Gathering of the C-Class clans
Steve Clark has been dreaming of winning back the Little America’s Cup for the USA ever since he lost it to Canada in 2007. In 1996, Clark’s 25ft C-Class catamaran Cogito (pronounced with a soft g) had blown away designers and engineers with its mammoth wing sail and unmatchable speed, and with helmsman Duncan MacLane and crew Erich Chase it handily defeated Australia’s defender Yellow Pages The Edge IV on Port Phillip Bay to win the International C-Class Catamaran Championship, commonly referred to as the 'Little America’s Cup'.
Cogito became and remained the gold standard of C-Class Catamarans for the next 11 years, a place in C-Class cat history to which Clark wishes to return by entering his new boat, Aethon, launched earlier this year, in the 2010 Little America’s Cup, set for August 22-28 off Newport.
Clark’s goals for this Cup are oddly reminiscent of what they were for the 1996 event. Clark’s first experience in the C-Class had been in 1985 when he was involved in Patient Lady VI’s unsuccessful defense of the Cup, losing to Australia’s Victoria 150. It was largely this defeat that drove Clark to develop Cogito. Now, his 'Cogito Project' is back where it started: testing a new boat and taking aim at winning the Cup back again.
The 2010 Little America’s Cup, to be headquartered at the New York Yacht Club’s on-the-water clubhouse Harbour Court, will host a total of four countries (US, Canada, England, France) and seven boats, including Alpha, the boat with which, in 2007, Canadian Fred Eaton wrested the Cup away from Clark. Clark will skipper Aethon with crew Oliver Moore (Marion Mass.), while his second U.S. entry Cogito - the same Cogito that held on to the Cup for 11 years - will be sailed by A-Class North American Champion Lars Guck and bronze medalist Andrew Gaynor (both Bristol, R.I.).
According to Clark, Cogito, still very much a competitive boat and sailed by a crack crew, has every bit as much chance at winning as any of the C-class cats, but it is Aethon that now has Clark’s heart and limitless energy behind it. ”The plan was always to wait and build a new boat only when the old one had been beaten, but I’ve really been wanting to build Aethon for ten years” said Clark, noting that the two boats have been trial-testing in Bristol all spring and summer.
To say that a C-Class catamaran is an amazing boat is an understatement. “Everything about the C-Class is extraordinary” said Clark. “Just getting a boat to the regatta and competing is a significant achievement.” There are few design restrictions on the class beyond length (25 feet), beam (14 feet) and sail area (300 square feet), and there is no weight minimum. The sail plans (hard wing sails) and blades are so efficient that once the C-Cats fly a hull, they can sail through patches of almost no wind at all by simply using their own apparent wind.
Seven of the fastest boats of their size in the world, on the same course, at the same time—that’s how the Little America’s Cup will start off. Then, after nine fleet races, pairs for match racing will be established and a winner will eventually be determined.
But if the Americans want to win the Cup they have to first get by the Canadians. Since winning the Cup with Alpha, Fred Eaton’s team has not been idle, producing Orion in 2008 and his latest boat Canaan in 2010. They expect to bring all three boats to the starting line on the 22nd with Eaton and Magnus Clarke aboard Canaan and BMW Oracle Racing skipper James Spithill and multiple A-Class World Champion Glenn Ashby sailing Alpha. Pending major wing repairs, Rob Paterson and an as-yet-unnamed helmsman should sail Orion.
England’s Team Invictus will be returning to the C-Class circuit after an unsuccessful first challenge in 2004 with Invictus I. The English, led by Norman Wijker, now have Invictus II, which features a new wing and a more polished program overall. Paul Larsen of Vestas SailRocket will take the helm of Invictus II with Gordon Kaiser as crew.
Representing continental Europe will be former ORMA 60 skipper Antoine Koch and sail maker Jean Baptiste Levaillant from France. The French have chartered 1985 Cup defender and 2004 silver medallist Patient Lady VI from the Canadians and will be at the event primarily to get their feet wet as they plan a future campaign.
Seven boats and four nations mark the most competitors and countries at a C-Class event in more than two decades. Winning the America’s Cup for the USA - it’s a tall order but one that is familiar to Steve Clark.
Sailors, designers, engineers, and lovers of high-speed action can inspect the boats at close range for days prior to the event at Sail Newport, Fort Adams. From August 21 onwards boats will be stored at NYYC.