The last A Class Catamaran race Glenn Ashby sailed on Lake Macquarie, north of Sydney, was when he won the 2009 World Championship. Today he fired a warning canon in the practice race for what will certainly be one of Australia’s most competitively fought National titles, the 2012 John Cootes Furniture Australian A Class Championships being sailed once again on Australia's largest salt-water lake, the site of the 2009 A-Cat Worlds and the 2011 Moth Worlds.
This is not a usual Country nationals, there are more medals clinking here than you can believe.
These Championships will be a unique event on the world sailing scene bringing together a slew of America's Cup sailors along with three current World Champions; Tom Slingsby (four times Laser World Champion) from Gosford, Nathan Outteridge (three times 49er World Champion) from Wangi Wangi and Steve Brewin (A-Class World champion), all sailing these high performance, high tech A Class 18 foot catamarans.
From the America's Cup arena come five sailors; Oracle America’s Cup Syndicate Australian sailor James Spithill (skipper of 2010 America’s Cup winner BMW Oracle) John Kostecki (ten World championships, U.S. Olympic silver medalist and tactician on 2010 America’s Cup winning BMW Oracle), Dirk de Ridder (Volvo Ocean racer, BMW Oracle and Oracle AC45 mainsheet trimmer) Darren Bundock (14 catamaran World titles and two Olympic Silver medals) and Glenn Ashby (Emirates Team New Zealand, with 14 multihull World titles and two Olympic Silver medals) and three former Olympic medalists Andrew Landenberger, Chris Cairns and Scott Anderson.
Today 69 boats took to the water for the practice race. In many classes that means two general recalls while the fleet tests the mettle of the PRO and then a bunch of retirementes after the top mark.
Not the A-Cats. PRO Tony Outteridge(Nathan's Dad) gunned the fleet away from a clean start and the fleet headed hard left. James Spithill was first to the top mark ahead of Glenn Ashby. Behind them the fleet was pushing hard, in the case of the 2011 A Class Catamaran World Champion Steve Brewin, too hard.
As Brewin accelerated from the top mark his hulls flew skywards to the right and then, as he fell off the back of the boat still on the trapeze, skidded hard left and capsized. As his mast hit the water there was that familiar crunching sound - broken mast and torn sail.
Down the run it was an Ashby ‘master class’. He sailed away from the fleet and extended on every run.
Three windward leewards and 30 minutes later, Ashby crossed ahead of a smiling Darren Bundock. The two sailors won Olympic Tornado Silver in Qingdao, China and they have almost 30 World Championships between them in multihull classes.
(Ashby was adjudged to have been OCS on the results sheet, but the warning cannon still delivered the same impact)
Third was Andrew Williams, then Brad Collett, Andrew Landenberger and Stephen Brayshaw, followed by four times Laser World Champion Tom Slingsby, America’s Cup winning helmsman James Spithill and dual 49er World Champion Nathan Outteridge. Just a few places back was Simon McKeon, for a long time the fastest sailor on the planet with Macquarie Yellow Pages. With just 24 days left as Australian of the Year, McKeon was having a blast back on the multihull scene.
The fleet was quickly back on the grass in front of the Wangi RSL Amateur Sailing Club with giant smiles everywhere, after a fast 20 knot hit out under azure blue skies.
Before the practice race Ashby had warned he was rusty - just two days on the water in A-Cats this year.
Ashby smiled. ‘It was one of those days, pull on everything as hard as it goes and hit the left hand corner. One of those breezy days when its semi survival and semi pushing. I had a couple of good trapezing runs downwind and managed to pull away a couple of hundred metres.
‘A good hit out and I am looking forward to tomorrow.’
At the top of the boat park Darren Bundock was explaining some finer technical points to his wife Carolijn Brouwer after her very first A-Cat outing. He felt she had done well just to get round without crashing.
‘Not a bad practice race, a little breeze blew out the cobwebs. Glenn had it pretty wick'd up today. The guy is insane downwind.
‘A lot of guys pushing really hard on the practice run, which is a bit strange really.
‘I saw Stevie (Brewin) getting washed out the back still hanging onto the trapeze in mid air and thought ‘that is going to hurt’.
‘That was a good mast. He spent two days fitting it out and got half a race out of it so that's going to make for a long night.’
Simon McKeon said ‘It was a bit of a war of attrition out there. It was five to six knots more than I was expected and the forecast is quite a bit heavier over the next couple of days.
‘There are 20 full time professionals in this fleet and they will work overnight to make any repairs.’
James Spithill had a big grin. ‘That was great, just happy to beat Glenn around the first mark. He overtook me pretty quickly down the run. Tom (Slingsby) got me just on the line and Nathan (Outteridge) was just behind me. Had a swim on the second run, so that cost me a few places. Not sure what happened to JK (John Kostecki and Dirk (de Ridder).
‘But it was awesome, awesome, and just unreal. It does not get much better than that.’
Spithill was right - it was awesome racing and that was just the practice race. Watch this space!!
2012 John Cootes Furniture Australian A Class Championships commence January 3 and will continue until January 7.
Event website http://www.a-cat.org.au