Sailing at high speeds can sometimes produce salty language. Even for experts.
Five members of the Cayman Islands Sailing Club recently enlisted the help of US Olympic coach Robbie Daniel to master the art of sailing the A class catamaran. Alun Davies, a 1996 Olympian, said the boat can reach speeds of up to 20 mph, and that even master sailors are still intimidated by its power.
Daniel took to the water and showed the five Cayman sailors – Davies, Florence Allan, Rob Jackson, Will Jackson and Phil Cater – how to best manoeuvre the ship at high speeds. As he sailed the one-man boat, he was talking the whole time, and the urgency of his tone reassured the less experienced sailors.
“You never stop. It’s just extraordinary,” said Davies. “With the two-way speaker, he was demonstrating how to do it and there were a few explicits coming out of his mouth quite frequently.”
Davies, who sailed a 21‑foot catamaran for Cayman in the 1996 Olympics, said the A class catamaran is a totally different animal. It’s an 18‑foot boat and requires just one sailor instead of two. The boat is made of carbon fibre and weighs just 160 pounds, necessitating it to be bolted down when not in use.
The boat operates like an aeroplane in that it has ‘foils’ or ‘wings’ that go down underneath the boat. The sailor pulls the top of the board backwards to change the angle of attack, and once the boat reaches 10 mph, it will pull itself out of the water and into the air with the driver hanging off the side.
“People have been foiling – which means flying above the water – for about 15 years,” said Davies. “But it’s really in the last five to eight years that it’s taken off. And now it’s a thing to talk about and do. The Olympics are going that way; there’s a foiling boat in the Olympics.”
Davies, 56, said that he’s an avid windsurfer and that there is not much in common with the A class catamaran except the speed at which they travel. When the catamaran reaches full speed, he said, it can sail alongside powerboats and often elicits quizzical reactions from the people on board.
“They just watch and think you’re a complete idiot. Or they say, ‘Wow,’” said Davies of the A class catamaran. “You can go across to Rum Point at the same speed as a motorboat. You’re sailing next to a motorboat on the way to Rum Point quite a lot, and they look over at you with a blank expression.”
Davies is competing in the UK National sailing championships later in the month, but he is not expecting to medal. He said that he’s been sailing the A class catamaran for three years and that he’s slowly learning the ropes. Cayman’s sailing club now has five of the foil-style catamarans, and Davies hopes that they will catch on even more in the future as people get to see them more in action.
“The boards underneath are quite sharp,” he said. “It’s like having a five-foot blade under the boat, but it’s a rare day that you come off and hit those. Most of the time, you just come off and hit the water. It’s fine, albeit at 20 mph. You get a little bump. It’s like coming off a waterski.”