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Festival of Sails to be A1 fun for A-Class sailors

by Danielle McKay on 17 Jan 2013
Simon McKeon in action © .
World sailing speed record setter Simon McKeon has an insatiable need for speed, and he’ll be getting his fix at the Festival of Sails this year.

The former Australian of the Year will be competing in the hotly contested Gill A-Class Catamaran Southern Championships that will include five top 50 competitors from the 2012 world titles.


It will be the first major event for the Australian A-Class fleet since returning from the worlds in Florida Keys, America in October.

McKeon admits it’s been a less than ideal lead up, after foul weather in the wake of Hurricane Sandy delayed the return of the boats, with many sailors only having a chance to hit the water in recent days.

'We’ve hardly sailed our boats over the past five months because of those world championships,' McKeon said.

'It took a long time to get there and get back. I’m really looking forward to getting to Geelong, but I’ll have some cobwebs to blow off that’s for sure.'

There will be plenty at stake when the A-class sailors contest their Southern Championships during the Festival of Sails, from January 24 to 28 - the perfect warm-up ahead of the class nationals in Darwin mid-year.

The lure of the prime flat seas and fair breezes on Corio Bay has competitors salivating for next week’s series start of windward/leeward and course racing on Thursday 24th.

McKeon in particular has his sights on Graeme Parker, who finished ahead in the standings at the worlds in Florida. Parker finished ninth and McKeon finished 11th and next week the pair will finally meet again, this time on local waters.

'Graeme is one of the most experienced A-Class sailors you’ll find anywhere, and he’s just been on fire these last two or three years, annoying someone like me,’’ McKeon said.

'Geelong’s close to his home waters, he’s a Colac boy, and I think he knows the western side of the bay pretty well.'

While McKeon will be keeping a close eye on Parker from A Class Above, he’s isn’t forgetting the up and comers.

'In terms of pure boat speed it’ll be the younger guys like Stephen Brayshaw or Demon Parker,' he tipped.

'Then we’ve got a real hot-shot out of Darwin, Christpher Batenburg, and then you have David McKenzie, the list just goes on and on.'

With the 34th America’s Cup preparations heating up, multihulls are riding high on a wave of popularity.

While the A-Class is almost half a century old, it remains at the cusp of sailing technology.

Testament to the class is the fact that it’s the boat of choice for many America’s Cup sailors in their down time. In the 2012 national titles four sailors from Oracle Team USA competed, including Australia’s James Spithill.

McKeon reckons there are many parallels between the development of the A-Class, and the AC45 and AC72.


'A lot of the guys involved in the America’s Cup are spending time on the A-Class,’’ McKeon said. 'Their focus has to be on the America’s Cup, but when they’ve got time for themselves, they’re often spending time in the A-Class.

'The boat continues to be faster, and continues to be more refined. The research and development at the moment is a lot like the America’s Cup, it’s about what’s going on under the water.

Just like the AC45 and AC72, it’s all about hydrofoils.

'We do have restrictions on the type of hydrofoils that can be put on the main class, but the newer generation boats have these curbed centerboards that are creating a certain amount of lift,’’ he said.

'Before that it was the hull shape, and before that it was the square top sails. Right now it’s about the underwater foils, and that’s exciting.'

There is little wonder that McKeon can be found racing the fastest single-handed small catamaran in the world.

The investment banker and his sailing partner Tim Daddo set the world speed record in 1993 with Yellow Pages Endeavour, and held it for 11 years. They reclaimed it in 2009 when Macquarie Innovation became the first sailboat to sustain more than 50 knots, peaking at 54 kts, 100 kilometers an hour.

Australia’s Paul Larsen currently holds the world speed record of 65.45 knots with his Vestas Sailrocket 2. It’s a challenging benchmark that McKeon admits will be very difficult to beat.

'Paul Larsen has taken it to another realm, it’s fabulous what he’s achieved,’’ McKeon said.


'For our part we have to take a very deep breath and say, realistically what’s now required to do that? I can tell you, we’re not rushing back at the moment.

'Full credit to him (Larsen), he’s set a new world record, but by such a margin that I think everyone’s taking a deep breath.'

For now, McKeon says he’s satisfying his need for speed elsewhere. 'I’ll be getting it at Geelong, that’s for sure.'

Entries for this month’s Festival of Sails have climbed past 300 with Friday the final day to lodge an entry.

More than 100,000 people are drawn to the annual festival, which boasts the largest keelboat fleet in the Southern Hemisphere.

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