total missile.

With the 'Warm Up Event' of the GBR 'A' Class Nationals, starting on the 17th August, many will, as in previous years, be using this event to get match fit and test their settings and kit for the main event a week later. Now is a good time to check on whom we have in the running. To date, there are 86 entries.

We have three former and one reigning class World Champion. 12 reigning National Champions coming from Poland, Switzerland, UK, Netherlands, Denmark, Sweden, Spain, France, Czech Rep., Austria, USA and New Zealand. We have a few former America's cup sailors, several ex Olympians, including our own 2000 Athens Olympics GBR Tornado sailor Adam May, a current China Team Sail GP skipper, NLZ Phil Robertson, who will be sailing in the Sail GP event at Cowes the week before, and the Guinness World Ultimate Speed Sailing record holder AUS Paul Larsen.

The competition is set to be fierce in both fleets. The foilers should love the flat water of Portland Harbour. In the absence of the Open World Champ, AUS Glenn Ashby, away on his ETNZ duties, we will have a tussle for his crown. The Two former World Champs of AUS Stevie Brewin and NED Mischa Heemskerk look set to do battle on the Open Division. Snapping at their heels may well be ESP Manual Calavia, a man who has come very close before and had it snatched by an OCS in 2016. In the Classics, the old rivals of Andrew Landenberger and Scotty Anderson well be clashing yet again. However, Andrew's teenage son, Andy (yep, confusing!) is a champion in waiting judging from his 2018 performance.

All is to play for in this most elegant and stylish of catamaran classes. The GBR Nationals start 18th - 21st August, the 'A' Class Worlds start 24th - 30th August. Get down to WPNSA and watch, you wouldn't want to die not knowing....

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