As 2019 draws to a close, it’s usual that we reflect on our ‘A’ Cat year, and as we are spread globally, the end of one region’s season is usually the start of someone else’s. As we all harness a particular metrological phenomenon, we cannot be blind to the fact that for many of us, the climate is in a state of flux and that appears to be frequently, in some regions, giving us more winds at either end of our class envelope rather than those winds nicely in the middle as we used to remember. Regattas were blown off and other regattas were brought to a literal standstill. And, at the time of writing, our AUS brethren are struggling with huge bush fires following the hottest ever recorded temperatures in that land and leaving their famous Sidney skyline looking like a shot from the movie Blade Runner 2049. We all hope they stay safe.
Our year traditionally starts in that country with the AUS Nationals being held over the New Year. However, as the AUS Nats were held as the warm up event to the Hervey Bay Worlds, they had a break from their traditional event this year although a few state championships were run.
February was the NZL Nationals. Rotorua Yacht Club on a lake in central North Island was the 2019 venue. The four-day event had all the winds covered, and several of the directions too. The top Kiwi was, for another year, Dave Shaw was firing on all cylinders and started the year as he was to go on becoming the Open champ and Tom Black took the Championship for the Classics.
This month also saw the introduction of the trial rules for the Classic division after much thought and discussion in the Technical Committee. It was to define what the Non-Foiling boats could and couldn’t do, and was an attempt to prevent them occasionally and unfairly sneaking into a foiling mode in certain conditions. It was to be used in the 2019 Worlds.
March is usually a quiet ‘A’ Cat month, being the end of the Southern season, but slightly too early for the serious start of the Northern one. However, the US fleet is the only fleet that holds year round regattas with the fleet migrating South in the winter months to Florida. Their annual Admiral’s Cup regatta was at Sarasota, South of St Petersburg Florida, and experience both light and heavier winds over the weekend. Woody Cope won the Classic fleet and Bruce Mahoney the Open.
April is the kick off for the major European regatta season, with the newish event at Garda. The Foiling Easter Regatta sees Moths, Waszps and ‘A’ Cats sailing at Campione, about a third of the way down the lake, on the Western shore. In some marginal foiling conditions, Mischa Heemskerk NED was the victor with Emmanual Dode FRA and Jacek Noetzel POL in silver and bronze places.
May brought the first NED Hellecat event to the year. Again, Mischa dominated in races that featured one nice sunny day, then a horrible cold grim day. A weather pattern that seemed to have become typical this year.
In June the POL fleet runs it’s annual 3 Piers race in Sopot at their UKS Navigo club. Mr Bryt sails, Maciej Żarnowski, won this closely fought regatta, with Jacek, Marcin Badzoi and Tymuk Bendyk only separated by 4 points between the lot of them.
Meanwhile in Kerteminde, near Odense, the DEN nationals was on and won by Lars Schrøder, with Tom Bøjlandand Thomas Paasch also on the podium in a weekend where high end winds presented some challenging conditions for all, keeping the rescue crews in work.
Also in June, at an Open regatta, they held the combined SUI and ITA National Championships at Maccagno, on Lake Maggiore. Robin Maeder became the Open SUI National champion and Bruno Biedermann became their Classic Champ. In the ITA fleet, Paulo Penco was the Open and Marco Locati the Classic on a weekend with the Friday being lost due to no wind, but where the race officers managed to squeeze 5 races in over the next two days in decent winds in the end
The July events were the first Santi Monjo Memorial Regatta at Barcelona ESP. In memory of the veteran Spanish ‘A’ Cat sailor who passed away actually sailing his ‘A’ cat last year. Manuel Calavia was the victor in some more marginal conditions.
And in GBR, the long distance East Coast 3 Piers race took place in the Thames Estuary, East of London. This famous race is open to all cats and saw 6 Classic ‘A’ Cats take part. In the early (7:30am) start, the whole fleet was led to the top mark of this epic 30 mile long race by Gordon Upton, who was the top ‘A’ Cat finisher in the end in yet another dying breeze race.
August was a big month for the ‘A’ cat World. First was the POL Nationals held in some big wind conditions at Sopot. Local boy Tymuk Bendyk, relishing the heavy conditions, became Open Champion and Marek Żebrowski the Classic. The event was used as a training event to a couple of foreign sailors seeing Dave Shaw and Vladislav Ptasnik CZE attended also.
Many now jumped on the ferries to sail off to cold, grey and wet England, and to Weymouth for the GBR Nats and then the Worlds at the 2012 Olympic venue of the WPNSA. Little did they know that they were arriving into one of the most glorious late summers Britain has ever experienced.
The first racing day was canned after the wind went totally mental, just for a change. A few racers went out but soon came shooting back in again fast as the PRO hauled up the cancelled flag for the day. However, the next day was game on and was held out in Weymouth bay for the first three races, but then moved into the large flat water Portland Harbour for the following days due to a mutant jellyfish invasion caused by an unusual shift in the ocean currents. As in AUS, the GBR Nats was the warm up event and featured a top end winds day, and three medium to light wind days. Oscar Lindley-Smith became GBR Open champ and Hugh Macgregor the Classic.
Then the main event started with some red-hot action onshore as 6 mins before the first start, your editor’s motorhome burst into flames. Fortunately only the van was lost and he is eternally grateful for everyone’s help.
Considered by many as arguably one of the very top sailing venues in the World, the week long championships was run on the water by the Olympic Race Officer David Campbell-James. In a textbook demonstration of race management, the committee managed the almost unheard of feat of getting a full 10 race series in for both fleets. The winds ranged from the 5-6 knot levels in some races, up to 20-21 knots for others, giving the sailors a proper challenging championship event. In the end, the two very worthy champions had emerged and were both former World Champions as Mischa won the Open and Andrew Landenberger won the Classic. However, both sailors were pushed hard on several occasions and in a couple of races, Mischa only finished first in the last few meters. The turnout was slightly disappointing with fewer than 100 boats and the reasons are probably numerous; the perception of the British weather, the mistaken reputation for appalling food or the on-going and fascinating mass socioeconomic experiment that is Brexit. But that being said, all went home impressed, having had a hugely enjoyable and challenging event, and many European sailors who didn’t make the effort to get over to this foiling nirvana were left wishing they had done so.
In September, at the central Belgian lake de l’Eau d’Heure, Michel Warlop became the BEL Champion. The BEL fleet is largely a Classic fleet due to their usual winds, but with the odd foiler thrown in. However, it seems that the Belgians have it right as food and beer play a major part in their regattas.
At Hellecat, the NED Nats were held over another varied wind weekend. With Mischa unable to sail more than one day, PJ Dwarshuis was consistent enough to clinch the Open title, and the Classic Champion was Caroline Van Beelen, who excelled brilliantly in the light stuff, getting two bullets ahead of the combined fleet.
Over at the 2020 Worlds venue of St Petersburg Fl, the US Nationals also took place at the end of the month. Again, marginal winds plagued the start of the event, but filled in a little more over the final two days. In both fleets the battles were very close with Bruce Mahoney retained his Open national title and Bob Curry just sneaking the Classic crown on the last day.
Meanwhile, in Spain, the ESP Nationals unfortunately had to be cancelled due to lack of wind.
October arrived and saw the GER Nationals at Garda. In a big fleet of 50 boats from 8 countries and in a big wind, Nacra 17 Rio Olympian Paul Kohlhoff became the GER Open champ and Florian Hennig won the Classics.
November now saw the European season finale of the FRA Nationals. This was part of their Armistice commemorations and was held by the Cercle de la Voile Bordeaux at Maubuisson. This was a special event to mark the 50th Anniversary of the cat race. In some more very marginal conditions, only one or two managed to foil and Emmanuel Dode became the Open Champion and Albert Rotuurier won the Classics.
And what have we learned this year? The Classics have realised that, following Landy and a few others lead, a fuller cut, fatterheaded decksweeper seems to be the way to go in that fleet, being both higher and faster than the traditional rigs. Also, the restrictions in the trial rules seemed to work reasonably well, although the self-policing aspect as regards any boats seen foiling is being questioned. As ever, time on the water is the winning formula as we all know. All the National and International champions are testament to their own hard work, and Mischa particularly, has shown us we all need to work on doing the corners if we want to go faster around the course, but as mentioned earlier, we all experienced more that our share of winds at the ends of our envelope than we have in the past.
And, 2020 will bring us more fun, meet new and old mates. We shall go to Cadiz in June for the Euros, and then to St Pete’s in Florida for the Worlds, and my money is on there being more than one occasion next year when we will all hear the phrase ‘It’s not normally like this here!’.
Good luck for 2020, and sail safe!