A-Class Worlds 2012. A View from the Back , by Bob Griffits

2012 A CLASS CATAMARAN WORLD CHAMPIONSHIPS – THE VIEW FROM ONE OF THOSE BACK IN THE FLEET.
The organisers of the 2012 World Titles did a superb job and need to be thoroughly praised, particularly considering “The Gods of the Elements “did their best did their best to rain on the parade, and blow the whole thing away.

The choice of venue was an excellent one. The spacious Islamorada Resort was the accommodation of choice for most of the competitors and their supporters, which created a village atmosphere, and kept people together, before, during, and after the racing. This greatly facilitated the social program, improved the camaraderie, and eased in the inclusion of the sailor’s partners and families, which is invaluable in earning” Brownie Points” for future overseas A Class sailing adventures.

Pre regatta analysis of climate data suggested that the event should be sailed in moderate wind strengths, air temperatures in the low 30 degree Celsius (although note that our hosts used some other antiquated calibration), and beautifully warm tropical waters. The one constant that we could be sure of here was the beautifully warm ocean temperature, which was not going to change no matter what nature otherwise decided to throw at us.
Many of the eventual 113 competitors that eventually signed up had arrived to the venue days prior to the invitation race to practice. The “Wind God” was proving to be contrary even at this early stage. Essentially there was next to no wind, and the lack of air movement accentuated the effect of the high humidity and temperature. Just rigging the boats was soporific. The inside of the shipping containers was akin to the atmosphere of a Finnish Sauna, but alas there was no snow to later run around naked in order to cool down.
Still the resort had a good-sized swimming pool, and it was conveniently located close to one of bars. The local American brews were quite acceptable, and even the discerning and sometimes difficult to please German Beer Drinking Team seemed to give them the thumbs up.

The registration and measurement formalities were completed with a friendly and relaxed manner thanks to Carla and her team of measurers, as well as the lovely ladies at the registration desk, who seemed to have cheerfully accepted being “Pressed Ganged” into the responsibility whilst their partners went out sailing (or drifting in this case- see above “Wind Gods”).

The welcoming night function was a very pleasant affair, held under a balmy tropical night sky, with beautiful food, and a ready supply of beer. The Americans love ceremony, and perhaps have always have regretted that they don’t have their own royal family as an outlet for all that pomp and ceremony. We competitors provided the ceremony, as we all dutifully matched into the venue, grouped in our respective teams, behind our nations respective fighting banners (generally more politely referred to as a National Flag). The only disappointment was that there were no teams of tastefully clad cheerleaders: - this is supposed to be America after all!
Thereafter followed the flag raising ceremony, which in retrospect, represented some type of unwise defiance of the “Wind Gods”, whom dutifully retaliated by trying to blast them off their flagpoles for the remainder of the regatta.
OK reader, I hear what you are saying. You don’t want me to continue on in line with the all of the above crap, you wish to know about the sailing. After all, this is the reason why some of the competitors had come to the event.
The winds were good for the two practice races, which were sailed, in moderate 18-knot northerly winds, on a magnificently warm ocean. It was really tee shirts and shorts weather. Why some sailed in a wet suit is beyond me! I assumed that some had been severely psychologically scarred after nearly having their “family jewels” frozen off them the year before at Aarhus.

The shallow seas combined with the wind opposed to current did kick up a bit of sea, but in general the sailing conditions we good “rocking and rolling” high speed trips unwinds, followed by the downwind blasts which did require a good deal of mainsheet trim and body movement to help the bow decks above the waves.
I think that Jack Benson from Darwin may have been the star of the day. Who cares, it was great fun, and a chance to test out our gear (and stamina). The Wind Gods at this stage had us deceived into thinking that they were still pleased.
The organisers had planned to cope with the large numbers of competitors by dividing the fleet into two fleets with different starts after the sixth race. Rather than differentiating the fleets as “winners and losers”, our good natured, ever courteous American hosts diplomatically designated the fleets as the “Gold and Silver Fleets”. I must say that I would be overjoyed with my inevitable inclusion in the Silver Fleet. My god, every one should feel a winner- either a gold or a silver- because, as we know, the main thing is to compete!
For the first six races, the fleet had been split into four divisions, which would sail against each other in a variety of permutations and combinations. I am not sure how each sub fleet was decided. My own little fleet –the blue diamond fleet- seemed to have a rather unhealthy number of the top champion sailors. This may occur purely by chance- the statisticians call these events “clusters”- but more than one sailor noted it. We must remember however, that all sailors are possessed of at least a bit of paranoia.
Anyway, as the say “about the best laid plans of mice and men……………”. Apparently we had upset the “Wind Gods”, and something nasty was brewing in the southern Caribbean.

By Day 1 of the racing, the organisers had, prudently, and quite prophetically, decided to abandon to abandon the split fleet thing, as the strong possibility was developing, that this was going to be a short and very windy series. The regatta was certainly not looking likely to proceed over the proposed 10-race schedule. And so we would race as one large fleet.

Day One would consist of three races, sailed back to back, which certainly test one’s stamina and athleticism. At this stage it was still not certain if the Tropical Low would develop into a full blown Hurricane, but the name “Sandy” had been tentatively pencilled in. The local weather forecasts still proclaimed lovely moderate breezes for the next few days.

Predictions regarding its likely tract should it develop into a Hurricane fell into two schools of thought. There was the American model, which said it would have minimal impact on the East coast of the USA, and the European forecast which said the opposite. Those who put their money on the Euro rather than Dollar proved to be the more insightful.
Day one started in 18 to 20 knot northerly winds, and a lumpy sea. It was the kind of day the mast builder’s love (unless of course your masts are significantly represented in the breakage statistics, which can lead to unpleasant rumours), and the insurance companies hate.
The fleet had already self selected itself to a very manageable 77 starters, with 38 boats choosing to sit this day out on the beach. Personally for me there was no way I would be able to return to face my sailing accountant/ bean counter if I had travelled half way around the world and not started in a single race. That is just not prudent seamanship.

Steve Brewin, the defending World Champion stated in fine form, by winning both of the first two races. Steve’s weapon of choice this year was a brand new Nikita, which are supposed to be at their best in light and moderate winds, but Steve seemed to have no problem making this boat perform even in the breezier mode.
Steve was also looking good for a podium finish in the third race, until a small navigation error (it happens) relegated him from a 3rd position to an eventual 9th finish. The honours in race 3 belonged Andrew Landenberger, who led virtually the whole race.

Sailing regattas are of won on the basis of consistency, and by the end of that first day, it was Mischa Heemskerk who toped the scoreboard, with a 3,2, and a 2 (total 7 points). Second overall was Brad Collett (4, 2,3 =9points). Steve Brewin was placed third overall with 11points.
Nathan Outteridge was having another bad centreboard day, sailing on his second hand DNA. After breaking a both a rudder and centreboard in the Practice Race, Nathan was able to once again exceed the elastic limit of another centreboard. This put him out of the third race, a disappointing result after a promising 4 and 6 in the other two races, and as we shall later it also ended his chances of a podium finish.
Back on AUS 950, I was placed about 20th last after two upwind/downwind sequences in race 1. At that stage, the boat’s sailing characteristics were progressively changing with the boat experiencing a much greater righting moment on the starboard tack than port. It was now also very sluggish downwind, and tending to tending to sink its starboard bow under the waves. Seemed like the undetectable leak evident after the practice race had not miraculously healed itself.

The question now was ”should I stay or should I go” Thinking once again of the sailing accountant back home, I started in race 2, until a broken tiller extension gave me the perfect economic excuse to return to the beach. Correct decision, as the boat by now had about half a ton of water aboard. At least the source of the leak had become self evident, with the boat quickly draining through a neatly punched out 5mm hole located under the stern.
The tally of broken gear littering the boat park included more than a few broken masts, some broken centreboards, broken tiller extensions, some broken egos, and assorted broken miscellaneous bits.
Injuries were confined to the sprains, strains and bruising. Wayne Mercer did however sport a rather nasty egg shaped haematoma on his head as the result of his partially lowered centreboard making sudden contact with an unmarked concrete mooring, and his head making sudden contact with the top end of the said centreboard. Wayne had made it safely back to the shore, and surprisingly back across the beach without being thronged by a team of litigation Attornies.

As the Australian Team medical advisor I was called upon to examine his head injury. Apart from the large bruise, Wayne was at his normal stage of laid back laconic state of consciousness. But seriously you have to be a little careful with head injuries, as there can be a few traps. I had to be sure that Wayne would make it safely back to his lovely wife Linda in Victoria.
My own boat was easily repaired after a quick trip to the local ACE hardware store for some polyester resin and glass cloth. The good thing about sailing a regatta in a semi-English speaking country is that a semi-English speaking Australian can be understood with just a minimum of gesticulation.
Race 2 started was slated for an early start at 10:00AM, and it finished early not long afterwards. The wind was already too strong, and the racing was abandoned even before half of the intending racers had left the beach.
The tropical storm had indeed intensified and was now officially “Hurricane Sandy”, a name that would enter the historical records in places all the way up to the Canadian boarder.

By this stage, many of the competitors were already packing up, as the forecast for the remainder of the week was looking increasingly grim, and their respective sailing accountants had apparently all put a stop order on anymore unnecessary boat part expenditure for the remainder of that financial regatta interval.
But nil desparandum, by golly we still had the beach party on the agenda that evening. And what a party it was. American people are always great hosts, and food is always available in enormous quantities, and tonight of great quality.

By now the pressure was off for most competitors who were content to sit the rest of the regatta out given the forecast. The beer and rum punch was available in liberal quantities. Not sure what fruit juice combination was put into the punch, but whatever it was, it certainly had many coming back for more. Even the German beer drinking team had changed their alcoholic beverage of choice, and their were definitely a number of that team (and others) who had no hope of being in suitable medical condition to face the starter’s gun at 9:00AM the following morning.

By the end of the even most guests were happy and laughing, bursting out in unrestrained howls of laughter to things that in moments of sobriety have no particular humour. But that is what the camaraderie of a good party is all about

Day 3 dawned overcast and windy. The majority of the fleet elected to stay on the beach. It was another one of those “should I stay or should I go?’” days. After consulting my coach, Wayne Mercier, who suggested that I should not go, I remembered the sailing accountant, who is much more fierce, and decided to go.
Out there, the sea was very lumpy, and the wind can only be described as “very windy”. The racing was delayed for while, probably whilst the RC dreamt up how the conditions could be interrupted as legal within the class rules. Not exactly sure in whose back pocket they had placed the wind anemometer.
Anyway we soon underway, the young guns off with the wind, some of the older guns in close pursuit, and some of weekend warriors wondering why the hell that we were out here.

At 15 knots boat speed, successive wave tops come in quick succession. Each new wave requires a change in helm, alteration of mainsheet, and weight transfer between the legs to maintain balance. It is very hard work, and after a couple of hundred I decided that this was “no country for old men”, and I was out of there. My hat goes off to those even still older blokes who lasted the distance and finished both races.
The star of the day was clearly Mischa Neemskerk who won both the races. Nathan Outteridge was also on fire; finishing second in race 4, after having thrown away first place with a very costly navigation error. Murray Philpot was placed third.

Race 5 was sailed in conditions in what could describe as very, very, and windy. The RC committee dutifully shortened the race at the available opportunity at the first leeward buoy. With the series in the can, it was a case of “cut it, wrap it, and print it”.
Mischa Heemskerk was the clear and worthy winner of the series. Second overall were Andrew Landenberger, and the defending World Champion, Steve Brewin was third.

THE ANALYSIS:
1.What was the fastest platform? Well it was whatever the fastest sailor was sailing on. The DNA, Sheuerer, and the Nikita were all up to the task. The reliability of centreboards and rudders was more important than in nuances of hull shape.
2.What was the fastest mast? They were all fast when keep in relative column and out of their crumple zones.
3. What was the fastest Sail? They were all fast provided they stayed stitched together
Our American organisers and hosts did a fantastic job, on and off the water, and threw great parties. It may well have been cheaper and just as much fun if I had left the boat at home, but then again, nobody on earth has any control over the “Weather Gods”.

Where too from here? Well to New Zealand in February 2014 of course. The Kiwis are also great organisers and hosts. I hear you say, “Where the hell is New Zealand?” It is true that it is a little country in an insignificant part of the world. This means that it is the best place to wait out the Nuclear Winter.
Kiwis are mad about boats, with Auckland having the highest per capita boat ownership on earth.
And they are motivated. They love telling the world “that they punch above their weight”. We in Australia find this rather tiresome, particularly when they keep beating us in Rugby Union, and winning more than a reasonable number of America’s Cup matches. But brush away that little chip from their shoulders, and you will find them good hosts, and great organisers (as you will find once they eventually tell us all the actual dates of their proposed regatta)

We from the “Lands Down Under” certainly encourage our northern hemisphere friends to attend. In particular, we extend the invitation to the country that allegedly put a man moon. We encourage them to put several 40-foot containers on a ship across the South Pacific. It is not rocket science, and you will enjoy.
Bob Griffits,