The ‘A’ Class Catamaran Worlds started today in the Polish resort city of Sopot. A strong fleet of 126 boats have been arriving for a few weeks, and many have trained with the good local Polish fleet of 25 + boats.
This year, it has attracted eight former Olympic sailors and an America’s Cup winner to the event, keen to race this thoroughbred that has now embraced foiling and taken it to a new level. However, the older non-foiling boats are still very much still in the frame, as when the wind is too low, or gusty and shifty, the ‘Classic’ ‘A’ cats will still shine.
The event was preceded by the Polish Nationals, giving those present a chance to practice in the unique Sopot conditions, and top up their match fitness.
The fleet was split into 2 fleets using the national rankings where every other sailor was sent to a different fleet, thus avoiding all the top guns from arriving in one fleet unfairly. Both fleets raced on adjacent courses a few hundred meters apart and at the same time to eliminate any one course being favored with better conditions.
The Alpha Fleet contained current World Champion Mischa Heemskerk (DNA F1, NED 7), former double World Champ Stevie Brewin (Exploder Ad3, AUS 4) and Spanish Champ, and winner of the Polish Nats, Manuel Calavia (Exploder Ad3, ESP 11). The Beta fleet had America’s Cup and twice Olympic medalist Darren Bundock (Exploder Ad3, AUS 88) and top Polish ace Jakub (Kuba) Surowiec (Exploder Ad3, POL 41).
The conditions were forecast as being about 8-10 kts. However, the weather in Sopot can be rather unreliable to say the least. By the time the fleet assembled, it was blowing a nice 12-14 kts and a nice swell had developed too.
Race one started and on the Beta course, Bundy immediately showed his form, nailing the pin and getting the boat foiling upwind with superb skill, chased by Kuba. The left side seemed to be favorite, at least on the first lap and Bundy reached the top mark, 1.5NM away some 8 mins later, leading Kuba by 15 sec. with the rest of the fleet in hot pursuit. Rounding the spreader mark, both then set off on that devil’s sleigh ride that is downwind foiling on the ‘A’ Cat. Bundy managed to go a little deeper downwind than the rest, stretching his lead. However, it was his upwind foiling skill over Kuba’s that sealed it, despite saying afterward that he was barely in control of the thing. Each time the Polish lad dropped down, or got tea-bagged by a slight lull, Bundy would stretch his lead inexorably. At the finish of the 3 laps he was a good 45 sec ahead. Sandro Caviezel (Scheurer G7, SUI 1) got a good third. Their next race was similar, but with Sandro beating Kuba to that 2nd place.
Over on Alpha course, the reigning Champion, Misha Heemskerk was keen to retain his crown and add it to his 2017 F-18 World title. Their first race was won by Stevie Brewin in fine form from Misha after sailing one of the beats in which Stevie put in 10 tacks, something unheard of on a fast cat, as he tracked the shifts in search of good upwind foiling conditions.
The second race on the Alpha course was to prove rather eventful. By now, the wind was increasing as 20-22kt squalls were passing along the right hand side of the race area. This also had an affect on the course overall and things went up another gear to full on ‘A’ cat sailing conditions, not for the faint hearted.
The start was off first time, but Manuel Calavria and the former Swiss Olympic sailor and BAR performance analyst, Luc DuBois, managed to be OCS. Tymuk Bendyk (Exploder Ad3, POL 15), nailed the pin in superb style, but soon Stevie, who was showing that the training with Bundy as his training partner was paying off, was pulling ahead of Mischa. By the bottom mark, he led him by over a minute. Manuel, unaware of his OCS, was chasing hard in third.
The next time around, Mischa had managed to close it a little, to about 45sec. But, as he came foiling onto the mark on port, planning to split and round the right hand buoy fast, rather than gybe as Stevie had done. He suddenly ran into a hole, dumping himself into the water and pulling the boat over to windward as he was swept off the side on the trapeze. Dutch industrial language was heard. However, he got it back up quickly, only loosing one place, to Manuel. He then sailed off upwind for the next lap with a renewed purpose and possibly some red mist.
The finish saw Stevie come foiling down from the left of the course, and gently settle his boat down 50m from the line, slowly sailing over, his job for the day was done. The second place sailor was a good 2 mins behind. This was to be a slightly amazed Kiwi, Dave Shaw (Exploder Ad3, NZL 270). Mischa, being so far behind Stevie as to not really able to see him properly, had fatally miscounted, and rounded the bottom mark to do a 4th lap by mistake. By the time he’d finished it, he had dropped a catastrophic 28 further places. A pleased Tymuk finished in 3rd. Mischa aside, most of the rest of the fleet had silly grins after those two races, and all had tales to tell on the beach.
So, of such things are championships made. Mistakes happen to the best of us, it would seem. But there are a good many more races to go yet, and the winds, as we have seen, are likely to do anything here.