While interest and membership in the International A-Class Cat remains at an all-time high, the just-concluded, semi-foiling Takapuna Worlds brought significant new questions to light in the world’s premiere singlehanded multihull.
The problem isn’t necessarily foiling – anyone watching the Worlds saw a fleet where even the very best pro racers could only foil for some of the time, and most of them would be in similar positions if there were no J, L, or C foils at all. The problem is that the Class is quite neatly split down the middle as to whether they want a foiling boat.
Current A-Class rule 8.1 limits the span of any vertical foil, which means only relatively small “J” or “L” shaped foils are allowed on an A-Cat. Rule 8.2 requires all appendages to be inserted from the top, which further limits the size of the foils and makes the kind of efficient wand-type controls that make a Moth so effective difficult or impossible to fit on an A-Cat.
None of this is new – in fact, Rule 8 dates back to 2009, and was clearly written to keep boats from flying. But as America’s Cup rules writers quickly learned (and nearly lost the Cup over), it’s easier to design around a rule than to design an effective rule.
So has it been with the A-Cat, and the cream of the Takapuna crop came up with huge board-holding cassettes fitting into massive holes in the hulls to circumvent rule 8.2 and a range of innovations to try to fly around rule 8.1, with less than satisfying results for those that think an A-Cat should truly fly. Meanwhile, a vote taken at the AGM to rescind Rule 8 failed to garner the requisite 2/3 majority, and the half-foilers remain the best option available for the next year.
Many young folks look at the Moth and scratch their head about the A-Cat conundrum. “The Moth is so successful, why not follow right away with the A-Cat?” is a common refrain. But unlike the Moth Class of the early 2000s which was on life support and in danger of being delisted by ISAF when John and Garth Illet pioneered the two-bladed foiling moth, the A-Cat Class is extremely healthy throughout Europe, America, Australia, and NZ, and compared to the Moth, the A-Class is a long, heavy and ungainly machine. It’s also an expensive boat already; a top of the line DNA will not leave you a lot of change from $40 grand. A pre-foiling, top-of-the-line Moth cost around US$10k in 2000; today’s production Mach 2 is well north of twice that. Can the A-Class support the additional expense it takes – both in money and weight – to handle foiling loads?
Will the thousands of A-Cat devotees around the world stand for the kind of wholesale obsolescence of their expensive toys that would necessarily follow if someone comes up with the kind of world-beating machine that Andrew Macdougall and McConaghy China have with the Mach 2 Moth? And perhaps most importantly, what kind of unintended consequences will follow from the inevitable 30-knot crashes of a boat three times the mass and two or three times the cost of a Moth?
No one knows the answer to these very tough questions, but a group of dedicated A Class sailors in Australia led by Steve Brayshaw and sailmaker Stevie Brewin has a real desire to see stable flight become a reality. After consultation with foil designers, they’ve realized they can’t do this under the current rules, so they’re taking the next step: To see what it will take to make a stable foiling A-Cat. They believe that if they can prove to themselves and the world that it can be done, the worldwide members of the A-Class will only then have the information they need to be able to support a rule change.
The Steves are calling it the A-Class Speed, and the boats will measure as A-Class cats in all respects with the sole exception of Rule 8. This will allow them to insert new foils from the bottom into old boats with a minimum of fuss, allowing the kind of testing and development necessary to produce a proper foiling boat. Brayshaw will make the Speed his main focus as soon as the new foils are available, while Brewin will also sail the current A-Class until the Europeans to continue to provide sails and service to his Brewin Sails customers. Other A-Catters downunder have already committed to the project and anyone is welcome to get involved. Various highly-regarded foil designers have shown real interest in the project, with one boat already hastily converted with promising results. It is certainly going to be an interesting winter down under.
The first A-Class Speed Open Championship will happen on Lake Macquarie during the next Aussie summer, with the exact dates and venue to be announced as soon as possible. All are welcome, including anyone who wants to compare their existing boats to the new concept. For further information, hit up Stevie Brewin on Facebook or send a PM to SimonN in the SA forums.
And if you don’t know where the title for this piece comes from? Screw you, kid.