Next in our Lockdown Interview series, we have current GER National 'A' Cat Open Champion and GER Olympic N17 sailor Paul Kohlhoff, and the reigning DEN Champion Lars Schrøder.
- When and why did you first start sailing and in what?
Paul - I first started sailing in my parents boat at very young age on the river Weser.
Lars - I’m half German, half Polish, so I started of course in a Swedish “skærgårdskrydser” my farther bought in the 70s. Then I got into Optimists, but it was an old beater and I lost too much, so I somehow lost interest… then got back into dinghies in my twenties.
- When did you first become aware of the ‘A’ Class Cat?
Paul - I think when I started following the AC guys sailing them and finally when they started foiling.
Lars - A friend of mine participated in a kind of trail in Quiberon in the 1990s for selecting a new single hand dinghy for the Olympics - and he was really thrilled for the A-cat.
- Where and at what age did you first get a sail on one.
Paul - I first sailed one a couple years ago in Kiel on a friends boat, which was a then revolutionary A13 Exploder?!
Lars - I borrowed a Bimare from a fast Danish sailor in the neighborhood, and then bought a Tool soon after (ancient boats by now..) I was in my late 30's back then.
Fitness and training.
- What is your current fitness routine, and do you have any special diet?
Paul - I'm quite tall, always trying not to become heavier. My fitness plan is like a shorter version of triathlon training but without swimming.
Lars - I fish for trout, and eat them. he,he!
- How often do you sail each month?
Paul - Depends on time of year, but we are trying to keep the average month around 15-20 days.
Lars - 2-8 sessions, less when it's icy.
- Do you have any specific fixed training regime?
Paul - Again, this is really dependent on the upcoming events and what the biggest weakness are at the time.
Lars - I’ve been practicing on my own for years, so I'm mostly flying fast in nice weather. Trying to figure out whether the setup is closer to right. And that's been an interesting challenge..
- Where did you learn your race tactics?
Paul - I took the optimist-RSfeva-29er route.
Lars - Paul Elvstrøm is an inspiration - he said; get in front of your competitors and stay there And I've been sailing fast dinghies for decades, so I’ve learned the hard way to stay in pressure, that's the most important tactical element in the A-cat.
- Do you practice race tactics in any way whilst training?
Paul - We are always trying to race as much as possible in training. but there is also lots of ways to practice starting and some race areas on your own.
Lars - Sometimes I practice starting, but only limited. Lately, I have imported some Belgians to my sailing club, so we will start doing regular short races.
- Do you concentrate on specific areas when training?
Paul - Always good to be fast in any cat! :) - for sure speed makes life a lot easier but we are trying to develop our racing skills by battling with other teams in our fleet as much as we can.
Lars - Having fun!
- Was there a particular technique you found that unlocked something in your sailing?
Paul - We won a few races in the N17 gaining a lot by foiling upwind - like the 2017 worlds medal race. But it's similar to the AC75 cats, a lot of things need to be in place to make it work!
Lars - The A-cat has always been very technical and the latest flying development has increased the requirements. So getting the setting right is highly important. And I mean really really important. I was doing the worlds in Cesenatico in 2010 - after the first 3 races I was in the 90s…. Then I decided to be really aggressive at the start and did 3 OCS’s (Sorry to the ones I dragged over the line!), but I also realized that I had the speed to stay closer to the front then.
Since then i´ve been focused on getting better speed and to do good starts (I've been doing countless OCS ‘s - 1 out of 7 races is the target….). And don’t always follow the leading pack, that hardly wins you any races.
- Do you have a regular sailing partner and what do they do for your sailing?
Paul - Yes, I'm sailing the N17 with Alica Stuhlemmer, also from Kiel. As a crew she's doing a lot of strength and speed training, there's nothing really that you cannot work on crewing these boats. all fitness areas are very beneficial and crucial for the job!
Lars - I had a fast training partner when I started sailing the A-cat, and that got me up to speed. Getting faster is easier if you can measure how fast you are while not racing. We did a lot of small course racing back then, that also sharpened our skills.
- What do you most enjoy about sailing the ‘A’ Cat?
Paul - The amount of trim options (the complexity), being able to make foiling work a lot of the time both up and downhill.
Lars - The efficiency of the boat, that the low weight and low drag so easily transform power into speed. And the transformation to a flying boat has tripled the joy.
- What was your best sailing moment? (and if you feel strong enough, your worst!?)
Paul - My worst sailing moment was when halfway around the worlds medal race in 2015, we were winning the gold until we capsized in a big offshore breeze in Aarhus, dropping to 5th overall.
Best moment then was winning the 2017 worlds medal race and winning two races on day 2 in the A nationals in Garda last autumn, against Mischa.
Lars - When I finally got the flying platform dialed in and started sailing really fast and started beating my best enemy, Thomas Paasch, more regularly at regattas. Or maybe a 5th in a race at the Worlds on Cesenatico after 3 months in the class.
Worst was going to the worlds in Sopot, where I had the flying setup wrong and the sail didn't fit the mast…. I was out looking for a chainsaw...And then repeating the setup mistake in Warnemünde the year after on a new platform (the charm of sailing on my own)…Luckily you learn by your mistakes, so the more mistakes you make, the more you learn….
- If something goes wrong in a race, how do you start to deal with it mentally?
Paul - Should always look for the next move and stick to the routines and jobs ahead.
Lars - I shout - and then look for possibilities. These fast boats create way more passing lanes than slower boats
- What would you sail if ‘A’ Cats were suddenly banned?
Paul - Moths.
Lars - The Waszp is gaining momentum in Denmark (One-design seems unfair though - you can't buy better speed..). Or maybe a keelboat to go sailing with my children.
- What improvements do you feel could be made to the boats currently and which direction do you think the two divisions should be heading?
Paul - I'm always keen to see more performance and speed being squeezed out these little light machines. Really keen to try and get more ride height from further developed foils? I also think its great to have the classic devision and let the sailor make their preferred choice.
Lars - Hmm, sometimes I hate the fast development, but the changes to the boat for the last 10 years have been magnificent, so it's hard to argue with the development element. And I'm really thankful to the technical committee and the members of the class, that we managed to do the transformation to a flying boat without killing the class. The discussion on rule 8 some years ago got us pretty close.
On the other hand the boat has gotten really complex lately - I've added 2 lines to the 4 I had, so it's a massive increase, that can confuse me while tacking and jibing..hoho. We have hardly any classic boats in Denmark, so I’m not up-to-date on that development, but they are faster than my last floating boat, so they must be pretty cool.
- Where is the best place you have ever sailed your ‘A’ Cat?
Paul - Garda
Lars - Gamborg Fjord just outside my sailing club. Waves never exceed 5-10 cm, Mental!
- Who are your sailing heroes and influences?
Paul - Always been following the cup and 52 circuit a lot.
Lars - My big hero is my father - he’s a vivid sailor and has been sailing since the 1950s.
- What single piece of advice could you give to the average ‘A’ Cat sailor?
Paul - Try to get your hands on one somehow! its addictive....!
Lars - Tactics are easier if you have speed. And if you don't have speed it's hard to do tactics.. For the flying a-cat you really need to make sure that the settings of foils are correct (start with neutral lift on rudders, adjust boards till flying feels like driving a Lexus + work intensively with sheet/tiller) - and changes of settings are measured in millimeters (at least on my boat).
Lars also waxed lyrically on about how has the lockdown had affected his sailing, and also on the 'A' Class status in DEN.
Life has almost ended - no official racing till earliest in September… At least we have been allowed to practice on our own in Denmark, so I managed to do 8-10 sessions this spring. And by coincidence I was lucky to meet other A-cat-sailors while sailing. Restrictions have been lifted a little lately, so we can maybe do some informal racing through the summer, as long as there are less than 10 people on the race course.
We are a small dedicated group, approx 10-15 boats and lately more people have joined the class. All eager to go flying. We share knowledge on what to do, because everybody gets better by that. We also join the North-Germans for racing as well, so there are good possibilities for racing A-cats in Denmark. And then we do a the yearly barbeque at my parents house at the Danish nationals