by Gordon Upton
The first weekend in March saw the London Dinghy Show take place at Alexandra Palace. For the third year running, the British ‘A’ Class Catamaran Association (BACCA) have displayed the latest version of this exquisitely elegant machine in what is essentially the Formula One of small boat sailing. ‘A’ cat sailors consider foiling moths to be more in the Moto GP area, judging from their cornering techniques and frequent crashes!
The BACCA Boys: L to R. Paul Shaw, Chris Field, Jamie Walker, Phil Neal, Jamie Rankin, Colin Bannister, Struan Wallace, Gordon Upton. Dave Lowe, Steve Sawford.
This year’s show was no different. The very latest edition of the legendary DNA arrived, factory fresh via the Eurotunnel, to the UK on the previous Thursday night. It was to be this year’s mount for the current British and former European champion Chris Field. The boat was so new and time was so pressing that Chris was found running about the DNA factory in search of a trampoline and the correct DNA mast while the DNA guys glued in the hatch rings and screwed on various other fixings. Then a short drive to their sales agent, Sailcentre, where he collected together the other various components, blocks, ropes etc. plus another second hand DNA thrown on top, to save on delivery costs back to the UK.
2012 World Champion Mescha Heemskerke provided his new sail. As is usual with the ‘A’ class, this sail had been tailored specifically to the mast. It was also tailored to Chris’ weight and being a tallish chap, although a little shorter than Mischa, he can handle a fuller sail and carry more power. With the sail, it is capable of being taken from very full to a virtual flat sheet in seconds using the boat’s super-efficient 16;1 downhaul and 9;1 cascading mainsheet. This also helps to depower the 75kg machine when needed.
The drive back allowed reflection on the new boat’s design and the older DNA placed inverted on top provided an excellent comparison.
The new DNA is an optimised version of the World Championship winning boat of Glenn Ashby and co. The beams have been moved forward 55mm and the foil slot is some 100mm further forward in the hull. The main difference to earlier DNAs is that the foil slot is now much nearer the outside of the hull where it exits at the bottom. This allows a modification to be made to the J board, where a kink is added in the area where it emerges from the hull. This means that added stability can be gained by the additional area of the repositioned board, whilst still keeping to the 750mm minimum distance to the centerline. As a result, the boat is a better foiler and still legal within the existing rules. Chris has developed a control line system to allow simultaneous rake adjustment of both foils whilst on the trapeze, so he can stay out on the wire as he bears away at the top mark thus keeping speed up and going onto the foils.
At the back there are the standard DNA longer rudders with winglets. This is an area that the DNA team are looking to optimise over the next few months. Asymmetric T foils look to be the favourite way to go at the moment. The rudder profile changes as you go deeper. Essentially, the balanced section at the top, where there is a 30mm area in front of the hinge axis, tapers away towards the bottom. This gives a reduced rudder effect as it rides higher in the water, something that is required as speed increases when on foils.
The J board design also looks the way forward too. The DNA ones have a small amount of glass fibre, just two or three layers, in the centre to provide a little flexibility. This helps to dampen the motion caused when in wavy conditions and stabilise the ride. They seem to think that even if rule 8.2 is removed, allowing bottom inserted boards, the J Board is still the best for optimum all round performance. L boards are good downhill, but provide too much drag uphill to make up for it, unless they are retracted on the windward hull. And something that increases the workload on a singlehanded boat is not a good thing.
Now, there must be a reason for ETNZ and Glenn Ashby to choose the ‘A’ class cat, above anything else, to race and train on. The boat is a development class. It is seeing some exciting action at the moment and foiling is the new black. ‘A’ cat sailors everywhere should be immensely flattered to have the world’s very best performance sailors choose this boat to play with. Foiling is still in the early stages yet, as Mischa only showed us all he could foil in anger less than a year ago at the Europeans in Barcelona.
The guys manning the BACCA stand were surprised to find then many show visitors seemed to have been following the recent World Championships and the current developments that have been taking place within the class, given particular impetus now following the Americas Cup. ‘Will you be allowed to foil?’ was the most frequent question heard. ‘YES!’ was the unanimous reply from the BACCA members and to the obvious delight of the enquirer.
This is where the new ‘A’ class sailors will come from, people who want to fly. It was pointed out that the boats are already flying now under the current rules and unless a measure is taken, as is wanted by a couple of other national associations who essentially want to ‘declaw’ the boat and make all boats into ‘Penguins*’, foiling boats must be the way forward for this development class to go. New boats out of the box are able to do it and older boats are all potential candidates for conversion kits allowing anyone who fancies a go to try. Visitors were then introduced to Chris and Mischa, for the opinions and advice of guys who actually do it for real. The foils can gain you about 200 - 300m on a downwind leg, as it allows a little more speed - maybe 10-15%, not the bowel watering high speeds that people on the web will tell you about, but they allow deeper angles to be sailed too.
In the UK, the ‘A’ class cat had a reputation for being expensive and delicate. It even says so in a few catamaran sailing manuals so it must be true. However, over the last few years, the BACCA has seen a considerable increase in numbers and interest. Stronger all carbon machines that can generally take pretty much any conditions up to 25kts. Many have sailed in more and coupled with efficiently de-powerable rigs, they have opened people’s eyes to them. With second hand boats around to be had from £3000, it is not all that expensive to start on either, although the one at the show does cost some £25k new and you must fetch it yourself.
The BACCA, over recent years, have been an evangelical bunch, pushing the profile of the ‘A’ class in the UK by having an active band of travelling sailors who turn up at cat open meetings all over the UK bringing their love and joy in this elegant machine. Sailors of such things as Tornadoes and Hurricanes and who have crew issues, are starting to realise there is life still left. British ‘A’ class sailors also now regularly invade Europe, with trips this year planned to Garda in late May, the French Nationals, the Europeans, the German Nationals and the ever popular Dutch Nationals. And, with Mischa coming over to train and compete in the British Nationals at Rutland Water in late September, we hope to see a few overseas guys visiting these shores and also sampling the delicacies of the area that is world famous for it’s pork pies and Stilton cheeses!
* The Penguin is a flightless seabird BTW.