May 03rd, 2023
WētāFest 2023 is in the books!
Sixteen crews, 13 single-handed and 3 double-handed, joined the fun and festivities from Thursday, April 20th through Sunday, April 23rd on beautiful Choctawhatchee Bay at the Fort Walton Yacht Club in Fort Walton Beach, Florida. The regatta started Thursday morning with an informal Clinic. Several of the top sailors shared their rigging and tuning tips and tricks. After the question-and-answer session, many sailors rigged and hit the water to get the lay of the land (so to speak) and try out some of the newfound information for themselves.
Friday morning, we arrived to mostly cloudy skies, temperatures in the mid 70’s, winds from the south at 6-10 knots with gusts in the low teens, and a 1–2-foot lumpy chop. Following the Skippers’ meeting we headed out for the start of the first of four scheduled races for the day. Racing was tight at the top! I would know, I had a great view from my position at the back of the pack for all four races. Standings after day one had Pete Merrifield leading Bob Hodges by 4 points and Pooch Pucciariello by 7 points in the single-handed division while Alan Taylor & Tim French led Elise Read & Snoann Willett and Jen French & Stephanie Taylor by 4 and 8 points respectively. After the boats were cleaned up and secured for the night, we congregated at the Gazebo on the Point for a “Low Country Boil” and “Beverages” of both kinds. Once all had their fill of food, some retired for the evening while others of us gathered around the beverage in the keg and told stories...many of them embellished but mostly true!
Saturday, which turned out to be the best day of the weekend, provided us with sunny skies and temperatures in the low to mid 70’s. The wind was a steady 10-14 knots but had clocked around to the north. I’m gonna need a little more neoprene! Due to the topography of the Bay, a breeze from the north allows the breeze to build but the water stays relatively flat. A 15-knot breeze and flat water! Almost perfect Wētā conditions and the racing didn’t disappoint. Although the usual sail numbers remained up front, they weren’t able to separate themselves from the rest of the fleet. Boats in both divisions stayed close with no one able to relax until they heard the horn indicating they’d crossed the finish line. While the top three spots in the single-handed division didn’t change, John Harrop and Todd Garner battled for fourth place in all four races. At the end of the day Harrop maintained a 1-point hold on 4th place. Taylor/French (not to be confused with French/Taylor) increased their lead over the other competitors in the double-handed division.
Sunday’s forecast called for partly cloudy skies, temperatures in the low 70’s with winds out of the east at 6-10 knots and fading throughout the day. Given the “iffy” forecast we decided to start an hour earlier to get as many of the three scheduled races in before the wind left us for the day. Luckily what we got were mostly sunny skies, temperatures in the mid 70’s with wind out of the northeast at a steady 10 knots and building. With the somewhat unexpected conditions we were able to finish all of the day’s races. Following 11 races over a span of three days, it was time to head back to the beach to await the final results.
By Bruce Koch
1st Place – Pete Merrifield
2nd Place – Bob Hodges
3rd Place – Pooch Pucciariello
1st Place – Alan Taylor/Tim French
2nd Place – Elise Read/Snoann Willett
3rd Place – Jen French/Stephanie Taylor