Blown away at HPDO

1303 St-Francis-Regatta060

Stock photo - for regatta photos see www.photo-boat.com

As a relatively new Weta owner in a remote part of the country, I had been monitoring this year’s racing calendar hoping to find an event that I would be able to attend.  Ben’s posting about the Heineken High Performance Dinghy Open, a little detective work with Google Maps and the rapidly approaching end to the sailing season in the Upper Midwest convinced me that it was now or never.

I paid my entry fee and started following the local weather reports.  Rye Beach, NY reported consistent forecasts of 10-14 mph – not great, but enough wind to run a few races.  Little did I know that the Rye Beach weather station is apparently located at the bottom of a deep hole because it is totally unrelated to the conditions on Long Island Sound.

After a 1,400 mile road trip, I arrived at American Yacht Club Friday morning and started unpacking the boat.  By the time Keith and Toni arrived from Ithaca and our three boats were rigged, there were already whitecaps off Milton Point.  We headed out for a little practice, with Toni crewing for Keith due to the increasing breeze.  I quickly discovered that Keith and Toni were considerably faster upwind.  They sailed lower, flatter and faster than I could manage with my lighter weight, but downwind was a different story.  I was able to surf deeper with equivalent boatspeed and gained overall.

The northeast wind blew all night, and we returned Saturday morning to even stronger winds and larger waves than the previous day.  Ben and Chris had shown up with their boats, but unfortunately Richard was unable to make it.  I checked the Rye Beach weather report again – sure enough, 10-14 mph forecasted.  Later we heard that the race committee measured windspeed as high as 27 knots on Saturday.  Given the previous day’s lessons, I rigged the boat with maximum everything – forestay, halyards, cunningham, 6:1 mainsheet, forward holes on main and jib clews, and headed out to the racecourse.

After a 20-minute postponement waiting for more boats to appear, we had our first start.  On the line were four VX Ones and a single Weta.  I had seen Keith in the starting area earlier, but he returned to pick up Ben as a crew and they didn’t make it back until the third race.  I was overpowered upwind, but sailed about the same speed and a little higher than the VX Ones.  Rounding the windward mark, the boat just ahead of me opted not to fly their spinnaker, and I spent about five seconds debating what to do.  I had enough power to surf with just two sails, but I figured I’d be kicking myself on the long drive home if I didn’t at least try the gennaker in these conditions.  So I tucked my feet under the aft hiking strap, grabbed the sheet and popped the furling line.

I remember a few things about that first downwind run – laughing out loud from the adrenaline rush, getting sprayed by a saltwater fire hose, flying past a capsized VX One with its bulb keel completely out of the water.  When I inevitably stuffed the bow into the backside of a wave, the deceleration knocked me forward as water rushed over every surface of the boat.  A second later, the gennaker pulled me up out of the wave and back onto a plane.

We sailed three races on Saturday and four on Sunday.  Toni crewed for Keith on Sunday and they switched positions for the final race.  Just as in practice, they were still faster upwind but I would usually catch them downwind.  We traded leads twice in one race, finished about five seconds apart in two races and had a photo finish in a third.  It would have been great to have had more Wetas on the course, but the thrilling conditions still made it worth the long drive.

The American Yacht Club did a tremendous job hosting the regatta.  Their facility is beautiful and the race committee was confident and professional.  They established a check-out and check-in safety protocol and had plenty of safety boats on the water.  I am thankful that they gave those of us who wanted to test our limits an opportunity to do so safely.

Prior to this regatta I had only sailed the Weta once in high winds, and that was with my 10-year old daughter using only the mainsail.  I was impressed by how controllable the boat was while also being exciting to sail.  Between races I would heave-to and sit comfortably with my feet in the center hull.  Once while sailing upwind I had a wave break over my bow and slam-tack the boat, but it wasn’t nearly as bad as I expected.  I just switched over the jib, flipped the tiller around and sailed off on the new tack.  I was happy that I had rigged a 6:1 mainsheet and wished that I had rigged a 2:1 jibsheet.  My tacks with the standard 1:1 jibsheet were much slower than they could have been because I couldn’t hike out until I had used both hands and one foot braced against the hull to cleat the jib.

It was great to meet the NY/DC Weta owners, and I look forward to meeting other Weta sailors at future events.  Photo Boat has some great shots of this regatta at www.photo-boat.com.

Burke Blackman

Weta 767

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