The A Class Catamaran is the fastest single handed small catamaran in the world. It is highly responsive lightweight and the powerful rig means that even the heaviest sailors are on the trapeze upwind in 6 knots of breeze and flying a hull downwind. Top sailors can even trapeze downwind, making the boat even faster and more exciting. The boat is very easy for an experienced sailor to sail, but very difficult to sail really fast.
The class was founded during the late 1950s and was part of the 4-tier IYRU (now World Sailing) approach to divide up the sports catamaran sailing scene into 4 separate groups. These A, B, C and D classes were governed by a very small set of class rules to which each design had to comply.All boats designed and built to these specs would be grouped into one fleet and race each other for crossing the finish line first. The A-Class is the largest class and the smallest craft, but maintains its status as the ultimate sailing catamaran single handed design.
The International Yacht Racing Union formulated rules for the International Catamaran Divisions in 1962 with approved amendments in 1963 and 1964. The purpose of these rules was to encourage racing and development within four divisions. It was hoped that International status would be granted to one or more classes within each division.
The A-Class design has over time converged to a single sail rig using a lightweight carbon mast of about 9 meters length. The hulls and beams are often made out of carbon fibre as well, although homebuilt wood or composite materials are still seen on the race circuits. This single sail rig allows these boats to truly excel when sailing upwind.
In the decades since their foundation, the A-Class has gathered a significant international following and it has class organisations in many countries around the globe. Their world championships often attracts around 100 boats and sailors.
In 2017 with the advent of practical foiling designs, the IACA divided the class into an Open (Foiling) division, and a non foiling Classic division for boats with straight or C shaped foils, and with different class rules to prevent foiling. The two have slightly different SCHRS handicaps, the Open being 0.978, the Classic being 1.008.
A-Cats in Australia
The first A division catamaran registered in Australia was designed and built by John Smallman of Victoria in 1966. The first A cats built in Sydney were Graham Johnston’s A-Cat 1 and Harold Stevenson’s Camira. Johnston’s A-Cat went on to become the Australis, winning every race in a selection trial at Blairgowrie in March 1967. This selection trial was for an Australian representative to the I.Y.R.U. trials in England in July 1967 to select catamarans to International status within the 4 divisions. Graham Johnston then took his boat to England and won International status. The Australis Association was formed shortly afterwards.
From there the Australis progressed slowly, was altered slightly and due to decreasing numbers lost it’s International status at the I.Y.R.U. meeting, 5th Nov. 1973. In the meantime the open A class division continued beside the Australis with many different designs being sailed in Australia. Some of these included the Unicorn, Quest A, Buccaneer, Harmony and Rhapsody designs. Of these the most popular was the Unicorn design. In the next few years the Stevenson designed Rhapsody gained greater popularity. Since then we have seen the development of the Hooper designed Colonial designs and the modified Rhapsody designs from Greg Goodall.
All modern designs have been improvements on earlier models.
The greatest breakthrough in design has certainly been in rig development. In the early days rigs were supported by very bendy pear section masts of 27 to 28 foot in length. Since the 1981 Botany Bay World’s where the Australian designed and manufactured Wing Mast came to the fore, sail development has centred on a rig size of 30 to 32 feet. Whilst the Austwing remained popular in the early 1980’s, the Italian Sori mast, and more recently the Goodall copy, with more stiffness has dominated the higher placings in recent championships. The Sydney built Spunspar mast of similar dimensions but not as stiff has also proved popular with the lighter weight sailors in recent years.
In 1987/88 Barry Marmion introduced the flat top rig on an untapered Goodall mast. This sail had a cut away leech for greater heavy weather performance and also swept the deck to create an end plate effect. Whilst the flat head has remained popular, the deck sweeper was abandoned shortly afterwards. Various sailmakers have developed these sails further with larger head boards. Some have continued the cut away leech concept, but recently this seems to have lost favour.
No one single design of A cat has proved dominant, thus supporting the principle of open design and development within a class. In Australia today half a dozen different designs are actively campaigned in all Eastern States. Although the trend now-a-days is to Carbon and Kevlar/Glass foam sandwich construction, plywood boats are still to be found actively campaigned.
Carbon masts started to enter the Australian market in the 1993/94 season, with construction by Jim Boyer. This production was stopped in favour of importing European masts. At the 1996/97 Nationals half the fleet used carbon masts, with several being of home made construction. Carbon masts are being now being produced in commercial quantities in Europe, America and Australia.
Since 1980 the A class’s performance has improved to the point of dropping 6.5 points on the VYC yardstick ratings.
A-Cats at Saratoga Sailing Club
Saratoga Sailing Club has a small but proud catamaran fleet, racing regularly with us on Sundays. We welcome all abilities but are of course particularly proud of Scott Anderson and Darren Bundock achieving global recognition in the A-Class Catamaran World Championships in Toulon, France in September 2023. Scott took first place in the classic division and Darren took 3rd in the Open (foiling) division.
ScottAnderson has an incredible track record or success over the last 12 months:
Sep 2023 A Class World Championship – Toulon, France – Classic – 1st
Aug 2023 A Class Austrian Championships- Wallersee , Austria – combined Open & Classic – 1st
May 2023 A Class German Championships- Malcesine , Italy – Classic – 1st
Sep 2022 A Class European Championships- Lake Garda , Italy – Classic – 1st
Scott started sailing on Sydney harbour at seven years old in Manly Juniors, which he describes as a terrific boat. With a main, jib, kite, and crew he says you have all you need to explore the sea and learn.
Over course of his sailing history he has won multiple national, European and world championships and was an Olympic medallist in 1984; Australian Yachtsman of the year; and past winner of ‘Little Americas Cup’ in C Class catamarans.
He is the only sailor ever to win all three multihull ‘majors’ – World champion in A Class, B Class, and C Class.
He is the current European and World Champion in A Class
What is important to him? Family, friends and good books.
What does he do for training? Sailing, swimming, mountain hiking, and beer.
Saratoga Sailing Club's Scott Anderson winning the 2023 A-Class Catamaran Classic Division World Championships in Toulon, France in September 2023.
This article has been compiled from our own knowledge, a little hearsay, and a number of fascinating online sources that provide more information and further references: