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head of the class

head of the class

SimonN checks in with this excellent final report from the Aussie A-Class Nationals.  Big thanks to SimonN and to SA’er “scribe” for keeping the cat fans informed of this big event.  Thread is here, results here, and some good pics here.

Wow. What a great week. And what a great standard! Don’t let the results or anybody else try to fool you: This fleet has real talent well down the order. I finished 34th (out of 73) and was beaten by 1 point by Phillipe Presti. Phillipe is a great guy and a world class sailor employed by Oracle Racing. He has won the Finn Gold Cup, been to 2 Olympics, done a number of ACs including AC32 with Luna Rossa helming the ‘B’ boat and I could go on. Sure, he isn’t a multihull sailor but last night he told me that his view was that this fleet had one of the highest standards he had ever sailed in. Add to that the fact that 6 out of the top 7 had been to the Olympics and that there were 3 other Olympians in the fleet.

Another factor to note is that we believe that the 73 boats at this championship made it the biggest small boat fleet in Australia this year.

Everybody knows the results and they are pretty much what I predicted. Well done to Glenn who was in a class of his own. Except for his BFD, Stevie Brewin always looked comfortable for maintaining his position as Glenn’s biggest rival and in a lighter week, with races like the practice race, the top would have been a lot closer. Darren showed why he is probably the best all round cat sailor in the world but never quite got the downwind stuff as good as the first 2. Everybody will have to look over their shoulders if he continues. The stand out was Dean Barker. I cannot even begin to state just how impressed most of us were with him. Sure, he had done a reasonable amount of sailing but he had not started in a proper A Class race before. Yet he won almost every single start. Just awesome. He then proceeded to demolish the fleet and usually led at the top mark by some margin. His build is ideal for going upwind in an A in the breeze we had, but he still had to do the business, which he did. Consider that he dominated the first leg to the extent he did against the sailors that were there and who were using almost the same gear and it was about the most extraordinary display I have ever seen.

Scott Anderson deserves a mention with his 6th place. He sailed very cleverly and got the most out of his boat. He has done a lot of training and uses his vast experience well.

Gear wise, there were 2 camps. In one corner you had Ashby/Fiberfoam and in the other, Brewin/Saaberg. I think there is not a lot between the masts as the front runners were using the latest Fiberfoam masts which are very similar to the Saabergs. I am sure each of the manufacturers will make a case for their masts, but the numbers seem close enough. Both camps are equally happy with their gear. As for results, Ashby/Fiberfoam got 1,5, 6, 7 and Brewin/Saaberg got 2,3. Landy got 4th with his own sail and, I believe, a Saaberg.

Did this really prove anything? I am not sure. I think the sailors decided more than the rigs. Glenn wasn’t the fastest but was the smartest. Barker was quick but Brewin and Bundy were faster downhill. I am not sure about Landy. He claimed uphill speed and I thought he had downwind speed! Sometimes it is difficult to see from my end of the fleet and those at the front have a slightly blinkered view of their own gear. However, I have seen nothing to make me want to change from Brewin/Saaerg, but I am sure the same would be said for those sailing with the other gear!

For me, overall I thought this was a championship about the sailors, rather than the gear. Besides Barker, I have to mention the only non professional sailor at the front of the fleet, Stevie Brewin (even if he is a friend!). He has trained less than most of the others and still has too many tricks for the new guys. While I don’t think anybody thought Glenn would be toppled, I do believe a fair number expected Stevie to be and he held his nerve and despite an early BFD, kept making great starts and getting the results he needed.

However, as said above, while the focus is on the top guys, the rest of the fleet is great and close. I have never enjoyed doing so badly before and that is because the standard of the sailing is so good. The mid fleet of the A’s is taken up by some very good sailors, who, I should add, are a great bunch of people.

So, if you are in Oz and are looking for a top class to sail with large fleets that have great depth, look no further than the A’s. Don’t worry if you are not a multihull sailor. Give it a go. I think you will be surprised.

For those of you wondering about the pro sailors in the fleet and how their jobs figure into their A-Class sailing, Simon posted this:

  1. Glenn Ashby – Money or not, he would be there because he is a long time A sailor. He does sell lots of A Class sails and is employed by TNZ, but he would be there anyway.
  2. Stevie Brewin – A builder by day and a very good hobby sailmaker by night, making a fair number of sails for the class as a sideline. Nobody is paying for him to be there and he would be there even if he wasn’t making sails.
  3. Darren Bundock – He is on holiday and has paid for his A Class sailing himself. He has enjoyed it so much he wants to do the worlds, which will cost him as well. I am sure the publicity and the contacts won’t do him any harm, but I think he is hooked, money or not!
  4. Landy – He does make lots of sails for the class but he does it for the love. He could be in other classes but this is where the competition is. On asking him how he felt about dropping a place from last time, he said that while he was naturally disappointed, how could he not be overall happy sailing in such a fleet.
  5. Dean Barker – Probably the only one of the top guys being paid to be there and who wouldn’t be there otherwise. A true professional, learning a new aspect of his trade. He might have been paid to be there, but I think he rather enjoyed it!
  6. Scott Anderson – Although he clearly gains from selling masts and battens, Scott first won the A Class worlds in 1986, so his involvement in the class isn’t tied to commercial motivation. Some of his oldest friends sail in the class.
  7. Will Howden – Will has paid for his own sailing. I think he has done it to learn from Glenn, raise his profile and, I suspect, because the idea of an English winter wasn’t as appealing!

I could go on, but I think you get the general picture. There are very few boats that the pros sail because they want to and where they will even pay if they have to. The A Class is one. I was told that, at most, there were 5 people there who wouldn’t have been if it weren’t for the AC. The A’s have always attracted some of the very best sailors, professionals or not.