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2024 Nats at Hayling Ferry SC

The last weekend of June, at Hayling Ferry SC, a family reunion took place.  It was the first time estranged two sisters had sailed together in their National Championships for many years, and it was a lovely occasion for all involved as some 50+ years or so had elapsed since they essentially went their separate ways.  We are of course talking about the A-Class Cat and the Unicorn.


Back in 1966, they were the all the same boat with several designs fitting the IYRU issued spec.  A fast single-handed sailing cat designed as an open class with minimal rules; 5.49m long, 2.3m max beam, 75kg min weight and 13.94sqm of sail, including mast and could have trapeze or sliding seat.  In the end, after official sailing trials on Sheppy, the Australis narrowly won out from the Unicorn to become the official design adopted by the IYRU. However, back then, the John Mazzotti designed Unicorn was essentially THE boat to have in the UK and Europe, sweeping the board in the racing of that period.   The Unicorn sailors loved their design so much, that in the end, they decided to turn it into an essentially one design class, so perfect was the initial design. Not for them the new shaped wing masts, they loved their Needlespars.  


With either a wooden, stressed ply construction, or in GRP, both builds are seen.  However, the wooden boats are considered by many to be the best, and do have a slight Tiger Moth feel, with the varnished wood and spindly rigging.  The aviation theme continues to even resemble a Spitfire with the sail and Needlespar masts even creating the same wind taper shape.  They give one a warm feeling somehow.


However, her naughty and fast dirty sister became all carbon and Nomex, and with sharp bits, and some of them developed the ability to fly.  The A-Cat is the cutting edge of a development class machine.  Everything can be experimental, just don’t go outside the box rules, and a few other specific limits, and you’ll be fine. However, they too can be made in wood.  The US fleet has several home-built machines built in that form of carbon. 


Hayling Ferry SC was chosen because it is in the heart of Unicorn country, in the middle of the English South coast, across the water from the Isle of White.  The club is nestled within the shingle and sand banks at the South West tip of the Hayling Island, just across the entrance to Langstone Harbour with it’s neighbouring island that is Portsmouth.  The tide flowing in and out of the harbour is quite something.  6-7 knots is not unusual, as a lot of water needs to come and go over the tide range. Watching fishing boats coming in flat out, but making about slow walking pace on the shore, and then seeing at the same time slow boats like a Cornish Shrimper 19 belting out like a Moth and getting apparent wind of some 12 knots, is a relaxing spectator sport.  It’s a very casual and friendly club and is the nearest thing we have here to the lovely Hellecat club over in The Netherlands.


The racing was over 3 days, with 3 races scheduled on the Friday and Saturday, and 2 on the Sunday.  For each race, the A-Cats went 5 mins later, so all the fleets finished about the same time, or so the PRO hoped. Day one had a decent 11-13kt SW breeze.  However, the shallow sea tends to throw up a short sharp chop.  This was similar to some recent A-Cat World and Euro venues, such as Sopot, Warnemunde and Houston.  It sometimes results in the waves seemingly out of proportion to the wind strength and takes it out of the sailors more that was expected.


The courses were different for the two fleets.  The Unicorns traditionally have a triangle and sausage course, the As just have the sausage windward-leeward course.  In reality, the triangle doesn’t really add much to the sailing, as the wing mark is usually at the downwind gybe point anyway, in fact, just tends to remove a tactical element downhill, leading to fewer passing options.  On the subsequent days, the Unicorns all voted en-masse to have the same course as the As.


The Friday races tended to all follow the same pattern, and in both fleets, half of the sailors had dropped out after race 1.  The conditions only tended to suit the ‘Larger Gentlemen’ of the fleets.  Lighter sailors struggled in the chop and gusty winds. Because of this, tactics became secondary to staying on the dry side of their trampolines. There may have been a ‘better’ side, but none really bothered exploring the options as a capsize would be the end for that race.   Dan Jarman, GBR1088 and Grant Piggott, GBR1073 battled each other for the lead.  In race one, the reigning National Champion, William Dawson, GBR1091 came 3rd, but these weren’t his conditions, so he gave it best for the day, going back to the beach with all the rest, to leave only Andre McQueen, GBR1062 and Richard Beke, GBR1100 to battle it out down the fleet.


On the A-Cat course, a similar story.  Largs sailor, the Europe No. 6, Hugh MacGregor Tool GBR 18, who’d travelled some 10 hrs and got though 15 podcasts to get down to the grim South, was being chased by the French based Welshman Owen Cox, Exploder Ad3 GBR72, and gave him a good run to 2nd, with Ben Daignault, DNA F1 GBR70 not too far behind in 3rd. Pete Boxer, Tool GBR1963, a light wind jockey, struggled though one race, and Mark Rushton, Tool GBR101, the reigning Nat Champ retired with a breakage, and damaged a daggerboard upon landing, so called it Game Over for the event.


The next day dawned lovely and bright.  This boded well for the prospect of a nice sea breeze in the afternoon and full fleets took to the water to race in the lovely 8-10kt SSW winds.  The Unicorn champ, William, was in his element in these conditions and got two bullets, but then the wheels fell off in the last race and he finished 5th.  Dan didn’t fare too much better, he’d closely chased him in the first race, to finish 2nd a few feet behind at the line.  But the next race saw his turn to be 5th.  Paul Chatfield, GBR1098 had a better day, as he got a 2ndand a win in the last couple or races, as did Gary Piper, 1102 with a 2nd in the final race of the day.


Then in the A-Cat races, Owen was going like a train in the first two races, getting 2 bullets to cut Hugh’s lead.  Pete Boxer, as expected in these winds, was up there, getting a 2nd in the first race but then a pair of 4thsthereafter. Ben had an improving day, with his 2nd in the last race.  Also out for his first race on his newly acquired DNA Classic was Neil Kalbe GBR3.  Still getting to grips with the boat, as somewhat of an upgrade from this old one, he seemed happy to be finally on the water.  However, he became gradually aware all was not well, as he was going slower all the time.  At the end, it was discovered that he’d taken on about 2 gallons of water in his port hull from a daggerboard slot issue.  Also out were the Open foilers of Dave Roberts, DNA AUS14 and Simon Longstaff. DNA GBR166.  Dave is slowly getting the hang of this foiling thing and was seen on foils at various times on his downwind legs, although the conditions were pretty marginal for such antics.  Simon sailed his in Lowrider Mode though as he doesn’t seem to get much time on the water with it to become confident in the acrobatic circus skills required.


Sunday arrived with a NW 9kt breeze.  This direction comes from the land side, so the water tends to stay flatter.  A full Unicorn fleet again, but Neil stopped ashore with his leaky boat, and Simon ‘wasn’t really feeling it’ again today.  But all those who sailed had a great time.  The breeze picked up nicely in the first race just after they had all got going.  It looked like the right side was paying better so after discovering that, this became the way to go uphill. 


Then, halfway through, the Hayling Ferry SC, and their masters, Lock SC from over the river and who’d provided the ribs and committee boat plus crews, had thoughtfully arranged a display by the RAF display team, The Red Arrows, along the Ryde seafront.  The fleet had a grandstand view as they all went upwind, which was nice!


Airshow over, Dan got his 4th bullet, closely chased by Grant, who was incidentally, sailing a GRP boat actually built by his father, many years back when Grant was a nipper, and probably looked no different than he does today.  William was 3rd and had already resigned himself to passing on the title to Dan after the first day’s two DNCs. In the A race, Hugh managed to stave off Ben’s challenge to get the bullet, with Owen dropping to 3rd.


The final race started with the Unicorns chugging off upwind towards the Spinnaker Tower in Portsmouth’s Gunwharf quay.  Then right on the 1 min warning for the A-Cats, the wind shifted right some 20 degrees!  All was stopped for them, and the Unicorns, half way up their first beat, probably loved their massive lift up to the top mark.  Little could be done until they had all rounded.  Then, the problem was that the PRO now had was that with the time taken to move the top mark, the Unicorns would by then be over halfway down their return leg and thus going into sequence for the A-Cats now risked launching these rocket ships right into the sterns of the upwind first fleet. So the fleet floated about like ducks until the Unicorns rounded the bottom mark then the first sequence signal was fired. Good race management and anticipation there by the RC indeed.


By now Grant was leading the Unicorn fleet and was stretching his lead over Gary and Dan in fine style.  The A-Cat’s long legs meant that they had pretty much caught up with the Unicorns by their 2nd lap downwind, and a discussion was held with the A-Cats International association Editor, as whether to finish them on 2 laps, of leave them to do 3.  The advice was that the Race Officer could earn the eternal gratefulness of the fleet if he finished them with the Unicorns.  So they all waited for local Unicorn newby, Clive Wright, GBR1094 to finish in determined style, then dropped the flag.   And indeed, he did earn it.  Hugh’s 10 hr return trip hardly needed delaying further.


Thus finished the twin championships.  Great race management by Locks SC, happy sailors and friendly crews.  What was not to like here?  I can see another family reunion happening again and the two fleets manage to co-exist happily together.  And it’s interesting to bear in mind that a Unicorn will still measure as an A-Cat today, so should they ever wish to get rid of that stupid bandit-like handicap they all sail under, meaning that if you ever want to beat one, you need to be Glenn Ashby!

Well done the Hugh, 2024 National Classic Champion


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