Vestas Sailrocket boss Paul Larsen checks in from Weston, UK with the latest from his Invictus C-Class program.
Last weekend, we finally got to line our C-class INVICTUS up against perhaps the fastest beach cats in the world at the Weston Catamaran Open.
For us it was a chance to do some good racing, show the boat to an enthusiastic audience and get a measure of her performance against the state of the art of the soft sailed competition. We had a mixed bag of results for one reason or another but overall we came away pretty happy with what had been achieved. Weston did a great job and the event was a pleasure to attend.
We had a few little jobs to attend to before the racing began, such as fitting one of our old 2004 dagger boards to make up for the one we lost in Newport RI during the last LAC. We rigged up the boat on Friday with a very bleak forecast suggesting winds of over 30 knots during the day. It didn’t look too bad out on Southampton water but there was a sense that there was wind out ‘there’ somewhere. We held back a bit not really wanting to test our luck… but still got as close to sailing as we could before making the final decision. We watched a small but quality fleet go out to race which included Will Sunnucks on his Texel winning Marstrom M20, which has been souped up with a wider than normal beam and a bigger rig. Also out there were some F-18’s, Tornado Sports and even Phil Cotton’s Seacart 30 which had been invited to play. We watched them do the first race and decided that despite the forecast we hadn’t seen anything that we shouldn’t be able to handle… so we should have some confidence in a boat that had recently proven herself to be very reliable. We pulled on the drysuits and went out to play.
The start was just in front of the clubhouse and we joined the fleet on their second lap around a short windward-leeward course. Instantly Invictus shot to windward at a pretty high angle and began putting distance on all the boats. We took a little while to get comfortable as there were some fruity gusts coming through. We eased into our top-mark rounding’s pulling out all the camber to turn off the power. We made gains by not having to hoist or drop kites at the marks and had plenty of grunt to do decent angles down-wind… so much so that we often underestimated our down-wind angles and came in to the leeward gates very hot. In these instances we would just pull the camber off again and try and make it a bit more manageable. Some of the gusts sure were punchy and we had one big ‘stuff’ where we thanked our stars for those two big, funky, retro bows. Invictus shook it all off and were around the leeward mark and into the next beat. The angles she does up wind really is rude compared to a soft sail… and it just seems to get better with the breeze.
She just keeps climbing out. Gordon and I got more confident as the cobwebs rubbed off with every mark rounding. We began to undo the lap we were down on the fleet. Unfortunately Will had an issue and was back on the shore so we didn’t get to line up against the M20. We had one more good hard stuff down-wind and decided enough was enough. We were happy with the boat and the performance she gave, but the wind did feel like it was building beyond ‘C’ class territory so we took her home. In the end it was a good decision to go sailing… and a good decision to put her away. We had a whole weekend ahead of us and we didn’t want to blow it. Apparently we had posted the fastest lap times of all the boats for the day. That was interesting as we really were just going for a good shake-down sail. We took the rear flaps off the wing and just laid the wing forward in the dinghy park for the night.
The dinghy park at Weston Yacht Club was a hive of activity in the morning as everyone else had turned up for the weekend. Besides Will’s M20, we now had Peter Vink on the much hyped (and deservedly so) new NACRA F20c, and the mighty TEK KAT 23 to deal with along with a host of Tornado Sports and current F-18’s. Overall, the event had managed to get a pretty high quality fleet of boats and it was great to see a big winged ‘C’ sitting amongst all the ‘T’ s, ‘N’s, ‘V’s and ‘H’s. The mornings wind really crapped out come race time. I don’t think there was much trapezing up the first beat and we came around the top mark hard on the heels of the TEK KAT with the F-20 another five boat lengths out front. Down-wind we just got crucified by the kite boats. We had some real issues with the amount of force it took to hold the full camber in the wing. We didn’t have the system onboard which we had used to good effect in Newport and we paid the price. The wind was down around 4-5 knots and dropping. Our angles were terrible whilst the kite boats could still make a decent VMG. I know we can do much better than this so it was quite frustrating not to be able to find our ‘Mojo’. In the end the wind crapped out completely… but our race was effectively over half way along that down-wind leg. It was both frustrating but equally illuminating of an area we need to focus a lot more on. That afternoon the breeze came in a little so I gave the helm over to Will Sunnucks and let him take INVICTUS for a blast. I showed him how it all works upwind and downwind and generally let him absorb the pleasure of gliding along in a big, smooth winged wonder. There was just enough wind for the boat to begin to power up and, well, I’ll simply say that I’m pretty sure that Will’s smile said it all.
Weston yacht club put on a great and well attended social night complete with a fantastic fire-works display (see photo, top of the page). I had the opportunity to give a talk about our program and the C-class in general along with some speed sailing stuff. Fortunately I was preaching to the converted because if there are two things I can talk about… it’s the aforementioned. Helena always laughs when people ask if I would like to do a talk! It was another nice night, perfect for fireworks. It was so calm in fact that we just lowered the whole wing forward behind the yacht club fully rigged ready for hoisting the next morning.
Thankfully there was a bit more breeze the following day. It was a cool and patchy, Northerly which varied between 5-15 knots. I got down there early and simply pulled the wing up, clipped on the trapezes and threaded the mainsheet. She was ready to go and I had promised to take another keen cat sailor in Jon Worthington out for a blast. It’s a pleasure to share the boat with such appreciative and enthusiastic sailors. I’m pretty used to the scale of the boat… but I’m sure it blows away someone who is still coming to grips with an F-18. These guys are all pretty sharp sailors so it’s no worries to hand over the helm straight away. In this case, Jon got a great sail in. He also got a sense of the rapid transition you have on these boats from graceful hull flying to "oh-shit" teetering on the edge of cliff of shame if you get too cocky. Respect the wing Jon… respect the wing! Great stuff. A C-class is a pretty exotic boat and getting to take one for a blast is something to be savoured. It still gives me a huge buzz.
When the racing started, I think we had some issues on the first start where we got stuck in irons spinning before the gun (sound familiar)? We were left behind effectively starting over a minute late. Despite this we still came around the top mark up at the sharp end of the 20 foot plus fleet. Once again we struggled down-wind. I was trying to sail a bit hotter down-wind with more weight to windward. My theory being that it was quite patchy and we might be able to stay hooked up with apparent wind for longer. When we were hooked up, we weren’t that far off the pace. The trouble was we were mostly not in the groove… or all over the place chasing it. The boat didn’t feel as slick down-wind as she was in Newport. We got hit by a gust whilst heading for the leeward gate and did stuff but the big bows saved us again. Whilst rounding up around the leeward mark, I heard a noise I knew meant trouble. Our new/old 2004 dagger board had snapped. We still had enough down to be effective upwind so we pushed on. We had lost about %50 of our area. It wasn’t so bad as long as we ‘footed’ off and kept boat speed. In the fresher breeze, Ol’ INVICTUS began to flex her ‘C’ class guns and do that cool upwind thing where she just goes substantially higher and faster than anything else. We would get left behind downwind… and find ourselves coming back into the top mark with the front runners.
We had great starts on the third and fourth races and gave everyone a good look at how a wing-sailed catamaran can go to weather… even with only half a dagger-board. Towards the end of the third race I began to move further to leeward down-wind and trade speed for depth. It worked a lot better and when in the groove we could almost… but not quite hang on to the good guys. Whenever we lost it we would get rolled by anything with a kite including the Spitfires from time to time. I bet they liked that. We can really screw some boats up as we do big dial ups in search of apparent and force everyone above us up… way up. Sorry guys/girls… that’s what we need to do. The more we sailed the sharper we got. Equally we became aware of the performance killing issues that we were carrying. The broken board contributed to a couple of blown tacks which cost us around 30-40 seconds each time (feels like an hour when it happens), the slot was a total mess as the controlling fingers had opened up and in the end we even got one of the fingers stuck in our second element. This final piece was the equivalent of getting a jib batten stuck on the mast and not blowing through (for those of you who have sailed on Hobie 16’s a bit). We had to carry that for all of the fourth race. I tried to take one more joy-rider in Ferdinand Van West out but the wind had died and I realised the damage that the jammed finger could do when cambering the wing on one side. It could only be remedied by dropping the wing. We took INVICTUS back to shore and began packing her away in her trailer for the tow back to Bristol. I owe you a proper ride Ferdinand.
What a fantastic weekend. It was so much more fun to be out there sailing with friends old and new than playing around by ourselves down in Weymouth… and 10 times more valuable. Nothing improves the breed like racing. You can’t hide from your weak points and god knows we have some. We had some glaring issues but then many of them can be resolved. I think it was easy to see where we could gain big chunks around the course with more practice and tuning. It was fantastic to line up against the cream of the modern beach cats. We got to see firsthand just how quick the NACRA F-20, ‘Sunnucks special’ M20 and TEK KAT could be when they hit their stride. Equally they got glimpses of what a ‘C’ could do in its stride. Knowing our own issues, what I had recently seen of the best ‘C’ classes in the Little Americas Cup and what I saw on the week-end, my gut feeling is that a good crew on the latest tweaked ‘C’ i.e. Fred and Magnus on Canaan… would come out on top.
Some people took a cheeky shot at our downwind performance but then you have to respect the ‘C’ class rule. Sure, we could put a kite on our boat and have the same advantage down-wind as we do upwind but that (well, let’s be honest… that would make for one very cool and wickedly fast boat… as we will soon see in its 45 foot form)… where was I? Oh yeah, that… would not be a ‘C’ class. The fact is that we could put a kite on a C and go fast down-wind… but there is nothing so simple you could put on any of the other boats to go so fast upwind… except a wing of course. The challenge of a C is to design and build 300 square feet of sail area which flies upwind and gives power beyond its area limitation down-wind. It forces you to sail extremely efficiently and quite often in a unique ‘C’ specific manner. They are great boats and the more we can go and play in fleets like this, the better we will become. Funny enough, both the F-20 and the TEK KAT had to retire at the end of the day due to broken kite poles! Hmmmm;)
Well, one way or another, the UK and hopefully the continental catamaran fleets will see more and more of the C-class. It’s up to us to develop ourselves up to the point where we can do the business up the sharp end and release the full potential of the C. We simply have to go racing. The weekend showed us that the new boats are damned quick (with a lot less cost and hassle) and if we make any slips then they will just eat us up and spit us out, but if we string it together on a new hot boat…like I said, I reckon the ‘C’ could still be king. I could be wrong but either way, it will be great fun finding out. It’s up to us to prove it and we sure have some work to do. It would be great to see Fred and Steve Clark come over and do some of the other big events before the next Little Americas Cup in Weymouth in 2013. We should aim to tie it in. The C-class can only do itself favours by sailing in mixed events.
Gordon and I, on behalf of the INVICTUS Team would like to thank everyone at Weston Yacht Club, Stuart, Carl and Grant for pushing/inviting us to come down and to the ladies and club in general for making us feel so welcome. The pleasure was ours and we will be back. Thanks also to everyone who helped us rig up and generally put up with our space hungry beast in the boat park and on the water. The club put on a great regatta. It was fantastic to see such an enthusiastic and high quality cat fleet… in November. At the end of the day it doesn’t really matter what you are on… it’s just fun getting out there and going for it… I’ve missed this scene.
All pictures by Helena Darvelid, and you can find more on the Team Invictus Blog.