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A Class Catamaran World Championships at Toulon Yacht Club - Preview

by Gordon Upton 25 Aug 2023 05:33 PDT 9 September 2023
Darren Bundock, AUS and Mischa Heemskerk, NED. Both looking for podium finishes in the Open category © Gordon Upton /

In just over two weeks' time, the warm, azure waters of Toulon Bay will be filled with the spectacle of more than 120 of the World's fastest single-handed cats. The A-Class Catamaran 2023 Worlds are starting on the 9th September. Hosted by the Toulon Yacht Club, this historic harbour is the HQ of the French Navy, so rather like a French Portsmouth and is beautifully sheltered from the biggest seas the Mediterranean can bring up.

However, it is also right in the famous Mistral wind zone. This North-westerly wind is produced when there is high pressure in the Bay of Biscay, and a corresponding low in the Gulf of Genoa. The wind will run down the Loire valley, getting faster due to the venturi effect produced by the presence of the Alps to the East, and burst out across the Southeast coast at speeds of up to 50 knots. This is somewhat above the 22-knot class limit and produces some interesting effects. But much of the time, the wind will behave itself and a nice 10-12 knot sea breeze settles in place over flat seas, ideal for the foiling version of this class.

This is the first European based A-Cat Worlds since the 2019 Weymouth event. We lost two years from Covid lockdowns, and the last one was the 2022 Houston Worlds, so this is really the first chance for the European sailors to take part en masse, as it were. There was the 2022 Europeans at Garda, back in September, but the venue was limited to 100 boats, and venue tended to favour the Open foiling category of this twin category class, rather than the more popular non-foiling Classics version. This time, the Open/Classic split is 43 Open to 80 Classic.

The French are a largely Classic fleet, it's popularity coming from the close racing and it being easier to sail for 'people of a certain age' who are too long in the tooth to be bothered to learn the circus skills demanded by the Open foilers. As a result, nearly 35 of the Classic entrants so far are French sailors. In this truly international event, 17 nations are represented with their sails reading AUS, AUT, BEL, CHZ, DEN, ESP, FIN, FRA, GBR, GER, ITA, ISV, NED, POL, SUI, SWE and USA. The big names include the current reigning World Champions of Ravi Parent USA (Open) and Andrew Landenberger AUS (Classic) both hoping to retain their crowns.

The 12 race, week long series means that consistency will be the winning formula. The winds are not usually the same day after day. At the ends of the class envelope, that's 5 knots at the minimum and up around the 22 knots, the Classics should enjoy themselves. They will be racing in separate Open and Classic fleets. The Classics with their lower underwater drag in the lighter winds, and before the foilers can get flying in around 7-8 knots, usually sees them finishing faster around their course.

At the high end, their simple ability to remain in the water, when the foilers are battling to stop their things simply taking off even with their foils dialled down to 0 deg lift, make them less stressful to sail. But mid range, the foilers have it all the time. The lead boats will all be the ones who can master the illusive upwind foiling modes, making them rocket uphill even in a moderate breeze. In marginal winds, the winner will be the first one to get on the foils.

Names to watch in the Open fleet would be POL 41, Kuba Surowiec on his Exploder Ad3. This slim lad is a foil whisperer. He can get foiling in the lowest of winds, demonstrating it in Houston's race 1, where, from a mid-fleet top mark rounding, he managed to coax his boat up onto the foils, and ate the rest of the fleet alive, catching them all unaware and in their deep modes, to finish a good margin ahead of the fleet for his only bullet of that series.

His closest rival, both in physique and in skill, is USA 76, Ravi Parent also on the Exploder, however, he has the new optimised Redondo designer version now. He managed to drag back from a 10th in that first race to get 3 bullets and a clutch of seconds to beat Kuba on the last downwind of the final race to become Open Champion. There are also a few multiple former World Champs wanting to have a piece of the pie too.

The flying Dutchman and triple class World Champion, NED 7, Mischa Heemskerk, on his DNA F1x will be looking for something following his Euro champion title win back in September at a fruity Garda event. A big physical sailor, the lighter conditions don't favour him when he's up against sailors built like jockeys, but if a bit of the Mistral arrives, he'll be flying well. Then there's his Garda nemesis in the form of triple world champ AUS 4, Stevie Brewin on the Exploder AD3. Stevie's consistency was his superpower in Italy, and his ability to handle the hot stuff nicely certainly paid off, as he finished first in that regatta.

Others to watch could be former Euro champ ESP 11, Manuel Calavia on his Ad3. He seems equally at home in the light stuff as he is in the blow. If he can tame his occasional Latin temperament moments, his could do well. AUS 88 is Darren Bundock on the Ad3. He is an old hand on the podium of a few classes, being an Olympic Tornado Silver medallist twice and multiple World titles in that class as well as an AC skipper. However, a major A-Cat title still illudes him. His countryman AUS 14, Adam Beatie on the Ad3, could be another one to watch.

Proving he's not just a local hero, winning state championships, he pretty convincingly won the AUS nationals back in January. The smart money has him down as in the top five. And talking of local, FRA 2, Emmanuel Dode, on his Ad3, has also been turning in some good results in major competitions over the last few events, and was 6th in Houston. Also watch for ITA 13, Lamberto Cesari, on his Ad3. He put in some good finishes at Garda too.

The lightness of this boat class can make it an ideal mount for women sailors too, as the A-Cat's open design parameters can be configured to fit people of all sizes. Light sailors get a soft mast and flat sails, more substantial sailors go for stiff masts and fuller sails. However, each will nevertheless find their best and favourite wind window.

There are two women sailors registered: USA 426, Cam Farrah, on her Exploder Ad3. Cam is expert in various technical boat and cat classes, and comes fresh from her role as one of the tacticians on the Team USA SailGP team, standing right behind Jimmy Spithill. The other woman in the event is GER 15, Katrin Brunner on her DNA F1x. Katrin is a veteran A-Cat sailor, sailing the boat class for many years. Sailing on Lake Konstance, she is another lightweight, so is rather fast when it comes to the light wind sailing.

In the Classic fleet, you frequently see a wider range boat designs and ages, with at least ten different designs here this time. Many find the older boats can be much faster with their slimmer sterns in the lighter winds than many newer ones. They are also much more likely to be nearer the class 75kg weight limit as they are without the heavy structural alphabet shaped foils and their associated rake altering mechanisms, although some do have them and they are allowed for altering the main boards only.

They are frequently races alongside the Open boats, with many clubs just running one fewer lap for the Classics. That way they all tend to finish in similar times. This is a big fleet, and with much talent going on there. Expect many position changes, as the nip and tuck action of a close fought Classic duel can be much fun.

AUS 308, Andrew Landenberger will be hunting for another crown. This former Olympic medallist has been the unsurpassed master of the Classic since it's category was founded in 2018. However, he was a former World class champ before then. Beating him, will be a hard ask, but all dogs have their day, they say. One challenger could be his own son, AUS 300 Andreas Landenberger.

If he can crack the consistency secret, he will one day do it, I'm sure. AUS 31, Scotty Anderson sailing the Ad3 will be ready to pounce on either of the Landys, should they make any mistake. Another Olympian and former World Champ, the Fibrefoam creator is a wily old wolf and will take no prisoners.

Meanwhile, talking of caninae synonyms, German's Little Fox is GER 121, Moritz Weis, on the Ad3. He is incredibly fast around the chicken run in the light wind conditions. Frequently seen in the lead by a decent margin and being chased by the rest of the pack, this engaging young sailor has yet to win a major title, but I'm sure it's only time. Coming runner up at Garda was ESP 72, Gustavo Dereste on the Exploder Ad3. He is fast in most conditions but goes very well in the fruiter winds particularly.

The British have a bit of history at Toulon. Nelson's wooden walls kept Napoleon's fleet stuck inside for the duration. GBR 18, Hugh MacGregor on his beautifully prepared 2009 Tool was World 5th at Weymouth and a close 6th in Garda, so this former Dart Champion has proved he's more than capable of keeping most of the others where he wants them.

And, should the winds be really light, say 5-6 knots, fully expect the other German lake sailors, such as GER 2, Georg Rutter, GER 3, Mattias Dietz or GER 31, Lars Bunkenberg to be knocking on the door of the podium. Their subtle mastery of fight wind energy management manoeuvres is a thing of beauty to behold.

We look again to be another great A-Cat event, in a spectacular venue, in gorgeous conditions. It starts the morning after the opening match of FRA vs NZL in the Rugby Union World cup, also hosted in France. Toulon is a Rugby town too. Hopefully that won't prove too much of distraction to many of us. Stay tuned.

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