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A Class Catamaran World Championship at Yacht Club de Toulon - Overall

by Gordon Upton 17 Sep 2023 04:36 PDT 7-15 September 2023

In 1986 at Brenzone, Italy, a 32 year old Aussie sailor and Olympic medallist, won the A-Cat Worlds. 37 years later he does it again in Toulon. John Scott Anderson is living proof of the saying 'There is still life in the old dog yet!'. Also a new name arrears on the A-Cat Open fleet trophy. Here is how it happened.

Toulon certainly saved the best till last, assuming you like full-on racing on the Worlds lightest and fastest single-handed small sailing cat, at the upper wind limits of the class that is! As a spectacle, what's not to like!? Seeing some of the best sailors on the planet, trying to keep their bucking and leaping steeds under some semblance of control, and at time only maintaining minimal contact with the surface of the earth when all it wants to do is kill you. That is a sight to behold. 20+ knot winds and 1 metre short chop waves sailing is not for the timid.

The final day had scheduled two remaining races for the twin fleets of the Classic and the Open foiler categories of the class. First out on the water were the biggest fleet of the two. The Classic is by far the most popular. With the predicted forecast, a few had exercised discretion and realised this could be a race too far for them, so elected to watch this stadium racing with morbid curiosity from the shoreline. The remainder of the 80 strong Classic fleet set off South to race on the Bay of Toulon.

Coming into the final day, the top three were Scotty on 12 points, Gustavo on 12, but 2nd on countback and Landy on 23, so really any of them could do it, and any mistake by any of them would be game over as far as a medal was concerned. All sailed the Exploder Ad3.

At first, it was nicely manageable, with a nice 12-15 knot breeze and slowly building pleasant little waves. With the course set, Corinne Aubert, their Olympic Race Officer, started them and the fleet shot off. Immediately Spaniard Gustavo Doreste, the European Champion and the current 2nd, nailed the pin end and led the fleet up the beat. But he was closely chased by the two Aussie former Champions, Scott Anderson and the reigning Champ Andrew Landenberger. The left side looked to be the favoured as they all stayed in that tack until the port lay line. Back to the bottom gate marks it was Landy in the lead, as we'd expected in these building winds. He is very fast as the wind gets going, but Gustavo and Scotty were holding onto him pretty well. Also in touch with the leaders was the young German Mortiz Weiss, battling with his boatpark pal Andreas Landenberger, son of the leader. Both were going very well in the building winds. But at the finish, the top positions remained the same order of Landy, Gustavo and Scotty.

The final Classic race was to take place now in 17-19 knots. Those waves had built up into a 2-3 foot nasty short chop as the shallow bay water made for a rather lumpy ride. However, despite its lightweight and perceived delicate reputation, the A-Cat's ability to ride this rough stuff is well known amongst its sailors. Most of the A-Cat designs feature hulls that have the 'wave piercing bow'. This is essentially an upside-down hull and gives the bow increased buoyancy at the bottom of the hull, rather than at the top. It means that the hull starts to push back up for the surface the moment it goes under the water as the centre of buoyancy is lower down. The result is a boat shape that reduces the nodding action common on most other boat hull shapes, so it cuts through like a knife. There will be a test at the end by the way...

The Gladiators were readied, and off they went into the increasingly turbulent sea. This time, several sailors had realised that this could be getting too much, so bowed out gracefully and went back home with intact boats and the kudos of knowing they had sailed within this great fleet.

The gun went and again, the left was favourite. However, this may be because the sailors now needed to reduce the number of manoeuvres they made, such as tacking, because in these conditions each one can lead to disaster. To tack an A-cat in the upper end of their wind range, you need to judge the waves properly. Tack at the top of a big one and go in with speed. That way the water isn't there to slow the front of the hull starting the turn, and the wind helps push the long bows around, preventing that dreaded mid tack stall, which in these conditions usually results in going backwards and one corner or other going under and you trip up. Things will happen fast one way or the other. Ask me how I know?

Rounding the top mark and heading for the spreader, and via the so called 'Zone Of Death', where the boat powers up as you bear away. You turn it fast to get through that angle quickly, only the really brave stay on the wire at this point. There's a big chance that they can go whistling around the mast as the nose digs in for a massive crown pleaser, so best to remain attached with their left food bolted into that stern foot-strap and with the bows up high. This can be a multiple place gaining move as the boat will now take off like a Nantucket Sleigh Ride. They all rounded the top in varying levels of distress, most just concentrating on staying of the dryer side of the tramp. This was now becoming a full-on survival mode race now for most. Any race tactics are out of the window, just sail the damn thing, it'll be over soon.

At the bottom gate, again Landy swept around as though on rails. This was his weather. He just looked really planted and comfortable. But Gustavo can do big winds too, and followed him a few minutes later, with Scotty still hanging in there, only this time they were joined by a couple of nice big lads. The Big Swede, Alberto Farnesi on his battleship bowed Marstrom M5, and Hugh MacGregor on his 13 year old Tool A-Cat. Both were totally in their element now. Other challengers had dropped by the wayside. Moritz came to grief at the top of the course with a nice capsize. Boats littered the course here and there, but all were safe and remarkable few breakages happened. At the line, it was Landy who got the final race bullet, would it be enough? Then Scotty, not a fan of the big stuff really, came through in 2nd, and Alberto had snatched 3rd from Gustavo, with the Scotsman Hugh in 5th. But Scotty had done enough with 17 points, and with Gustavo also with 17, but 2nd on countback, and Landy on 25 in 3rd after a poor showing in the light races.

So, Scotty Anderson was thus crowned Classic World Champion 2023.

Everyone went back to the beach for tea and medals. The wind went up a few more clicks to 20 kts, and everyone on the beach was thinking 'Na, it'll be canned, surely'. BUT the class limit is 22 knots, so what's the matter with you all!, just get out there and do one last championship race for the Open foilers.

And so began one of the most exciting Championship races the class has seen in many years. The Championship leader-board was poised with the 30 year old Polish Ace Kuba Surowiec on 16pts, the Dutch triple World Champion on 16, and Olympic medallist and A/C sailor Darren Bundock on 25. A mistake by any of them could spell the end of their title challenge.

They all emerged into a washing machine where the Yacht Club Du Toulon breakwater finished. 3 foot high waves and a short amplitude to match. The riders all set off to get the feel of the conditions. Mischa sailed up to the top, bore away and promptly went around the mast dragging it over. Kuba saw him and the pair exchanged glances and slight head shakes that say 'Good luck with this chap!' They all duly assembled for their last decider. At the gun it was Bundy who nailed the pin and got into a foiling upwind mode that saw him planted and stable, but above all fast. Kuba simply could not find that mode in the heavy swell and big wind, despite having grown up and sailed in Sopot, where such conditions are commonplace. Misha simply used his Thorlike strength to beat the boat into submission. Back at the first bottom gate, Bundy rounded the left mark as though on rails a way ahead. He was enjoying this and looked forward to his now traditional Worlds regatta ending with a bullet. Reigning Champ, the US sailor Ravi Parent was going well and followed Bundy around the left mark smoothly, looking controlled in the conditions. Next came Mischa alongside the other triple champion, Stevie Brewin. No Kuba. That was because he had planted it in at the top of the course. As Stevie and Mischa both gybed with pressure on, each wanting the right mark and thus the right side of the upwind leg, Misha lost it and capsized to starboard, leaving him perched on top of the port hull. Seconds ticked. French Champ, Emmanuel Dode arrived and passed him. Would Mischa get it upright again before Kuba arrived to snatch his now fifth place? He did and finally, Kuba arrived alongside Aussi National Champ Adam Beattie, and both went left.

Sailing a foiler in these conditions is challenging to say the least. Just trying to keep the thing from becoming airborne requires huge skill and balance, especially upwind where, in these conditions you could have over 50 knots of airspeed over the sail. The advances in the aero package in these boats can now become a positive menace. The only solution, Kuba told me after the race, was for him to just go for it flat out. Any safety mode just slowed the boat and it becomes less stable, so he had little choice to go for broke and throw it all at it. Sail or die.

Next lap at the bottom it was Bundy, looking cool and planted, but with his tongue sticking out in the way be see him when the real concentration kick in then Ravi, looking similarly confident in the conditions and followed by Stevie. Then Adam. Then... Kuba with Misha following 50m behind. Boats were going over here and there and became big 7ft 6in obstacles popping up with little warning. It was Mario-Cart again.

At the finish Bundy got his bullet comfortably, followed by Ravi. Then on that last downwind leg, Kuba got ahead of Stevie, and finished 3rd. Then Adam got ahead of Misha to finish 5th and that's how Kuba had won his Open World Championship. This was particularly sweet for him following his narrow defeat by Ravi last year in Houston. Thus, the podium became Kuba, Misha and Bundy, a fair result everyone thought. Misch quickly applauded Kuba for a fight well fought and they all went back home.

What we have learned.

In this class, particularly in the Classics, youth is clearly no substitute for experience. Scotty waited until he was approaching his 70th birthday before doing it again. Sailing is a sport that this sort of thing can happen. Scotty isn't unique, and it certainly gives us sailors 'of a certain age' a straw to grasp at, even with more modest goals.

This Championships saw racing in every condition within the A-Cat envelope and to win is a true mark of the mastery of the boat. Design wise, the boat has settled down a little. Less expensive development looks to have taken place in the foils, and the Open foilers look to be a good stable system now. Tricky to sail, still, but where would the fun be if it were not? How much of that reduction in foil development is a result of Exploder now making more Moths instead could be a factor maybe? Or have they reached a point where small gains come at much higher costs so simple cost/benefit analysis dictates the ends. Sail development is always happening though, as it's the easiest single way to improve performance. The only 'radical' rig this year was Joey Randall's concave luff sail, to get more area lower whilst keeping some area higher for the lighter winds. Whilst not a totally new concept, this looks to be the first time it's been tried on a foiling boat in anger. Joey finished about mid table, for various Joey reasons, but the sail looked to perform no worse than many others is these race conditions. No masts snapped either, this time, which is a testament to their manufacturers getting it right and they can handle the loads even when fully loaded up and pitchpoled by experts.

Organisationally the event was a triumph. This was the first such large event the YCT had put on. Much help was provided by local authorities and by an army of both sailing, and local interested volunteers, all very welcoming and helpful. Pierre Pardigon, ably assisted by his highly competent young assistant Marion Lucas ran the whole event superbly. She will go far. The boatpark and beachfront management worked perfectly with their space allocation and strict beach gate control protocols. The race committee headed by PRO Corinne Aubert got the races off in a tidy and efficient manner. To get virtually a full program of races in such wide-ranging conditions is a difficult ask, but they proved equal to the task. We wish Corinne well next year in her Olympic race duties. The only moan heard more than once, was that the on-water judges, in their little ribs, could have kept off lay lines and been more aware of their wake turbulence and underwater disturbance to foiling boats. There is no more disadvantage to them being 20 metres further away, but they are a law unto themselves.

But finally, Toulon is a wonderful city. Full of interesting sites, superb restaurants, great rugby and fine beaches. I urge other classes to seriously look at coming here as they can do you proud. But just beware, if you are lucky, you can get a different French Navy warship in the background of your photos every day. My small goal realised!

Thanks to YCToulon, you were wonderful! And well done all the sailors. Remember, Kuba wasn't even born for another 6 years when Scotty won his first title, so we'll all be looking forward to that 2060 Worlds with renewed interest now.

See you in Puntala, ITA, 10-15th Sept 2024.

Full results can be found here.

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