March 26th, 2021
Florida Weta sailors moved the show about an hour North from Sarasota to Gulfport Yacht Club for back to back weekend racing action. There were questions to be answered: could Bill Swanson avoid the sophomore jinx, would the boat prep maven and famous multi-class champion Bob Curry make good on his bravado, could Gulfport sailors keep the coveted Dick Hitchcock trophy in its inaugural year, could Tim Wieringa turn his flashes of brilliance into two days of consistent sailing, and would the predicted light air bring Kim Higgs to the top?
Saturday's three races would start to clarify the situation in complicated conditions. The first race got off in an Easterly at 3 to 5 kts. The forecast breeze clocking did not materialize for race one and it payed to play the shifts as quiet fell over the course. Initially, the left did not pay and Bob Curry had to climb his way back after falling well back. Power boat chop created frustration with boat stopping waves out to the right. After the first half of the beat, it looked like the Bob Curry and Bill Swanson show was on. In the second race the breeze increased slightly and started a long slow turn to the right, to the right and even more to the right. In fact there was a full 180 deg. shift. About halfway up the first leg reachers were unfurled. Rick Sylvester was one of the guys who lost a lot of ground from high on the right side. Bob Curry and Cliff Peshek had played the middle and were on the edge of carrying the reacher, furl, unfurl, furl... repeat, making ground on the righties. A certain husband and wife team seemed to have trouble coming to a consensus on the question of setting the reacher. Should that race have been blown off? Maybe, but it made for interesting sailing with the reversal of the course.
The third race was sailed into the new Westerly sea breeze with a bit more pressure in the 8 – 14 range. With straight line speed at a premium, Bill Swanson had consistently good boat speed and took the win to move into a tie for first. The fleet was starting to learn what it would mean to stay toward the Northern shore and sail through the anchorage. At the end of the day it was Curry, Swanson and Pucciarello, in that order.
Sunday on the beach the wind looked very light. Mike Kasper, our PRO, sent a mark boat out to hunt for wind. After a short delay the wind came up and there would be racing in the 8 – 12 kt. Range and shifty conditions. The wind was Southeast and the course was set to run right up to the inter-coastal channel, and a parade of happy-go-lucky power-boaters. Bob Curry was having success and commented “The Weta is an apparent wind machine, and downwind I could tie off my reacher sheet and sail to the sail”. “Upwind, in the very light stuff, I squeezed myself down just behind the mast and sailed the jib watching the telltales from leeward”. Rick Sylvester sailed masterfully and got a win in race 4. “I went to the right downwind anticipating the predicted right shift. I also figured on much less powerboat chop going through the anchorage” noted Rick. Bob Curry, a veteran of the Boca Ciega Bay, had the following advice “Stay out of the middle, pick a side and take your chances. There are bands of breeze the come from between the condos. Get in one of those lanes and stay there. I think it helps in the light air to hold the tiller down against the deck to keep it from even the slightest movements.”
At the risk of typecasting Kim Higgs, because he really is a good all-around sailor, he garnered a lot of attention with his light wind performance. Bob Curry and Cliff Peshek tried to find his secret and noticed that Kim sails with the windward ama in the water, eased mainsail, pays careful attention to the jib telltales and minimizes tacks by not overplaying the shifts. Maybe a slight heal to windward is the ticket? Kim commented that “I wish I could say I had been that analytical.... you are giving me more credit than I deserve but thanks.” If he's holding something back, he's doing it with a good poker face.
The Hitchcock family was on hand to help present awards. Bree Hitchcock's foundation, The Magic Yarn Project, will receive over $500 in donations from Weta sailors, including several that were not able to sail in the event. Bree presented the Dick Hitchcock Memorial Charity Regatta first place perpetual trophy to Bob Curry who finished no race worse than 2nd.
Bob Curry has raced the Weta twice now. He attributes his success to his experience in other multihull classes. “My skills in sailing apparent wind boats is directly applicable to the Weta. Some of the other classes don't have many events to sail in and it looks like the Weta offers more racing options.” Bob sailed a borrowed boat and is certainly looking at getting his own Weta. As a multi-boat owner he needs to thin the herd a bit first. He is also interested in doing some fleet building in the Fort Walton Beach area, and looking for an additional event to add to the calendar for next year.
It was great to see Jen and Tim French back out racing again. They asked not to be scored because they had planned limited racing. But they had time to spend with the group, social distancing, just catching up on everything. Jen did the final scoring audit, thank you very much.
Gulfport Yacht Club played host again this year and the competitors all agreed that it was a great location, especially for the Northern folks looking for a spring thaw. The Boca Ciega Bay has a very Florida-esque feel to it, and even if the wind didn't cooperate, the temperatures surely did. We got up into the 80's for both days... don't be alarmed, that's Fahrenheit for those that don't speak “English”.
By Cliff Peshek