Rising Swell - Northwest Florida Daily News

April 11th, 2015


It’s natural to attempt to emulate something successful, whether it be basketball players and Michael Jordan or golfers and Tiger Woods.

Sailing is no different.

And in just its third year, the Fort Walton Beach Yacht Club’s annual WetaFest is already seeing similarly formatted events sprout up — in New Zealand.

Event organizer Cliff Farrah isn’t surprised by the quick ascent the WetaFest, a three day sailing spree in which he will try to cram 11 races in Choctawhatchee Bay, has enjoyed.

In fact, it’s right on track.

In its first year, he wanted to attract 15 boats. He pulled 12.

The second, he pegged 20 as the number and got exactly that.

The third year, the 2015 edition, Farrah sought 25 and as of Friday morning had 26 registered, including five father/daughter teams and one uncle/niece.

“Next year I want 50,” Farrah said. “This hull is number 1,018. Fifty is easy to do with 1,000 boats out here. We want to make this a must-do regatta, nationally.”

That part he has already achieved. Teams have flown or drove in from Washington state, California, Michigan, North Carolina, Texas and New York. And, of course, there’s the whole bit about New Zealand copying his event.

“They have WetaFest in New Zealand now,” he said. “They do the same thing.”

The races began at 11:50 a.m. Friday, the same time they will begin today and Sunday. The first two days are what Farrah describes as “hard-core racing” while the third is more distance focused, where sailors go from “mark to mark to mark.”

“The first two days are upwind, downwind, short course, lots of boats crowning around a mark,” Farrah said. “It’s gonna get really, really tight and close and it’s very tactical.

“You have to be able to handle a boat and able to know the rules.

“You play chicken. That racing is very tight and aggressive and tremendous fun. The distance race is more of a drag race. There’s less overlap.”

The headliner of recent participants is Randy Smyth, a 55-time world champion and former Olympic racer — “the Tiger Woods of sailing,” as Farrah described him.

Joining the field this year are professionals Todd Hudgins and Mike Mead, making for an elite field.

“Everyone loves coming here,” Farrah said. “In the winter all I do is post pictures of Destin and Fort Walton Beach and people go crazy for it.”

By Travis Mewhirter

Photos by Devon Ravine

Source: Northwest Florida Daily News

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