April 04th, 2023
Participation in regattas by Wētās sailors has dwindled significantly on the West Coast since the mid-twenty-teens. Last year, we were only able to get a fleet (6 boats) together for one regatta, the Commodores Invitational at Huntington Lake. But recently Santa Barbarian John Dutton and Peter Karlsberg of Camarillo have re-invigorated the SoCal fleet by purchasing Wētās and entering in regattas. Joining the SoCal old guard of Bruce Fleming, Tim Corcoran and Bob Shirley we have already been able to sail in one regatta and are slated to have fleets for at least two more….Woo Hoo!
John, Bob and Peter all drove down to San Diego for the Mission Bay Yacht Club Cat Fight 1 on Friday, March 24. John and Bob assembled their boats and went out for a practice sail. The wind was brisk, and after scooting around Mission Bay for a while, John and Bob opted to sail out to the ocean to check out the venue for the regatta. Once they were in the main channel, despite still being inside a breakwater, the seas were quite big and it was a long ways out to the ocean. So they aborted and headed back to the yacht club. It was fortuitous, too, because Bob discovered a minor hardware problem that he was able to fix before the regatta. It pays to practice. Peter arrived much later. Unfortunately, Tim texted us Friday evening to bow out due to unforeseen circumstances, but, we still had 4 boats and that was enough to have a fleet.
Bruce, who lives nearby in San Diego, brought his boat to the club early Saturday morning. At the skipper’s meeting, the RC announced, due to a Small Craft Warning issued by the Coast Guard for high winds and hazardous seas, we would be staying inside Mission Bay (sheltered water) to race.
Bob and Bruce have been duking it out in Wētās for about a dozen years and have become good friends. Typically, until the wind gets into the high teens, Bruce regularly beats Bob like a rented mule. But in the higher winds, Bob’s beer belly gives him a live ballast advantage. They always enjoy racing each other because they know it will be close and competitive. John is a former beach cat racer and experienced sailor. Peter is an experienced sailor, but this was to be his first regatta. Peter also opted to have his son, Aaron, sail with him. Unfortunately, John’s back seized up on him while he was prepping his boat. He toughed it out and raced anyway, but he definitely was hampered.
The first two races the wind was blowing 8 - 12 knots and was quite shifty and flukey. Mission Bay was quite busy with various kind of water craft in addition to the F 18 fleet and a Soling fleet, so one wasn’t always able to tack on the headers or shifts when one wanted to which made for some interesting upwind legs. Bruce won both of the first two races, Bob earned seconds, John came in third, and Peter and Aaron fourth. Bob had an exciting finish among the Solings in race two. It was an upwind finish, a very short finish line. Bob was approaching the line on starboard, not quit laying it. Two Solings were coming across on port. The first one barely crossed in front of Bob, the second one ducked and Bob tacked over on to port. He went just two boat lengths when the two Solings tacked onto Starboard forcing Bob to tack onto starboard with just enough room around the leeward pin of the finish line. All three boats finished at the same time. That was definitely a sphincter puckering moment and Bob was thankful that the Soling skippers were skillful. Remarkably, there was no yelling (other than “STARBOARD!” and “TACKING!”) or complaining.
Race three, Bruce opted to sandbag the start so he could record video with his stern mounted GoPro of the fleet starting. Bob was able to hold him off to take the bullet, John was third again, Peter and Aaron fourth. For races five and six the wind picked up some more, some gusts may have hit 15 knots. Bruce and Bob had been finishing close to each other all day. In both of those races, Bruce overstood the second windward mark giving Bob just enough of an opening to pass him and win the races.
Often, after finishing the races, Bruce and Bob would sail to Peter and Aaron and offer some advice to help Peter improve his speed around the course. Peter, much to his credit, was very open to and appreciative of the coaching.
Sunday, John’s back was still hurting so he decided to go home early. Bob approached Bruce and suggested that, conceding that Bruce would likely win the regatta if they competed seriously, they stick close to Peter and coach him around the course to help him improve his skills. For example, it became apparent on Saturday that he was sailing much too deep downwind so Bruce and Bob wanted to show him how to sail hotter angles. Race one Bruce and Bob raced to the first mark, but then stopped and waited for Peter and Aaron to catch up. Then they stuck close to Peter and Aaron all the way around the course, and helped him with his tacking angles and gybing angles and steering to the tell tales upwind. It made for a very exciting finish with Peter winning, Bob second, Bruce third ,all finishing within a single boat length. Race two the three boats did the same thing, had an equally close finish, but this time Bruce won, Peter got second and Bob third. One has to wonder what the RC thought about the unusual behavior of the Wētā fleet.
For the final race of the Regatta, race 3 on Sunday, race 8 overall, Bob and Bruce decided to compete seriously. On the initial upwind leg Bob tacked over to port in the middle of the leg then tacked back in the middle of the course. He crossed in front of Bruce and immediately tacked to cover. Bruce footed off to get out of Bob’s exhaust. Bob was excited that he seem to be winning until he got stopped dead by multiple powerboat wakes that hit him simultaneously. He looked to leeward to see if Bruce was being hampered, too, but, alas, no, Bruce just sped off to a big lead and proceeded to horizon Bob. Curses!
Back at the club, while disassembling the boats and swigging beer, it was obvious that Peter and Aaron had a great time and looked forward to the next regatta, the Santa Barbara Skiff Festival. We all went to the award presentation, and as expected, Bruce beat Bob by one point to win the regatta.
MBYC is a wonderful facility that did a exceptionally good job hosting the regatta and the RC did a fantastic job.
We are grateful to Peter and John for registering for regattas and look forward to getting together to socialize and compete more often.
By Bob Shirley