Australian F16 Catamaran National Titles

Photos from top: The F16s accelerating off the starts, light and manoeuvrable boats made competitive starts; Cousins James Butler and Greg Ware running hot off the breeze; Jai Tooley and Sophie Renouf relaxing between races; Team Forbes happier to be getting to grips with the rental Viper F1.

When people think about 16 foot catamarans, images come to mind of bikini clad bronzed athletic women hanging off a trapeze handle on a 1970s banana shaped, multi-coloured Hobie cat. They are zipping along, warm tropical winds blow our sailing goddess's hair, close to our maiden is a grinning, tanned six pack ripped skipper, smiling at this idyllic concept of sailing.

Few people have flashes of Olympic level boats flying precariously above the water. Leaping about with impact gear clad pilots, grimace on face, framed by crash helmets and wrap around sunnies.

Somewhere in the middle ground between the resort boats and the impossibly hard to sail Redbull extreme level flying boats we find the lesser known, jack of all trades - The F16.

As a serial hater of acronyms I shall explain F16. F16 stands for Formula 16. It is an ingenious rule set that produces comparable sailing catamarans from 7 manufacturers around the world. These manufacturers compete to build the boats to a strictly written and enforced rule set. This produces a diverse selection of boats for us lucky consumers and thrill-seekers. The unexpected thing about this diversity is that any of the brands of boats can win on any given day, they are so closely matched. They are light, fast, inherently stable and can be sailed solo or preferably with a buddy. Double handed sailing means you get to share the experience of sailing, the solo ability of the class means you will never miss out on a days racing because your teammate has a christening to go to.

F16s appeal to such a wide diverse demographic which we saw at the National Titles this season. The nature of the F16 being the naughty younger sibling to the bigger burlier F18 attracts a very diverse fleet We had school kids, uni students, moms and dads, husbands and wives, kids and parents, all girls, all boys. The crew combinations are the stuff that statisticians love. Simply…. lighter sailing teams are able to manage the boat, beginners to olympians get to go on a thrill ride.

12 months ago a decision was taken at the Formula 16 National held in idyllic Rye Victoria to bring the F16 carnival of sailors to NSW for this year's National championships.

Pittwater was selected for its reliable summer breezes, proximity to Sydney, nearby attractions, activities and just plain exquisite beauty. Palm Beach Sailing Club organized the regatta from Sand Point and the wheels were set in motion for a battle royal. Punters travelled from near and far to join the spectacle. Boats were prepared and polished, borrowed and chartered. They rolled up to Sand Point near Palm Beach where the fleet of ex Olympians, kids, teenagers, young adults, first time spinnaker catamaran rookies and crusty old sea dogs put the gloves on.

The F16 is a serious race boat, it was the runner up for the Olympic selection. On water the racing is tight and fast but a regatta is not all about winning races and serious stuff. To add to the fun of the regatta the organisers chartered a cruise boat and headed to the Sydney harbour on Friday afternoon to watch the spectacular F50 GP. The vibe on the charter boat was excellent with some of the fleet heading out on the town after the GP.

Saturday dawned and the high performance F16s rigged up on the lush grass at the beach. Excitement built to a crescendo as the trash talking volleys between sailors became more prolific and the humour flowed. Square top mains went up masts, Spinnakers rustled in the building easterly breeze before being retrieved into the launch chutes for that first assault at the top mark. Mother nature played the perfect host, clear water, gentle easterly breeze. Race officer Dave Renouf gave a short and clear briefing and set the course. GAME TIME!!!!

The boats slipped away from the shore, set the spinnakers and glided to the start area. Competitors cruised the start area like wolves scoping each other out trying to get a measure of the competition. The breeze increased to a very pleasant strength, perfect for the crews on the rental boats and first timers, the heavier teams were going to have their work cut out for them in the light conditions. Favourites Jack Felsenthal and Sean Conner were keen to win back the title after having it stripped off them in January at Rye VIC by Beau Delaine and Jack Challands. The boys were out for blood and their no quarter given starting strategies showed they meant business. The first start saw former Olympic silver medallist John Forbes and wife Caroline zap around the top mark in the lead. The father son team of Tristan and Beau White chased them down and passed them on the spinnaker run to the bottom mark. John and Caroline were still getting to grips with the kite and the teamwork required to make the boat sing off the breeze. Felsenthal and Connor, landed the next combination of punches and Mr and Mrs Forbes were wounded but not done. The next assault came from an all female team, skippered by fresh back from F18 Worlds and Nationals, Lucy Nissen and crewed by a very fit and determined Lilly Smith. Right on the heels of Nissen and Smith were QLDs Jai Tooley and local NSW supercrew Sophie Renouf, probing and searching for a way past Nissen/Smith, ready to pounce on any mistake.

The racing went back and fourth with positions swapping all over the place for four magical races. Will Richards threw down the gautlet after being just pipped at the Taipan National in Adelaide and brought his Taipan 4.9 to the show, complete with rockstar crew. Would a Taipan 4.9 with a bigger than standard F16 jib and no kite be faster on the short courses of the Pittwater than a fully optimised spinnaker shod F16? The Taipan is the grandfather of the modern F16 and shares many components but is not optimised to carry a downwind bag of fun that is a spinnaker. Will was tough! He nailed the upwinds and lead the fleet more times than anyone could recall around the top mark. But… when the F16s popped their spinnakers and pressed their chubby hulls harder in the gusts on the downwind magic carpet rides, all poor Will could do was remain composed limit his losses and fight hard again on the next upwind leg through the fleet. To his credit and outstanding ability he finished the regatta in a very respectable 5th.

Saturday’s racing ended a very successful day with 4 races in the bag and the top two spots closely contested. 1 point separated the teams. The F50 GP was on again and the competitors munched a delicious BBQ while they watched Australia obliterate the fleet . Admittedly it seemed tame and a bit lacklustre after the hand to hand combat with spinnakers and centreboards that we had been involved in a few hours earlier. Tired from the day’s excitement the children and old went home, the young went clubbing.

Sunday’s forecast delivered as expected. Stronger breeze would see the well drilled team of Felsenthal and Connor dominate. Jai Tooley and Sophie Renouf revelled in the heavier conditions and moved into a solid third place. The F16s tore around the race course with much whooping and hollering from crews hanging off the back corner on trapeze as the boats accelerated like topfueller dragsters. Finish line dualling by White vs Felsenthal almost saw Tooley/Renouf take a race win as they attacked from the far corner of the race course. They charged to the finish line at 20+ knots on starboard. Nissen had fallen prey to the after effects of a very late night party and Nissen and Smith struggled on the final day.A broken halyard cleat on the rental boat ended their chances at the podium. The strong breeze challenged some of the less experienced and practiced teams with a few retirements in the final races.

Team White needed to win the final race nothing less would do to take the title they stood on 1,2,2 for the day they needed That final 1. They slipped away on the start but a panicked gybe and a rookie error of not covering when they had the lead, lost them the lead early in the final race. Felsenthal/Connor passed, kept the hammer down and ran away from the fleet to the arms of the F16 Australian National Title. They were good, slick and unstoppable. Well deserving of a hard won title.

A big thank you to trophy sponsors Cristopia Energy Systems, specialists in thermal energy storage and HVAC electrical load control for their support. The Palm Beach Sailing Club, a wonderful institution were brilliant. If you are considering off beach catamaran sailing they have a very warm and helpful team to guide you to getting out on the Pittwater for the time of your life.

Want to try your hand at this? With the success the F16 National titles on Pittwater there is an initiative now on Pittwater and Botany Bay to store F16/18 boats with masts up at sailing clubs to make these boats more accessible and easier to go sailing. Check out the F16 Association of Australia facebook page for events, contacts and more information.

Beau White
F16 Association of Australia

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