Photos: Gordon Upton

Ashby claims his ninth A-Class World title

Another stand-out perform from the Emirates Team New Zealand skipper, reports Gordon Upton

Monday September 14th 2015, Author: Gordon Upton, Location: Italy

19 years ago, Glenn Ashby, the ETNZ skipper, won his first A-Class cat World Championship. This week, in Punta Ala, Tuscany, he won his 9th. The popular little Aussie was fighting off a challenge from his closest rival for the crown, the ‘Flying Dutchman’ Mischa Heemskerk. in the largest ever fleet of some 173 boats

Long considered the Formula One of cat sailing, the A-Class has seen a steady increase in popularity over the last few years as fully foiling designs become more commonplace. Being a development class, everyone is interested in the latest advances. This year the two top sailors were using the latest deck sweeper sail design pioneered by Mischa in 2013 but only recently revisited.

As sail area is limited to 150 sqft, including the mast area, but no limits on shape, they have merely taken the area from the top and added it to the bottom. The net result is a sail that produces less heeling force to accommodate the foiling boats requirement to be kept flat. Previously, the C shaped dagger-board boats wanted to fly a hull downwind, known as the Wildthing. A fatter headed sail did this well with the higher up sail area. The larger area lower down now produces much more power, particularly upwind, where the heeling rapidly becomes a problem. The A-Cat has always been the undisputed king of upwind sailing, now they have an even higher gear. The 9m high mast is retained as the sail is much more efficient if it tapers slowly to the top.

On the racecourse the sails proved devastatingly fast in the right hands. So much so, that one occasion in the qualifiers, had the race not been stopped as the wind had dropped below the 5kt minimum, Mischa could have timed out the whole fleet by finishing 30 mins ahead.

The format was that after 4 qualifying races in two fleets split randomly, but with Glenn and Mischa in different fleets. After 4 races in 2 days, they were then split into a gold and silver fleet based on finishing positions. The remaining 5 races were then run over the next 3 days. The wind also varied from drifty 6kts, to full on 18kts over the week. Both sailors dominated their respective fleets, with only Stevie Brewin managing to beat Mischa in one qualification race.

It was in the first Gold race that the two rivals met for the first time on the water in this championships. The first race was in a good 16kt breeze. Glenn led at the top mark by 15 seconds. On the second lap, however, Glenn had his port trapeze bungee break and has to slow in order to retrieve the line and prevent it from tangling around the batten ends, thus condemning him to hiking out on the port tack. It cost him about 300 m.

Then on the last lap, Mischa going fast on foils downwind, got himself into a gybing death roll and the subsequent capsize cost him the race as Glenn won by 90 seconds with Stevie in 3rd.

The next day was, if anything, even slightly windier when the fleets set off for the race areas. At the start both sailors headed for different sides of the course. Coming together at the top mark, Mischa was leading by 18 seconds, with Scott Anderson leading the chasing hounds 30 secs later. On the next lap Mischa had increased his lead by a few more seconds. A moments excitement at the top mark happened when the following pack containing Jason Waterhouse, the AUS Olympic team Nacra 17 crewman. He misjudged his tack and straddled the mark, with his hulls. Loosing places rapidly, he managed to reverse off it and got himself back up to 5th at the finish.

On the last lap, Mischa was still leading Glenn by nearly 30 seconds. This time, the ETNZ skipper decided to gybe earlier and force a split. Mischa fatally neglected to cover him and when they came together again at the finish, Glenn had found the extra pressure he needed and the pair crossed the line, with Glenn winning by 3m!

Race 3 of the gold fleet was a delayed affair as Jason Waterhouse, yes him again, managed to puncture the pin end rib leading to a lengthy delay as the sinking boat was replaced by the photo rib. All eventually got away first time and Glenn led for the whole race. Mischa seemed to sense the title was slipping away as Glenn finished a good 30 seconds ahead, then did his trademark dismounting capsize after crossing the line, realizing that the championship was all but in the bag. The remainder of the exhausted fleet followed led by Manuel Calavia, Andy Landenberger and Jacek Noetzel.

The last two races were sailed in 6kt winds, which allowed the Bavarian sailors; Georg Ruetter, Matthias Dietz and Katrin Brunner to get into the game. These light wind specialists dominated both races and in the first one, still won by Glenn to clinch it, Mischa was relegated to 46th after valiantly trying to foil when he should really have gone into low drag mode like all the others. The final race was just for the final positions of the following fleets and was won by Matthias after Glenn was DNF.

So, a clean sweep for Glenn Ashby. Mischa gave it a good effort and sailed out of his skin, Glenn’s style is smooth and deceptively effortless and efficient. Plus experience of top level pressure must have made a difference also. Mischa’s style is all power and trying to beat every inch of speed from the boat. But in the end Glenn was just too hot for him as A Cats seem to like being stroked rather than patted.

All sailors here thought it was a superb championships. Well organized and something for everyone windwise. New designs for sails and foils are now standard issue for many, although C board boats still finished in the top 10, so don’t throw them away just yet. And although half of the US team’s boats didn’t arrive after a customs issue over a missing US customs stamp left the boats in their container at the port, one of their top sailors, Lars Guck, managed to get a good 12th on a borrowed boat of a different design to his, lent by the Polish Exploder company. The A Class brotherhood remains strong!


Uk Sailors in Gold fleet

15 GBR 6 Sam Newton 135pts
16 GBR 7 Chris Field 140pts
74 GBR55 Phil Neal 408pts
79 boats

Uk Sailors in Silver fleet

42 GBR 15 Struan Wallace 311pts
58 GBR 8 Richard Bartholomew 386 pts
69 GBR 43 Robin Foster-Taylor 470 pts.
75 boats

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