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It Started With A Bang: 2022 A-Cat Worlds

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  • It Started With A Bang: 2022 A-Cat Worlds

    The Beacon Group 2022 A Class World Championships started with a bang today, as a large thunderstorm tracked into Galveston Bay from the South. The first Open Division race was finishing when the lightning struck a nearby water tower. This was the trigger to the race committee to send everyone scurrying ashore. But not before the exciting first race of the Worlds was run.

    35 Open foiling ‘A’ Cats lined up for the start and all got away cleanly. The top mark was set 1.4 miles away to the South East. The water of this part of Galveston bay is only about 10ft deep, and this results in a short vicious chop developing in any sort of wind. Today was no exception. Initially, the going was pretty gentle as the wind was 6-7 kts, thus forcing these flying boats into a ‘low-rider’ displacement mode. In this condition, the sailors really envy the classic riders, who would just effortlessly pull away from them in these conditions with their much lower drag undercarriage. About 10 mins later the lead boat of former French champion, Emmanuel Dode FRA2, had reached the top mark, closely chased by young US Olympic squad sailor Ravi Parent USA 76, who’s jockey-like stature perfectly suited these conditions. The wind at the top was maybe 8 kts but still marginal.

    This is a very strong fleet. There are several sailors of some considerable note here: National champions, former class World champions, past and current Olympians, including medalists, Sail GP sailors and an America’s Cup winner included. The boats filed around the top, in pursuit of the leading pair. All then went into their low drag downwind mode, usually consisting with sitting forward of the front beam to pull the stern out, and getting as much twist into the sail as possible. Then, after a good 15-16 boats had rounded the mark, it happened.

    Some way down the fleet, rare for him to be fare, was the young Polish Champion Kuba Surowiec. He had just rounded the top mark, and was flying a hull much higher than any of the others. He then jumped on the wire, and as the hull dropped down he pumped and jerked the whole boat and teased the windward hull up out of the water just before the windward one dropped back in. This was all he needed, as the drag fell away, his speed increased dramatically, and, steering a higher line, simply rode on this magic carpet past all the front runners still dragging their low downwind moded boats along. As he passed them, going 3 times their speed, they suddenly realized what he had done to them, and you saw several abruptly change direction as they franticly tried to get on their foils too. He rounded the bottom mark, maybe 500m ahead of the rest. It was magnificent to witness, as of such things champions are made.

    Back at the top, he was a good 3 mins ahead, Ravi was next, leading the top breakaway pack of the next 6 or so determined to get back into the fight. The left of the course looked to be slightly favoured and most went that way. By now, the wind had kicked in to 12-13kts, and it wasn’t long before that famous old Galveston bay chop showed up.

    By the start of the last lap, they were eating into Kuba’s lead a little, and on the last downwind leg of the 3 lap race, Team USA Sail GP crewman, Riley Gibbs USA 96, had got to within striking distance as Kuba had gone to the right at some point, whereas Riley stayed left. At the finish, Kuba, coming in from the right crossed about 30m ahead of Riley blasting down from the left, to get his first 2022 World Championship points. America’s Cup legend Darren Bundock AUS 88 crossed the line in 3rd, about 100m behind, ahead of Emmanuel in a good 4th and Spanish Olympic Nacra sailor Iago Lopez Marra ESP 97 rounding out the top 5. All the while the clouds were building ominously to the East, and then that lighting struck the tower. However, the Race officer, a hugely experienced character named Billy Richnow, let the race run out before ushering his chickens back into the coop.

    After an hour of downpour and some bangs, it abated and they were all released back to the course. Again, he got R2 away cleanly and the fleet set off for the top. The delay had allowed the predicted sea breeze to arrive, so it was a nice 12kt upwind leg. Or at least would have been had it not been for this brutal 2ft short amplitude chop. But an ‘A’ Cat is designed to cope – they don’t call them ‘Wave Piercing Bows’ for nothing, these upside down hull shapes. Less fun for the chase boats and ribs though, I can tell you! This time the top riders where more evenly matched as Kuba’s superpower was now available to all. The blasted though the 3 laps with first Ravi, with a good lead drawn out, then Kuba leading. But finally at the gun it was Ravi who got his first bullet of the Championships, Kuba second with Former Multiple Class World Champ, Stevie Brewin AUS 4 got 3rd. Iago in 4th and Riley in 5th.

    Next up were the Classics. Much less sketchy in these condition as they must have 1 hull in the water, so non foiling. This fleet also contains a few National Champs, Olympic medalists etc, and the reigning World Champ in the shape of Andrew Landenberger AUS 308. This is the ‘A’ Cat that normal mortals would usually sail. The close and competitive racing is ensures it’s continuing international appeal, as the circus skill required and continuous near death experiences of the Open Division make it an attractive alternative for the older sailor.

    Billy got their 2 races off without incident, although on the second start a boat capsized onto another one, removing both from the game as the gun went. Almost from the off, it became the Landy show, as most had expected. This multiple World champion and Olympic medalist is pretty much unstoppable in this fleet, really leaving the rest to battle for the other positions. His son and prot?g? Andy AUS 300 has inherited the racing DNA, and battled with expat Scot and Spanish Champion Micky Todd ESP 7.

    The wind had increased to 14kts, but these boats can lap it up in these conditions. At the gun, Landy got his first 2 bullets, Micky his 2nds. Baby Landy came in 3rd and 4th. However, he was dropped a place after being protested by Billy and the race committee for sailing through the line as the previous race was still finishing, the naughty boy.

    Hence the opening day was done. Racers can lick their wounds, breakages repaired. The free beer, supplied by a pair of kind sponsors, Fox Brewery and Ingenious Brewing, needed to be drunk too.

    Day 2 was canned after excess wind and cartoonlike waves, so most of the fleet seemed to go off to the Space Centre. Game on for Wednesday 10;30 Open start, and 3 races….

    A-Cat Worlds 2022, Race Day 2

    They say it was a hard day today, out on old Galveston bay….( in a Morgan Freeman narrating voice). Because a days racing had been lost due to excessive sea state and higher than advertised winds, Billy Richnow, the Worlds PRO, decided he wanted to run an extra race in each session for the twin divisions. First up, at 10:30 was the Open foiling fleet. The winds were about 12kts from the South East, so the traditional wave chop started up in due course.

    At the start, all boats went to the left of the course as to tack right would not prove advantageous in terms of lost time. Half way up, they started to tack across on the layline. The few who tacked earlier then had the starboard advantage as they all closed in on the mark. Young Olympic hopeful Ravi Parent USA 76 had pulled a decent lead and was chased 50 m later by Team USA Sail GP rider Riley Gibbs USA 96. Darren Bundock AUS 88 and Stevie Brewin AUS 4 were in hot pursuit, as were Emmaunal Dode FRA 2, another Olympian, Iago Lopez Marra ESP 97, USA National Champion and local boy, Bruce Mahoney USA 311 and Polish Champion Kuba Surowiec POL 41. It is usual in this class than a breakaway group separated away from the main pack. Their upwind foiling ability is the usual deciding factor. If you can’t master that skill, you are in the next tier now.

    Rounding the top mark in these cats, in these choppy and building breeze conditions, is a particular set of skills, skills that must be mastered, if you wish to compete at this top level. It consists of passing the mark and carrying on, albeit at less of an angle upwind. Then you need to configure the boat for the downhill ‘devil’s ride’ that is sailing a foiling A-Cat. Usually, you drop off downhaul, this making the sail more powerful and fuller. Drop the mast rotation to leeward, again increasing the power, but not too much, as the apparent wind speeds will increase as you round, so you don’t want it too full, as that will increase the sail drag. Set your rudders and main foil rake to your downwind modes, and sometimes drop the traveller off a little. This you will do this within the next 50m or ideally less. Then, to avoid spending much time in the ‘Zone of Death’, you will sharply pull the tiller to set the boat on the downwind heading, whilst deftly moving your weight aft to increase the foil angle of attack, but as it starts to lift, the will move forward to counter the ballooning tendency of the boat. You now remember just have to steer and pull mainsheet to constantly keep the boat flat and foiling. All whilst remaining on the trapeze. Simple really isn’t it?

    The fleet, in these conditions, tend to carry on along a starboard tack until they reach their layline for the bottom marks. However, this is easier said than done. Judging this point and executing the maneuver is also fraught with danger. You need to slow down the boat, which could be travelling at upto 30 kts, avoid the windward hull dropping, as you are still trapezing remember, otherwise it’s high-speed teabag time and a crown-pleasing crash could ensue. That achieved, come in off the wire, and gybe. Then set up on the other tack. You will probably have already decided which side of the course you want as you rounded the top mark. This will determine which of the twin bottom marks you need to round. Then as you approach these, you’ll need to reconfigure for the uphill leg again and basically reset all the things you unset at the top. Got that? Ok good, now repeat 2 more times.

    Riley won the first race and Ravi the second. This division is still way to close to call even after yesterday’s brutality. 5 races run, that’s half of the scheduled races, and we have only 9 points, with Ravi leading on 5, separating the top 4 riders, and Bundy is only 3 points behind those. An error, breakage, capsize etc that would shuffle the pack. Further down the Open fleet, Jacek Noetzel, the Polish father of their A-Cat fleet, is spectacularly consistent on straight 9s. Lars Gluck, a name we last had at a major event at Punta Ala in 20015, and never even sailed as his boat was one of those stuck in a container after the Italian port closed for a 4 day holiday, lies in 11th place. One guy, Robbie Daniel USA 180 sailed through a shoal of tiny fish and emerged with them all over his trampoline. And despite stuffing her boat in twice, once ending up with her straddling the starboard bow in true Texan rodeo style, Cam Farrah remains in the top 15 of this 35 boat fleet with a superb sail in tough conditions.

    As the leaders finished their 3rd race, the Classics were released from the beach for their races. By now the wind had got up to 16-17kts. But, this is meat and drink to most of these guys, as the non foiling Classics are way nicer to sail at the ends of the class 5-22 kt envelope. They don’t want to take off like a seagull at every moment.

    In this fleet we already have a clear leader, as was expected. Andrew Landenberger AUS 308, Olympic Tornado medalist and the reigning classic World Champ is head an shoulders above the others to be fair. Plus he laps up the fruity conditions with ease, and won another 2 straight bullets as the planned 3rd race was canned by Billy as it became boat breakingly rough on the course.

    There are good battles to be seen further down the fleet though. Micky Todd ESP 7 and OH Rogers USA 73 are tied in 2nd after the expat Scot had a poor first race for him finishing 9th. Ken Marshack USA 192 had a good day with a 2nd and 4th, leaving him a point behind. And the World Association President, Charles Bueche SUI 65 ties with the US sailing legend Ben Hall USA 99, despite Charles capsizing on the start line with 6 second to go, and Ben not really in his zone with these winds. Landy’s son, Andreas, or Baby Landy as we call him, missed the first race so has dropped down to 10th.

    Capsizes aplenty were had, a mast was broken as the water is only 9 ft deep, so inverting, fortunately something A-Cats tend not to be prone to unless you have a leak in the thing, can have expensive consequences. But in the end, all came hope with limbs intact and everyone had great stories to tell at the Burgers n’Brew party around the club pool.

    Did I not mention the pool? Oh the Houston yacht club is posh enough to have it’s own pool. It is well worth a visit! Not jealous at all….Check out the event website at and you can even see my gonzo video walkaround of the place.

    Race day 3 – The Classic Division get a pounding.

    We knew that today was going to be hard going. Only the Classic fleet raced today in Houston at the Beacon Group 2022 A-Class Cat Worlds, and the planned 3 races were curtailed to 2. The building sea state started to become potentially boat breaking and the winds were building to 18+kts, so Billy Richnow decided discretion was the best policy so people would live to sail another day.

    23 of the 31 boats ventured out into Galveston bay today. By now, they pretty much know what to expect. A short and vicious chop gets up in the shallow waters of the bay, and as the wind had been blowing most of the night, the waves hadn’t died down much. Thus, the epic Classic fleet headed out to do battle. The classics are better suited to these conditions, but even they were finding it hard going towards the end. Survival mode was engaged by most of the fleet pretty early on. Very little downwind trapezing, other that on about 5 boats, the rest opting for caution in the washing machine conditions. The chance of stuffing into the back of a wave and pitch-polling was considered to great a risk. Even flying a hull and doing the Wild Thing was not common either.

    The first race got off first time, as is usual in these fleets, and right away there was a right hand shift. The riders on the right hand end of the fleet soon spotted this and sailors such as Micky Todd ESP 7 and Ben Hall USA 99 started to overhaul the pin end starting boats like they were on an airport travellator. Plus being in clear air, they made hay whilst the sun shone. The wind say some 12kts, but the chop made this a hard slog uphill, even for these wave piercing designed boats. But, at the top mark it was yet again Andrew Landenberger AUS 308 showing the way, followed by his son Andreas AUS 300, with Micky chasing hard.

    The left side of the course proved the most popular as very few boats gybed at the top, electing to reduce the chances of capsizing by reducing their risky maneuvers. Downwind, both the Landys were trapezing, and pulling out a decent lead, although Micky, who has never been seen trapezing downwind, tried to keep up, but in vain. If you can get out on the wire in these conditions, and get locked onto the boat’s footstraps, you will probably go a third faster, and deeper. There is some great video from our videographer, Nick Bowers, showing this on the event website.

    The race continued in a similar vein. The left was the way both up and downhill, but the wind was inching up, together with the waves. Lower down the fleet, quite a few has spills as they dug their noses into the backs of waves and got tripped up. You need to basically sit on the rear beam in these conditions, and if you slip forward, then it’s Game Over.

    Race 2 of the day was essentially a rerun, only with the wind getting up to 18tks. These boats can handle that with ease, but imagine driving over a ploughed field at 25mph in a sports car, then you get the picture. More boats went over, a rudder was lost and one unfortunate broke his mast as he may have had a mast seal fail and as he started to invert the boat, and the 9ft bay depth can’t accommodate a 9m mast tragically. In the end, it was the Landy show again, with him getting his 6th straight bullet, totally dominating this division. 2nd was Micky, ahead of OH Rogers USA 73 who has been battling his old rival, Ken Marshack USA 192, throughout this series. Baby Landy was down in 7th.

    At this point, the PRO Billy, and his highly experienced team of formidable women race officers keeping him on the straight and narrow, decided that too much material damage was potentially happening here, and cancelled the planned 3rd race, sending them all back to the beach. The planned Open division racing in the afternoon was postponed too. With 6 races run for the Classics, and 5 for the open, at least we have a Championship, and high race scored can be dropped.

    Unfortunately is look rather unlikely that any racing will be possible on Thursday as conditions are forecast to be somewhat fruity again. Now we look forward to the final day’s racing on Friday. The top 3 or 4 positions in the Classics are probably unlikely to change, barring breakages. However, with only 9 points separating to top 4 riders in the Open division, it is all still to play for there. We have everything crossed for a sailable Friday.


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