The European A-class catamaran championship in Arco (Trento, Italy) has just concluded. Nearly one hundred participants, big names in sailing, adrenaline to no end: a real spectacle, where even the great sailors faced scuffles and tumbles!
European class A, spectacle and adrenaline
Look at the opening photo: do you know who it is? That’s right, Paul Larsen, the world’s fastest sailor who touched a speed of 65.45 knots aboard the superbolide Vestas Sailrocket 2 in 2012. The one below, however, is Australia’s Darren Bundock, to his friends Bundy. Two Olympic medals, one America’s Cup: a cat legend.
Two examples that well demonstrate how the A-class also appeals to the “elite” of international sailing. But of course there were not only sacred monsters. Many sailors and enthusiasts at Riva del Garda: entered both in the category with foils and without, because the beauty of these catamarans is the possibility of choosing between the flying configuration and the more traditional “only” planing configuration.
Among them was Lamberto Cesari (sailor and journalist: his latest article on the recovery of Carcano’s splendid Volpina). We asked him to tell us, from an “insider’s” point of view, about the European A-class which, moreover – rankings at the bottom of the piece – finished seventh overall and fifth European in the foiling category. Here are his impressions.
Class A is alive. Long live class A
Class A is alive, long live Class A. This European Championship represented the first major event on the old continent post covid, attracting nearly one hundred sailors well beyond European borders, with a large Australian presence honoring the championship and dominating the rankings, with names such as Steve Brewin, Darren Bundock, Paul Larsen, and Scott Anderson.
Class A is currently in a very interesting state of evolution: after a few turbulent years where boats began to fly within regulations that were supposed to prevent this, we have come to the development of platforms that can steadily sail out of the water both upwind and downwind, with remarkable performance: above 13 knots the flight time far exceeds the displacement mode, except for tacking and jibing. Upwind with speeds hovering around 18-20 knots at 45° true wind angle (TWA), downwind speeds exceed 25 knots dropping to 140° TWA.
When one considers that the fully rigged boats weigh 90 kg, one easily comes to imagine the kind of loads that are at play in a flying upwind, made even more efficient by the decoupling of the rudders that goes up to eight degrees of differential (the same system later introduced in the Nacra 17, which allows the incidence of the downwind rudder to be increased and decreased for the upwind one to increase the righting moment).
Foils. At the slack he who falls is screwed
Also held at the European championship organized by Circolo Vela Arco was a masterclass by Australian Steve Brewin, already a three-time world champion (the most titled since Glenn Ashby, ruler of the last twenty years), who showed amazing speed and depth especially on the slack.
While upwind is a more “physical” gait, and at Lake Garda with a southerly wind it often results in a race to the west coast (which saw the top eight crews despite the differences in sails and platforms develop greater speed than the rest of the fleet and arrive compactly at the first mark), it was at the leeward mark that the biggest differences were seen, where foil use and conduction created large gaps even among the frontrunners, in a game of looking for maximum depth without falling out of the flight, a costly mistake in terms of angle lost in order to recreate speed and apparent wind for the next takeoff.
It’s not easy to stay in position at the start!
The beauty and fragility of these flying catamarans creates a kind of “camaraderie” and caution in the fleet, despite this the starts were tight and until the committee decided to greatly advantage the pin the more than sixty flying boats piled into the committee boat at the start creating almost more anxiety for the safety of the catamarans than for the exit from the start: it is not easy to hold two jibless hulls in place with appendages designed to go 20 knots while moving at 0.5!
In spite of this and in spite of Garda’s more than twenty-knot winds, there were few collisions, but much cooperation ashore for each repair: it was not uncommon in the evening to see people of different nationalities helping each other laminate a boat or repair a damaged rudder. Even on the third day, where the wind on the return touched 25 knots, the first of the fleet stopped at the slip to help the rest of the racers, helped as they came back until the last boat was safe.
Class A, hothouse of champions
Class A has always been attended by the greatest catamaran champions, Olympians who would take time out to race singles and experiment with the innovations that would later come in the major classes. In Italy we have a long tradition on this boat, from Giorgio Zuccoli to Francesco Marcolini, in recent years Vittorio Bissaro and Gianluigi Ugolini. Who knows, our Olympians between engagements may feel like flying two-hulled singles again; we are expecting them for the Toulon 2023 World Championships, not far from Marseille.