We continue our series with the IACA Technical Head, and the Worlds Fastest Sailor, Paul Larsen.
- When and why did you first start sailing and in what?
First wind driven vessel… would have been a scow moth up at Bonnie Doon (Made famous in “The Castle”… it exists). First proper sailing where I had any vague idea what was going on… was on a Hobie 14. That was also up on Lake Eildon in Victoria.
- When did you first become aware of the ‘A’ Class Cat?
It would have been once we started racing and touring with the Hobie fleet around Victoria. I was/am a bit of a boat spotter. I knew every boat and who was was fast on what. I always used to read the club champions boards and know who did what. Greg Goodall’s name popped up a bit. I first remember seeing those beautiful big aluminium wing masts down at a club called Somers on Westernport bay. I raced against them oneday at McCrae and was struck by how early they were trapezing and how well they climbed out on us in lighter breezes. Such grace. On the other hand… we used to love watching them struggle on windy daysJ. Didn’t stop me being a fan though. Their was always a soaring bird like elegance about them that struck me.
- Where and at what age did you first get a sail on one.
It was probably around 2009 when I bought a Bimare to practice on whilst we were assembling the C-class for the next years Little Americas Cup. I tried out a few things on it like canting rigs and the like. So I was 39 at the time. Despite that and all the amazing boats I’ve been fortunate enough to sail on, for me personally it was pretty special to finally sail an A. They’re just cool. The tiller is still hanging on the wall beside me. I use it to open the roof vents:)
Fitness and training.
- What is your current fitness routine, and do you have any special diet?
Well, we’ve mostly been cycling however, in order to stay in shape for the A I use the same simple tool I’ve used before. It’s simply a waterskiing handle/rope hanging from a rafter at a height that allows me to do a full squat at full arm stretch. That way I can pull myself up from a squat with arms, legs…. Or both. Not hard… do 100 before the song ends! That one simple hanging handle can do so many relevant exercises and stretches for an A. Cycling doesn’t do much other than give you stamina. I reckon I’ll be good when the lockdown stops… tomorrow hopefully.
- How often do you sail each month?
Haven’t sailed my A since October. I did charter a boat and do the Australian A class Nationals though. Great fun. I’m missing it.
- Do you have any specific fixed training regime?
It’s a bit hard here in Weymouth as I rarely have anyone to sail against. Having the Worlds here last year was a real luxury. It was pretty special to see all those great boats and sailors out in my back yard. I wish it was like that all the time. Many of the locals say “Get a Moth and it is”. In many respects they’re right… but I just love the A… and anyway… f**k hiking. Some times I get to train a lot . My general boat handling and fitness gets solid but then I don’t know how my boat speed relates. It gets frustrating. I’ve done some pretty long drives around Europe chasing fleets and regattas. It’s annoying to find your weaknesses during those elusive events and not before.
- Where did you learn your race tactics?
My sailing background and experience is pretty varied. I learnt a lot racing Hobies back when I was younger. That laid a foundation. I really don’t do much round-the-buoys stuff apart from the A so I’m pretty rusty on many elements to be honest.
- Do you practice race tactics in any way whilst training?
I do try and force myself around short windward leewards in order to tighten up my lay lines, boat control and manoeuvres. I need more boats!!!
- Do you concentrate on specific areas when training?
Light wind foiling is critical. Every time I line up with the Good fleet it seems they are popping up sooner. I love windy days so always go out in slightly over the top conditions. The boats are just so much fun when they get loose. I don’t want an easy or automatic boat. This is sport and I love the challenge of the A. I reckon I’m already hitting a glass ceiling with respect to my position in the fleet. I can only really make big gains by racing and training against others more.
- Was there a particular technique you found that unlocked something in your sailing?
Sailing in OTT conditions taught me foiling upwind. I remember I took too long getting rigged one day and the conditions developed. I went down to the boat ramp and it was near 30 knots. I was kind of pissed off and figured “Damn it.. I’m going out. I might learn something. I think I did the first down wind sitting in… but had foil lift dialed in to keep the nose up. I didn’t back it off when I went upwind. With the cunner murdered and the main eased, the head just inverted and boom… a whole new world of wild, high speed upwind madness opened up. It took me a while to realize that the turbo effect was coming from the head inversion… but damn that was a fun day. The A is brilliant upwind even in 30 knots. I only got to experience using rudder differential briefly after the last race of the Aussie Nats. It felt fantastic. Much more locked in. Guess I’d better do that now. I do like my boat. It works… but I think it’s time to upgrade the whole platform to include all the new toys from scratch. I think I was the only boat in the top 30 at the Worlds who still had aluminum rudder stocks… not that that was an issue.
- Do you have a regular sailing partner and what do they do for your sailing?
No… I don’t! Adam May has his boats here but we virtually never get to sail at the same time. Oscar comes down occasionally but mostly I’m out there chasing around random Moths on my lonesome.
- What do you most enjoy about sailing the ‘A’ Cat?
There’s so many aspects. The simplicity of a single hander. The elegance of the general dimensions. The physicality of it on a windy day. The sensation of orchestrating control over this this loose and vaguely understood grouping of theories so that they come together to play a sweet result is just sooooo mentally engaging. The sensation of high speed, low level flying . The fact that you can learn something new and make big gains… not just poofteenths of a knot. I even love how far it can throw me when I get it wrong.
- What was your best sailing moment? (and if you feel strong enough, your worst!?)
My best sailing moment, in the context of the A, Hmmm, I really enjoyed some of the racing we had at the Worlds here in Weymouth. Towards the end I was mixing it up lap after lap, race after race with some of the consistently fast top guys. I could hold my own and it felt right to be there. There was one time where we all were lining each other up for the last gybe and lay to the finish. One went and bang, bang, bang we all went knowing that every thing was at stake. You could make five boats or lose five boats with one slip. We were all lit and just wringing the necks out of these boats in super close proximity. A Starboard tacker came screaming in equally hell-bent on jamming it in and that pushed everyone to draw on all their skills. I took a micro second to smell the roses. The simple thought that “this is it… I love having this right here… in my life”. We all laughed once over the line. Brilliant fun. Yeah that little micro second stayed with me.
I had that one race where I got tangled up in the pin end start boats anchor. It took me a good couple of minutes to get free. I decided to race flat out anyway and see how many scalps I could get. That was bloody good fun as there was nothing to lose. I think I ended up around 16th. I wish I had that frame of mind all the time.
- If something goes wrong in a race, how do you start to deal with it mentally?
I guess I had a bit of a breakthrough before the Sopot Worlds. I had a mate driving around with us who was/is an old school friend from back home. He’s not a sailor at all but someone I respect as a great personal friend. He was surprised how wound up I would get when things didn’t work out on the water. I’d often bring it ashore. I guess when I saw that reflected in his reaction it made me stop and have a look. He was basically saying… “I thought this was supposed to be your ‘fun’ sailing”. He was right. I made a pact with myself then that no mater what happened… this is my fun sailing and I was going to come off the water happy. I’m bloody fortunate to be able to do something so expensive and frivolous for a past time so if I’m not enjoying it… then something’s wrong. Just having that as a focus actually set the tone for all the sailing since. I can still get frustrated. That’s fine. It’s a competitive game… but it stops real quick. It is fun. I need to sail like I did when I was chasing the whole fleet with nothing to lose.
- What would you sail if ‘A’ Cats were suddenly banned?
Probably a Moth.
- What improvements do you feel could be made to the boats currently and which direction do you think the two divisions should be heading?
I love the boats and the development aspect. Every year they get better and better. The new foilers are faster and yet more stable than ever. It’s a bit early to comment on how the splitting of the fleet will pan out but I think the current rules dividing them are a good starting point. We need to see how they go before we worry about changing them. I guess I’m now involved in helping shape those rules and solutions aren’t always as obvious as they seem. There is a big grey area between foiling and non-foiling. The A-class makes for a fantastic platform no matter how you sail it. I think it’s good for the class to have two disciplines and personally I “feel” it should be a clear line where they are actually different boats best suited for purpose. This can be achieved simply by the bolt on bits.
- Where is the best place you have ever sailed your ‘A’ Cat?
Well, every place has it’s day… but it’s pretty hard to top Garda on a good day. I just love the fresh water and the stunning scenery.
- Who are your sailing heroes and influences?
Well I was the right age and in the right place when Australia 2 did its thing back in 83. That had a big effect on me as I was just beginning to dabble in sailing. It set the scene for a real boom time for sailing in the 80’s and the whole Hobie scene was pretty big in Oz back then. I got to see and on one occasion race against the Australian C-class boats with Vic 150 and The Edge and that blew me away. Chris Cairns, Scotty Anderson and of course Simon Mckeon and Tim Daddo. Obviously that had a huuuuuge effect on me. I finally got to race against Simon for the first time down in the Aussie Nats in January. That was special. I spent a lot of my life focused on nothing else but to walk a mile in their shoes. Being a Victorian country boy, I’m always bound to be a fan of Glenns. It’s always a pleasure to see what he does with sailing on and off the water. It’s awesome that I can still race against all these guys named here… on an A-class.
- What single piece of advice could you give to the average ‘A’ Cat sailor?
Single bit of advice is hard. If you don’t know… ask. Try other peoples boats. Ask. If you don’t ask, you don’t get. Focus on the fun stuff.