The 2023 Hobie 18 and Hobie 17 North American Championship was held from 31st July to 4th August at Lake Quinault in the Olympic National Park about 3 hours east of Seattle in Washington state, USA.
Lake Quinault is a large fresh water lake surrounded by tall mountain ranges abundant in subalpine forest which cover 1,000,000 acres and the waterway is a great sailing location as there are no other boats on the lake. All competitors stay in the Rain Forest Resort and RV Campground and are within 100 yards of the boats and shoreline. Accomodation options include cabins, motel style rooms, studio apartments, an RV area and camp sites.
Next to the RV and camp ground is the World’s Largest Spruce Tree at 191 feet tall, with a 58 feet circumference and estimated to be 1,000 years old.
“La Push and Port Angeles are famous for being the locations of the Twilight book series”
The Olympic National Park and nearby townships of Forks, La Push and Port Angeles are famous for being the locations of the Twilight book series written by Stephenie Meyer about vampires and werewolves.
Each day during the regatta the mountains were covered in mist in the early morning which burnt off by about 11am and the mountains heated up and sucked in an idyllic thermal breeze each afternoon allowing four races to be comfortably sailed each day.
In the Hobie 18 fleet there were 25 entries from 3 countries (USA, Canada, Australia). This was the largest Hobie 18 fleet in the last 20 years. 18 teams were mixed crews (male/female) and one female skipper (Brishen Holmes-Slattery – 20th overall). Two crew members were 14 years old. Zoe Freer 4th overall and Elianna Sutcliffe 7th overall. Notable entrant in the Hobie 18 fleet was three time Olympian and seven times catamaran world champion John Forbes from Australia sailing with his wife Caroline Forbes. John normally sails with his daughter Bronte but unfortunately Bronte couldn’t make it to this regatta so Caroline stepped in to sail a regatta for the first time in their 37 year relationship.
“Starting Line Sailing made available again new sails for the Hobie 18 class”
15 races were held over four days with only one drop race. Interestingly, if there had been two drop races the top 12 places would not have changed.
The new licensed Hobie Cat manufacturer Starting Line Sailing made available again new sails for the Hobie 18 class and were kind enough to release a new colour combination just for this North American Championship called Quinault Sunset which many teams took the opportunity to purchase just prior to the event.
John & Caroline Forbes won eight out of the fifteen races but it could have been more had John not hit the first mark of Race 1 whilst leading the fleet and lost 10 places whilst doing the 360 degree penalty. No other team dominated like the Forbes’ with four different heat winners in the other seven races.
“The wind direction was a competitors dream with oscillating shifts a breeze that increased over the remainder of the afternoon”
The first US team was husband and wife John & Della Hoag in second place overall. The first Canadian team was long time Hobie 18 sailor and regatta organiser Paul Everden & Elianna Sutcliffe in 7th place which included a heat win in Race 11.
The weather conditions at Lake Quinault during the event were a catamaran sailors dream. No wind in the morning with low fog and mist on the mountains until the mountains warm up and the breeze kicks in at about 1pm. The wind direction was a competitors dream with oscillating shifts and the wind strength increasing over the remainder of the afternoon. This allowed the Race Committee to hold four races each day of about 45 minutes per race. Each day the winds ranged from 6 knots up to 16 knots by the end of the day offering competitors a variety of conditions so it was not all the same from one day to the next.
John & Caroline’s dominance in the Hobie 18 fleet came from their superior upwind speed and height which no other team could match. The Forbes’ and training partners Richard & Zoe Freer started nearly every race at the pin end even if it wasn’t the favoured end. This was to avoid any trouble at the often crowded boat end of the start line where many teams gathered as they tended to want to get to the right side of the course. However Forbes and Freer often debunked the right side theory by banging the left corner to either be leading or be in the top group at the top mark in almost every race.
In the Hobie 17 fleet there were 13 entries all from USA including one female skipper. The H17 North Americans was won by Phil Collins (not the drummer!) who has previously won thirteen Hobie 17 National Championships. Last years US national champion Bart Beck placed 3rd in this years event.
The Hobie 17 now uses both original Hobie brand sails and the new style Class Association approved sails. Approximately half the fleet used original sails and half used the new sails with no noticeable difference between the two types, which makes sense as the new sails are made from the original Hobie computer file and produced at Class Association approved sail lofts.
The dates for next years US Nationals or North Americans event will be published in the months ahead.
The Hobie Hotshots’ very own Paddy Butler, and current H14 World Champion, caught up with John Forbes for an interview after the event.
Paddy: John, you caught us all by surprise turning up in the USA. At what point did you plan to go?
JF: it was a real last minute decision to go. We only locked it in about two weeks beforehand when I saw that the fleet numbers were going to be about 25 boats in the H18 class. I’d often hoped to do a H18 regatta in USA as there are many more boats there than in Australia so this was our chance.
Paddy: How did you get a boat, and a decent one at that?
JF: That was the first challenge as we were months too late to send our boat from Australia. I knew of Richard and Zoe Freer via social media but had never actually met them. I asked if they knew where a decent boat may be that we could charter. 24 hours later they offered us their boat and they went and bought another boat for themselves. It was just luck and timing that someone put a H18 up for sale just one hour from where they live in Denver, Colorado and it was a decent boat. They then borrowed a double trailer from some H18 sailors about 5 hours from them, loaded up and drove both boats about 23 hours from Denver to Seattle/Lake Quinault. It was an epic effort from them to help get us to the regatta. I owe them dearly.
Paddy: You didn’t sail with your daughter Bronte whom you normally sail with. Why was that?
JF: Because everything was last minute, Bronte was unable to make it as she had uni, work and some other commitments (dog sitting!) that she couldn’t break. The next challenge was to find someone to replace her. My other daughter Teigan was also unavailable so we all had to convince Caroline that she should do it. Caroline rarely sails, and even more rarely races. Prior to this regatta she might sail one day once every few years. Caroline’s an avid golfer. Being winter in Sydney she was not on the golf course a lot so said she said yes, but only if we took some golf clubs so she could practice her chipping.
Paddy: How was the charter boat?
JF: the boat itself was great. We took over our own sails, battens, trampoline, spectra trapeze wires and a heap of other nice knick-knacks that we use on our boat at home. The biggest difference for us was the CompTip mast. We had never seen one or used one before the first race so I had no idea how it was going to perform. Being a tapered section I had high hopes that it would be very responsive in the gusts compared to the straight aluminium masts that we use back home. I was also unsure what battens to use in the top of the sail so we took a variety of different battens.
Paddy: What was is like racing with CompTip mast?
JF: I didn’t like it. It was very soft. We ended up using some very light battens in the top to get power in the head. We hardly touched the downhaul system all regatta because it just bends almost uncontrollably. It’s the first time in my life where I really had to be careful not to over-sheet the mainsail in the marginal trapezing conditions. With the all alloy mast you just keep sheeting in to crank up the power when the hull starts to pop out. With the CompTip it was the opposite where you had to let the sheet out a bit so you weren’t over-sheeted. I had to unlearn a lot of things very quickly with regards to that.
Paddy: I read you were first to the first mark in the first race. How did that feel?
JF: It was great. A real confidence booster, particularly for Caroline. The problem was we hit the top mark on the next lap. The wind was light and I had Caroline right out on the bow and as we tacked to go around the mark for the next downwind I thought it would be a good idea to just let Caroline stay on the bow so she was already forward for the downwind leg. The problem was that, with her out the front, the rudders didn’t steer properly and we did a dodgy tack and drifted sideways onto the mark. We then had to clear the fleet behind us and do a 360. I still had Caroline on the bow so our 360 went into irons and we lost about ten boats in the process. We got back to 7th by the finish but had we not hit the mark we probably would have won the first race.
Paddy: You haven’t raced in a fleet size that big for a long time. Was the racing as tight and competitive as the 16s and 14s?
JF: In Australia in the Hobie 18 fleet we usually race in a fleet size of 5 to 8 boats. To jump immediately up to a 25 boat fleet was challenging. Particularly with an inexperienced crew and particularly with no practice race or warm up regatta. The first few starts we decided to start down at the pin out of harms way. The majority of the North American H18 sailors are VERY competitive. It was all on up at the start boat end of the line. Lots of yelling and boats touching each other. On the course there were lots of boats yelling “starboard” to each other. It was very different to what we are used to in Australia where we all play nice and wave each other through in a port starboard situation.
In one race I tried starting up near the boat and we nearly go hit and also nearly broke out tiller extension against another boat. Caroline was very uncomfortable in that situation to the point of feeling claustrophobic. Fortunately it was a General Recall and we could get out of there and just go back down to the pin end with The Freer’s and have a more enjoyable start. The aggression from the other competitors was really noticeable on the race course. In Race 3 we were again leading on the downwind and the second placed boat just came in below us and luffed us up and banged into us. It was quite daunting. I’m not a student of the rules so we did a 360 just to be safe and ended up finishing third. I spoke to the Jury about it after the race and apparently we were in the right but we just shrugged it off. We knew we were fast and there was a lot more racing to be had.
Paddy: It sounds like you just gifted them all ten points on day 1.
JF: Yeah, probably; but I was there to have a fun regatta with Caroline.
Paddy: On the note of fun, talk to us about the DSQ in Race 6.
JF: Yes, that was not a pleasant experience. By the end of day 2 we realised we had a massive target on our backs. We were very fast. Coming all the way from Australia we were the ‘outsiders’ of the fleet. I was the Olympian and World Champion that people wanted to beat. I was ‘the Reimagined’ guy that they’d all heard of and apparently they all wanted to kick our ass. Having not competed seriously at a high level for nearly twenty years I guess I was a little naive in thinking that people might be nice to us on the race course. It was that aggressive that, after the second day of racing, Caroline wanted to stop sailing and we were asking around to try and find another crew. Even doing that created waves across the boat park.
Paddy: So why the DSQ?
JF: To me it was a normal top mark port starboard situation. We had had an average first beat. The right side of the course had paid and we were on the left side having done our customary pin end start and were in about 18th place. You know you are deep when it’s easier counting the number of boats behind you. Some boats were coming in from the starboard side racked out overlaid as usual. We were coming in close to the port layline and came right up under the overlaid boats and tacked to go around the mark. The overlaid boats were yelling and screaming at us. We executed the tack nicely underneath them but apparently two of them didn’t like that and they protested us claiming they were close hauled and had to go above close hauled to miss us. I’m not a fan of protest hearings so I tend not to say too much so it just became my word against both of theirs.
I wasn’t too fussed about it as we had finished 9th so it was going to be our drop race anyway but it was the principle of it that bugged me. The jury concluded that both boats weren’t close hauled but that the boat closest to us still had to point up to miss us. It was two against one so we didn’t stand a chance. Later that evening we found the GoPro footage from our boat of the incident which showed our perspective of it. We submitted that to the jury who re-evaluated the case. We claimed in the video that there was plenty of room between us and the two boats and that there was no turbulence in the water from the passing boat that claimed to steer up to avoid us. The jury claimed there was water turbulence so the DSQ decision remained. The next day, upon further evaluation of a frame by frame view of the water disturbance it showed that the tiller direction on the boat was actually bearing away, not pointing up but the jury still didn’t overturn their ruling. All of my highly experienced sailing friends at the Court of Public Opinion (aka Facebook) reckon we were fine so that was good enough for me.
Paddy: So, was it all good after that?
JF: Umm, kind of. We had also heard through the boat park rumour mill that people were questioning whether a non-North American citizen could be awarded the title of North American Champion. We hadn’t even given that a seconds thought but it obviously showed that our competitors were still very worried about us winning the regatta.
Paddy: What was the next step?
JF: We did the opposite to what most people would do. We just asked them all to be more polite on the water. Be nice. Don’t be as aggressive. We had travelled a bloody long way and put in a massive effort to get to the event in just two weeks which I think many had not thought about. It just came down to having basic manners. We all love the Hobie 18 class and we were all there to enjoy it.
Paddy: And how did that turn out?
JF: It went the right way. For the last two days everyone was very nice and courteous. The whole vibe of the event lifted. People interacted with us more in the boat park and wanted to know more about what we were doing down under with the Reimagined fleet and asked how could they get involved in changing the H18 class rules to be more modern to accept the changes we were doing. It was amazing what a difference a day can make.
Paddy: Surely your dominance on the race track was also satisfying.
JF: Yes, we won five of the next seven races after that. Caroline’s learning curve was very steep and by day 3 she was tacking the jib better and also starting to get her head out of the boat. It also helped show that what we were doing with the Reimagined boats in Australia was the right way forward for the class. We’ve seen lots of positive changes in the Hobie 17 and Hobie 20 classes in USA and also lots of changes in the Hobie 14 class in Australia which has seen fleet sizes grow. We just hope the same can happen with our beloved old Hobie 18’s too.
Paddy: So, what’s next?
JF: Hang the trophy on the wall (laughs). I’ve got two more boats to Reimagine when I get home. That’ll complete my personal fleet of ten boats. Plus there are about five other owners who are also on the H18 upgrade program. We will then attend most of the major regattas in New South Wales and continue to work on getting more women and youth into the class.
Paddy: Well done and thanks for your time.
JF: no problems. I encourage as many others as possible to try and attend next years Hobie 18 North American Championship.