More sailors find sailing fleet is the A Cats' meow

On the Water

July 23, 2006|By ANNIE LINSKEY

IN four years the catamaran fleet at the West River Sailing Club in Galesville has gone from a probationary group of eight sailors to a full-fledged armada of 18.

At a time when families seem to be getting busier and busier, it's unusual to see a fleet expand with such speed.

"They've grown so quickly, that this past spring we had to lease more space for them to keep their boats," said Teri Nilsen, the commodore of West River Sailing Club - a no-frills yacht club that has been around since 1930. "These boats are so fast and so fun to sail; because people saw them they went out to buy them."

The boats are A Class catamarans - or A Cats for short. Catamarans have two hulls, or pontoons, and when they catch the wind and get moving one pontoon lifts out of the water. Unlike most catamarans, the A Cats can point close to the wind when they sail. And they tack, or turn through the wind, very fast.

When racing, the boats can clock 20 mph, said Chris Ford, who started the fleet. The sailor leans out on the high side of the boat, and many describe the feeling as close to flying.

Ford, a music teacher at the Baltimore School for the Arts, started the West River A Cat fleet after racing Tuesday nights against a hodgepodge of other types of multi-hull boats with the West River Catamaran Racing Association, also of Galesville.

Ford's goal: a one-design fleet (all the boats are the same) that was sanctioned by a sailing club. After talking to some local dingy sailors, he managed to pull together the required eight people needed to sail out of West River Sailing Club. The club rules require a fleet of eight or more boats to sail against each other consistently for two years before they can become an official fleet.

In the first years, the A Cats sailed on Thursday nights. A different person from the group had to ride around in a motor boat dropping buoys for a racecourse each week.

"We've gotten a lot of people out to try the boats," Ford said. "We try to convert people" to catamaran sailing, he said.

The boats are 18 feet long, weigh 163 pounds and have a single sail. Only one person is needed to sail the boat, so the sailors don't need to juggle crew schedules to get out and race.

"You can turn the key and go whenever you want," said Tony Arends, a local sailmaker who races A Cats.

This summer, the group is traveling most weekends to out-of-town regattas, but members plan to start Thursday races in the end of August, when the wind picks up.

One barrier to joining the fleet: The boats are pricey. New ones are about $18,000, Arends said. However, Arends said, he scours the country for used boats and said that he has helped several in the fleet find used boats in the $7,000 to $8,000 range.

One member of the fleet recently built his own boat, Arends said.

Ford is still trying to attract more sailors to the group. He has a list of people who have inquired about the fleet and sends them occasional notes about used boats for sale or racing opportunities.

The current A Cat fleet is all male and between the ages of 30 and 50, Nilsen said. "There is a special kind of person that sails an A Cat," Nilsen said. "They are risk-takers."

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