Franco Niggeler Interview: "Focus on your Sailing Skills"

I met Franco Niggeler at Punta Ala Worlds in September. He was really nice to us rookie Arg sailors, and he appreciated our effort on being there to learn. I realized at first glance that a great attitude was a key part of his personality. Later watching him racing and editing photos of the event it was even more clear, just looking how he attacked his bareaways. Also racing a fast monohull like Kuka Light with his friend Mitch Booth says plenty on what and how he likes to sail.

His core message  "Focus on your sailing skills" remind us the reason why people like Glenn Ashby keeps dominating a development Class like the As.

Franco has seen many equipment changes since 1992 , and he continues to go with the flow putting his effort on enjoying the As and sailing as much as he can.  He also contributes with a different point of view regarding sepate rankings and Worlds slots.


- How many years have you been sailing As and why you start sailing in the Class?

Frano Niggeler: I started sailing with the A-Cat in 1992, introduced by my great friend Giorgio Zuccoli. Since then I've always sailed the As, a bit less between 1995 and 2000 when with Giorgio we sailed Melges 24 at top level, but that is another story.


- We have 170 boats registered for Punta Ala, which were the numbers in the past for Worlds in Europe?

Obviously Punta Ala is a record. The venue makes a big difference in the numbers. Worlds in warm regions in Europe had normally large numbers up to the maximum of 90 competitors. Often in countries like Italy or Switzerland we had to run qualifications because there where more people who wanted to go, than spots available. The good thing was that participation in all local country qualification regattas was high and contributed to a strong European fleet.


- Which boat are you sailing now, and how many equipment transitions do you experienced since you started ?

I am currently sailing a Scheurer with Flying configuration. I am quite used to changes, in the early years it was the weight, after the carbon mast, and so on. Normally I change a boat every two years, so it is easy to sell.


- Which was the situation in the Class when they went from Alu mast to Carbon, or from short boards to Curve ones?

I think that the big difference in the change Alu to Carbon was that people did not have to learn a new way of sailing the boat, so we could simply put a carbon mast on top and we had a faster and safer boat. Another thing is the amount of broken carbon masts in the first years, I broke three of them and I am light!

The transition from short boards to curved ones was much smoother because in light wind a boat with straight boards is still faster and in local regattas in the low wind range a boat with straight boards is still competitive.


- Punta Ala Worlds were a great success, sailors from all levels and ages gathered together in the same race course. The French Assoc & and others have been asking for a separate ranking, do you think is the way to go?

Difficult to answer to this question. Let's imagine a bit the future. I see that after Punta Ala most of the participants with a conventional boat aim to buy a Flying machine. They just understood how fascinating and fun it is to fly. So I can imagine that already in Holland we will see at least 60 % of the boats in flying configuration. 

I do not think it is the way to go (separate rankings) , The A-Cat is a development Class and we can't just have a separate ranking for every change. And separate what? Straight boards to curved boards? Every curved board can in they fly, so for me the separate ranking is not a viable solution.


- Some Italian sailors have parted ways and formed a new Class, and although we saw great differences with Mischa & Glenn in certain conditions, floaters had excellent performance in some races. Which is in your the way to go in the future to keep all sailors racing together in critical transitions times?

I know the Italian situation very well as i was for 5 years Italian class secretary. The split in the Italian fleet was pushed for commercial reasons by a boat builder who does not want to develop a flying version of its boats as his choice, claiming that the boats are becoming too expensive. The same yard was already behind a new Class in the 90's, a project which aborted after one year.


- Which is the right balance in your view for keeping both extremes of the spectrum happy ?

I only know that stopping development will kill the class. I think that `Jakub of Exploder is doing a great job in keeping costs as low as possible.


- The Class still have many locations and races in calm weather conditions as seen in many regattas this year, which is your local wind range for regattas?

At our lake (Lake Iseo) the wind range goes from 7 to 11 knots in normal days. Thermal breeze. In general in Switzerland and Italy we have a lot of regatta in the wind range between 6 and 12 knots, only exception is Lake Garda


- Which other boats you sail, I saw you are racing a fast 2x dagger mono like Kuka Light, tell us about this boat and which races you guys are racing. I sailed for five years with Giorgio Zuccoli with the Melges 24, big fun. A team only of friends.

Kuka Light was born from an idea of me and Mitch Booth, we tried to build a monohull like a Catamaran. So weight was important (the boat weighs less then 3.5 tons) and off course a rotating mast. We use it for long distance races like the Middle Sea Race or Giraglia. In future I will aim  to go to windier places as the boat is really fast in reaching conditions and the more wind, the faster it goes....!


- You already tell us how and when you started, but why you keep sailing & racing As, and which is the main drive behind sailing As in your own view?

As opposed to race Kuka or other dinghy Classes sailing my A-Cat or Kuka is very similar, because Kuka is not a keel boat. It is just a big skiff. So same adrenaline and fun, all about racing with the apparent wind. The main thing for me is having lots of fun, and to have the possibility to develop and try new things.


Which is your recommendation for sailors wanting to join the As , being young or elder sailors?

Buy a boat, don't bother on material but just sail a lot to improve your skills. It is very important to understand your boat and not lose time setting the boat all the time, just doing a good start and good handling and you are in front.


- Final thoughts on your experience sailing in the A-Class till now and which are the goals we must pursue in the long term to get an even stronger Class ?

I think we should be a bit careful with World's with 170 boats. I would prefer a major activity in the countries and only the best people qualify for the world's. This helps to have a certain amount of good regatta's with a sufficient number of participation in all countries and ensures that people can step by step upgrade their skills.