October 16th, 2023
The Virginia Inland Sailing Association (VISA) hosted this annual regatta the weekend of the 7th & 8th on the picturesque Smith Mountain Lake near Moneta Va. Five Wētās met there hoping to warmup for the upcoming NAs later this month in Columbia SC. The five boats consisted of Tom Bews, Chuck Carroll, Alan Taylor, Stephanie Taylor, and me (Michael Willette).
There was a nice beach to launch from that was clean, sandy and deep.
A few rain storms ushered in by a cold front in the wee hours of Saturday morning signaled that we would have some wind, and by golly, there was some wind! At Saturday nights social the PRO told me he was seeing N to NW anywhere from 9 to 23knts and 40* shifts!
The theme of the day was being able to shift gears quickly and adapting to the ever changing conditions. Alan Taylor was on point with three bullets for the day; however Chuck Carroll was nipping at Alan's heels looking for that one mistake to take the lead. I was watching all this back and forth from third place position.
At Saturday night's social event the Race Committee was asking us about who was the victim of a spectacular wipe out and recovery near the leeward mark of the second race.
I had a front row seat to this calamity and this is what I witnessed. There was a huge gust that caught me first, burying my leeward ama and bow but I was able to recover. When this gust hit Chuck, he rounded up also burying his bow, Chuck then proceeds to pirouette to port. When his boat sat back down his back winded kite forced his bow back underwater to starboard and he pirouetted back. I thought here was my chance to pass him, but Chuck recovered quickly, got his kite "somewhat furled" and rounded the leeward mark, retaining his second place. Too bad we didn't have video; it would have been a hit!
The two remaining races on Sunday saw similar challenging conditions but the wind ranged from 5knts to the high teens. Alan didn't miss a beat and got two bullets, Chuck remained second and me in third.
VISA was a great host; their quaint club has nice campsites with power and water. It is a volunteer club and the members were welcoming and helpful. I would definitely consider going back if we could muster enough boats to make it an annual event.
I had a great time with my fellow Wētā sailors and look forward to Columbia and the NA's.
By Michael Willette
Edit to add: I had asked Chuck to write a description of his account of what happened and he emailed it to me last night. In Chucks words....
Here's the paragraph about my near capsizes -
In race 3 on this blustery Saturday, Alan and Chuck battled it out on the first leg upwind with Chuck getting a fortuitous wind shift at the mark and edging ahead of Alan at rounding. Mike was third and closing. Heading downwind Chuck initially stayed on starboard tack, while Alan split to port. When they came back together Alan was ahead by four boat lengths, but a gust of 25+ knots kicked in and Chuck was closing the gap.
Both boats were screaming at 14 knots two boat lengths apart. Then the wind shifted forward. Chuck’s leeward ama dug in deep. Dragonfly rolled and pitched forward lifting the rudder out of the water. In this awkward condition Dragonfly’s stern passed through the wind. Chuck let go of the gennaker sheet (good idea), but as he pitched forward he also let go of the tiller extension (bad idea). With the gennaker dumping Dragonfly stood back on her feet. There was more pressure on the mainsail than the flagging gennaker and Dragonfly did an immediate 180 (who knows what angle the rudder was at this point).
The gennaker was now backwinded and Dragonfly began to roll the other way. Chuck found the tiller somehow as he was being tossed around in the cockpit like clothes in a washing machine. The rudder was, unfortunately, out of the water again, but the backwinded gennaker overcame the pressure on the main and Dragonfly turned back downwind. With the rudder back in the water, Chuck was racing again now 10 boat lengths from the rapidly approaching leeward mark that Alan was rounding. Meanwhile, Mike had a great view of Chuck’s washing machine experience and rapidly closed the gap always thinking never give up as you never know what may happen.