Hobie H17/H18 North American Championship

Hobie H17/H18 North American Championship

Tuesday-Friday, August 1-5, 2023
Lake Quinault, WA
Rain Forest Resort Village

On the southeast shore of Washington State’s Lake Quinault, in the far southeast corner of the Olympic National Park, one of the quietest places on earth, a motley crew of sailors mingled Monday evening under and around the log cabana in the center of the Rain Forest Resort Village, marking the beginning of the four-day 2023 Hobie H17/H18 North American Championship Regatta, host to 38 boats: 13 Hobie 17s and 25 Hobie 18s, the second largest number of 18s and just two boats shy of the current NA record.

They arrived from four countries: US, Canada, Australia and Spain.
They took trains, planes and automobiles from twelve states and provinces: British Columbia, Washington, Oregon, California, Wyoming, Colorado, Nevada, Arizona, Oklahoma, Kansas, Iowa and Mississippi.

For some, it is their first North American Championships. Others are more seasoned, such as Lonnie Byers, who holds the ridiculously low (i.e. old) HCA number of 1289. This feat is as impressive as holding a four-digit REI membership card.

Champions from near and far, including three-time Olympic medalist Australian John Forbes, plus Phil Collins, Will Nelson, Peter Nelson, Jim Sohn, and current NA champs John & Della Hoag and Bart Beck, are looking to defend their titles.
Competitors range in age from 14 to over 70. Students, dentists, truckers, musicians, CEOs, retirees, lay people. On the water, they are all equal.
Organized by a powerhouse District 4 team consisting of Al Jones, Della Hoag, John Hoag, Paul Carter, Bob Combie, Don Atchley and J Rosenbach, the regatta promises stellar racing, mind-boggling vistas, wind, sun, lawn games, camping, and delicious meals thanks to Dino’s, home to crunchy and melty hand-tossed pizzas and walls covered with indigenous art, and The Salmon House, which serves up more than salmon, but also probably the tastiest Pacific salmon you’ll find anywhere on earth.

Monday’s (gourmet) bratwurst and hot dogs were accompanied by singer Ben Fagerstedt, young, impeccably dressed, ocean blue eyes, serenading the sailors clad in t-shirts, cargo shorts and flipflops, with rat pack era tunes, crooning hits from Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and the recently departed Tony Bennet. (For some it is hoped their sailing skills exceed their dancing moves.)

The next day the racing began. Tuesday dawned with sunshine, blue skies—and a light breeze. A change from the near 20-knot winds for the previous weekend’s regatta.

Once the oscillating breeze settled in, Race 1 started in a 6-knot westerly, though the 17s in the rear found themselves struggling to emerge from a hole at the west end. Two 18 sailors, Dan Tarleton and Chris Kujiper, took advantage of the lull by going for a dip, trusting their vessel to take a slow walkabout before rejoining its skipper and crew. Four races and several capsizes filled out the day.
Race 2 saw a building breeze, with the beat for the 18s to the windward mark taking a mere 7 minutes.

But boat racing is about more than just sailing to a mark before your competitors. It’s about resiliency, perseverance, and a hefty dose of MacGyverism.
In Race 2, the 18 sailed by skipper Arden Rathkopf and crew JJ Hoag broke apart. That’s right. Without warning, and like a knife through butter (but with a distinctly louder and teeth-grinding noise) the left hull severed off.

Neither Arden or JJ is a stranger to the water or boating, both being raised in racing families and sailing since birth. Arden’s folks run regattas, his father is the PRO for this year’s NAs. Arden is heading to Hawaii in a few weeks to begin his pursuit of a marine biology degree. JJ is a certified ER nurse and travelled to Spain’s Costa Brava last fall to represent the US at the Hobie 16 World Championships.
So with the fortitude and intelligence ingrained in them through upbringing, genetics, and education, the pair sprung into action to salvage their boat—and finish out the regatta. Truck rides, borrowed trailers, phone calls and with the help of friends, family and strangers in the sailing community, their substitute boat travelled hundreds of miles overnight from near the Canadian border and was delivered by 8 am, ready for the first of Tuesday’s races. Oh, and the pair were on time for Tuesday night’s pizza dinner at Dino’s, taking time to pose on their spectacularly broken craft for the assembling paparazzi.

Day 2 Recap, by Liza Tewell
Tuesday-Friday, August 1-5, 2023
Lake Quinault, WA
Rain Forest Resort Village

Two days down, two to go. Eight races so far and what seem to be the boats to beat are bubbling to the top of the reader board. With that said, top finishes have reached deep into the fleet.

In the Hobie 17 class, Ron Holm from Kansas, home of the 2022 North American Championships, stood in 6th place going into Thursday’s racing. But he has a 1,2 and 3 in his pocket and is only 20 points from the frontrunner, Phil Collins from Oklahoma, who was happy to throw out a 14th-place finish and then rack up four consecutive firsts. In a class of 25 boats, 20 points is a relatively slim margin, especially with the potential to run eight more races.

In the Hobie 18 class, David Peltier and Marcos McGee are down in 10th after Wednesday’s racing but not out with a solid 2nd place finish in Race 6. Just 9 points separate the top four places.

Summer in The Great Pacific Northwest is notoriously short. Only about 8 weeks separate what the locals call grey, damp and cold “June-uary” and the early dog days of September. Puget Sounders cram in as many outdoor activities as possible into this small window of days filled with warm weather, sunshine and up to 19 hours of daylight lasting from the bright dawns to the end of the long dusks.
Blue skies are part of the equation as well, as long as smoke from the increasingly familiar wildfires doesn’t blow in from the north, west, or south.

Often the haze arrives in August. It’s the color of mustard and creeps through sealed windows, setting off smoke alarms in the middle of the night.

Midday through Wednesday’s racing, a plume began rising over the western hill of the lake. White, not yellow, though the shape and density were familiar to those with firsthand experience and did not identify as a marine layer.

A while later, the gusty breeze that began building on the race course helped to dispel the rising smoke in the west. But the threat wasn’t over.

During the Wednesday evening fleet dinner of tacos and frivolity hosted at the Rain Forest Resort Village Salmon House restaurant, sailors, alerted by an increasingly loud low rumble, clamoured out to the back deck to watch as two white and orange air tanker fire-fighting planes descended from the east to scoop up bellies full of water from the lake’s surface, then rise and head west to help quell the flames creeping through a remote area between Quinault and the coast.

Barrel-chested, powerful, with wide stubby wings, the air tankers made several scoop-and-drop waterbombing trips. By Thursday morning, the danger was deemed under control, a relief to the race committee which would not have to contend with incomings during Thursday’s races. If conditions do flare up, the DNR will notify the race committee prior to initiating their flights. (Though not often seen, the sound of freedom can be heard periodically—the mountains and hills surrounding Lake Quinault back up against the perimeter of Naval Air Station Whidbey Island’s EA-18G Growler training area.)

The weekend following this year’s Hobie North American Championships is the traditional final weekend of Seattle’s 73-year-old Seafair Festival. Weeks of parades and parties culminate with the running of the Seafair Hydro Races on Lake Washington.

The action isn’t only on the water. One of the most anticipated and crowd-pleasing spectacles (or not, depending on one’s ilk) of the weekend is the midday Boeing Air Show over Lake Washington featuring the visiting Blue Angels. Hobie racers were treated to a solo Blue Angel flyover while practising its air acrobats over the lake.

Day 3 Recap by Liza Tewell
Tuesday-Friday, August 1-5, 2023
Lake Quinault, WA
Rain Forest Resort Village

Unlike the third race day of the 2023 Hobie H17/H18 North American Championships, which began damp and overcast, the final day of racing opened with clear blue skies. Forecast to be the warmest day of the week, would the wind be true, as it had been the previous three days? Thursday’s racing saw a variety of puffs down the centre, north shore thermals, west-end lifts, and more. By midmorning, as the sailors enjoyed hot cups of coffee and breakfast outdoors while messing about with their boats, the Spanish moss, hanging like thick green cobwebs from the Sitka Spruce, Western Red Cedar and Douglas fir trees that embraced the Rain Forest Resort Village RV campground like a reassuring hug, began to waft, hinting at the promise of a sturdy breeze.

Regardless of the impending conditions, the day’s contests would be a clash of the Titans (with an ample supply of gladiators in training). In the Hobie 18 class, just two points separated the current leaders, John Hoag and Della Hoag, last year’s national champs, from the wonders from down under, John Forbes and Caroline Forbes. At this level of competition, the front runners play the course like a game of chess, combined with golf, merging skill with tactics, at times bordering on the trickery of the Artful Dodger. Though no handicap scoring is involved in one-design racing such as this, the one-score throw out can be a powerful pawn, as evidenced by the Forbes tossing of their double-digit 26-point DSQ.

Thursday’s racing had a hefty share of Corinthian moments, with most skirmishes settled on the sea with a gentleman’s salute. Good sportsmanship is usually mutually beneficial, such as when John Hoag and Paul Evenden were both approaching the start line on starboard at the committee boat end and each saw the lift to the right. Rather than a scuffle at the line, Hoag granted access to Evenden with both boats tacking to port immediately after starting, hitching a ride on the elevator while the fleet scrambled to catch up. (Hoag was set to round first at the west end of the lake, had he not mistook a random yellow something-er-other offshore for the weather mark.) Evenden and his crew, junior racer Elianna Sutcliffe, pocketed the bullet.

Speaking of the weather mark, a tack just before rounding caused Don Atchley and his crew, Lilah Fitzgerald to flip (one of only two in the fleet the entire day), costing themselves several standings and making contact with Dan Tarleton, who waved it off with a “no worries, mate”. Perhaps hanging onto, rather than jam-cleating the mainsheet might prevent a future mishap…

It remains to be seen if the wildfire season will continue to add the unexpected twist as it did on Day 3 when two air tanker firefighting planes made several passes to pick up water from Lake Quinault (though unlike Day 2, no smoke was visible from the racecourse). In the evening, before the fleet settled down to dinners, card games, concertinas, accordions and s’mores, a Navy EA-18G Growler

acknowledged the Hobie racers gathered on shore with a high-level flyover against the backdrop of the setting sun. The week’s abundance of (very not-sea-level but nautical nonetheless) aircrafts visiting the lake, prompted one racer to comment, “I went to a Hobie regatta and an air show broke out.”

Full Results
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