Glenn Ashby won his first A-Class World Championships aged 19, and has been the dominant force in singlehanded cat racing for more than a decade since. The sailmaker from Australia then went on to crew Darren Bundock in the Tornado, winning the Worlds and an Olympic silver medal.
So he knows his stuff at both ends of a multihull. Glenn talks through A-Class technique: First things first, and you need to spend some time making sure your boat is not going to break. Boat maintenance is not my forte, but I've been lucky to have a minimum of boat breakage. I got back from one world championships, and the first three times I went sailing when I got back home, things broke, so I've been closer to disaster than I realised at the time. Make sure your boat is in perfect racing order. You can't blame anyone else. If you have a big capsize you might break the mast, but all in all the boats are really strong and can take a big pounding.
The A-Class is actually a very simple boat. Youve got mainsheet, traveller, cunningham - that's pretty much it - not too different to a Laser really. They're really easy to sail but like many boats, hard to sail fast.
When I get to a regatta I only ever strive to be as fast as the fastest guy in that condition. I want to be a good all rounder. I don't need to be able to blow people away to win the regatta. Just being as good rather than better still gives you the opportunity to race well and be at the front of the fleet. If I can be as fast as the fastest guy I'll be very comfortable.
Having said that, it's actually quite hard to achieve that, to be as fast as the light-weather or strong-wind experts in their favourite conditions. But I've been working really hard on developing my sails to go well in all conditions. And I'm spending a lot of time training in conditions that I'm not very good at, such as light winds. I wouldn't say it's fun, but if you force yourself to go out in that stuff you'll raise your game. The aim is to raise my game in the light without losing my heavy weather performance.
One of my strengths is being a reasonably good singlehanded sailor, by which I mean I'm pretty self-sufficient. You haven't got a crew to help you move ropes and look around. You have to be mentally switched on 110 per cent of the time. And you need to be physically fit enough to push the boat hard all the time. One of the biggest things I've found over the past couple of years is getting the feel for your boatspeed to the point where you don't have to look at your sail trim.
You need to feel your way into the groove, so you can look around in the big regattas. It's difficult being a sailmaker and stopping yourself from looking at your sails all the time. I used to really spend a lot of time looking at my rig. But when I did that, Iâd miss out on some of the basics such as the fleet position or a big shift. These days, when I'm in a serious regatta situation, I don't spend much time looking at my rig at all. I'm looking forwards, looking at shifts and stuff going on up the race track.
Sailing the A Class
They're fun to sail. I've sailed lots of boats and to jump back on the A Class in 15 knots of wind, you can't beat it. They go high and fast - they're super efficient. Downwind is hard to get used to when you're used to having a jib. I think of the jib on a cat as being like a supercharger in a car. It force feeds air around the engine - the mainsail.
With the A Class, you can't steer off the jib, and it's easy to stall the mainsail. I guess it's like the long, narrow wing of a sail-plane compared with the stubby wing of a hang glider. You go fast but if you stall you drop out of the sky. On the A Class, if you don't keep the airflow up, the boat just stops.
Because the A Class is so light, it will tell you straight away, it will stop. But it will also accelerate quickly, and it's easy to know when you're in the groove. Because the chord length of the sail is so short, you can attach flow very quickly, and lose it very quickly. They're very good fun to sail like that.
You can snap them around a lot downwind, you can turn and surf waves. You've got a 30-foot carbon mast, and the boat only weighs 75kg all up.
Being smooth on the cat is the key to being fast while still being aggressive.