Now in its fourth year, WetaFest, Fort Walton Beach, FL in April is the place to be! 19 boats, nine first-timers and three new Skippers were in contention for the title. According to newcomer, Brig North, “Sailing the Weta this past weekend was the most fun I’ve ever had on the water. The boat is simply fantastic!” Once again this year, die hard Mike Wright made the 7,500 mile round trip from Seattle. (Sans Wilson, his yellow Labrador retriever, our trusty Weta mascot.)
Warm-up to WetaFest included Randy Smyth’s Sailing Seminar 2.0 including Chalk Talk and coaching for 20 Weta sailors. It was an adventurous day of drills on the water with multiple minor collisions more like bumper boats, a swimming sailor and a near pitch pole onto the beach. What more can you ask for?
At the end of our fun-filled days on the water, it was time to enjoy the hospitality of Fort Walton Yacht Club with lots of laughter. After surviving the perilous conditions of 2015 Nationals last Fall, this close knit fleet bonded even more making our WetaFest newbies feel right at home. Rounding out our evenings included our East Coast Weta Class meeting, Linda Wright’s Everglades Challenge presentation, and sharing tips on how to sail faster.
Sailors could not have asked for better weather, 70-75 degree days and sunny skies all week. On day one, we got off six races in shifty winds from the north ranging from 8-24 knots. Bob Hodges got four bullets while Bob Patterson and Richard Stephens each picked up one. Double handed skipper Cliff Farah had four bullets of his own while Weta newbie, Alan Taylor picked up two on “Stephalicious”. In the middle of all this, PRO, Bobby Dewrell fell off his flip flop, did not step on a pop top and had to cruise back home on crutches.
On day two, it was amazing how tight the line was after Randy Smyth’s clinic working on reducing the sag in the middle. Two general recalls before race three were the first ever in WetaFest history. The entire fleet was tight with boat lengths separating the finishers. The 12-20 knot winds were the exact opposite direction of day one and continued to increase as the afternoon progressed and race four concluded. Single-handlers Keith Rice and Bob Hodges dominated the day.
Day three invigorated the fleet as winds picked up just in time for the distance race which was a long windward/leeward with the intention of no one getting lost this year. As regatta organizer John Farris said, “Get ready to beat up and knock down”. The chop provided enough to make beating up to the weather mark an actual “beating” in 15-18 knot winds. It was a miracle that sailors stayed upright as they surfed the waves downwind to the finish at speeds over 15 knots.
Congratulations to our overall winner Bob Hodges, a class act who’s “totally stoked at the quality of the sailors, the level of sportsmanship, and the camaraderie he saw on and off the water”. Second place finisher was Keith Rice, third place Bob Patterson and double handed fleet winner Cliff Farah along with his wife and daughter as crew.
We’ll see what the wind gods do next year. Will it be a “beat up, knock down”?!? Come and find out!