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An interview with Ben Wells on the 2022 Formula Wave Class Championship Regatta

by David Schmidt 15 Nov 2022 08:00 PST November 17-20, 2022
Hobie Waves lined up on the beach in front of the St. Thomas Yacht Club, U.S. Virgin Islands © St. Thomas Sailing Center

In 1994, multihull designers Gino Morrelli and Pete Melvin penned the lines for a can-do beach cat for the Hobie Cat Company. Their creation was dubbed the Hobie Wave, and it quickly began delighting sailors of all ability levels, all over the world. The mainsail-driven multihull is a simple and rewarding boat to sail, and it can accommodate up to four people. Add it up, and the Wave became popular as a fleet boat (think YCs, resorts, camps, rentals, et al), but, when placed in the hands of skilled sailors, it’s also a great multihull platform for singlehanded fleet racing.

To date, over 100,000 Hobie Waves have been built.

The Formula Wave Class Association was founded in 2018 to offer One Design racing for its members. A glance at the 2022 FWCA calendar reveals five different regional events in locations as varied as Yankton, South Dakota and Put-In Bay, Ohio, to Shreveport, Louisiana and Fort Walton Beach, Florida. These regionals lead up to the FWC Championship Regatta (November 17-20, 2022), which is being hosted by the Gulfport Yacht Club, in Gulfport, Mississippi.

I checked in with Ben Wells, president of the Formula Wave Class, via email, to learn more about this championship-level regatta.

Can you please tell us a bit about the current state of the Formula Wave Class, its culture and competition levels, and the kinds of sailors that one can expect to encounter at this year’s Championship Regatta?

For those not familiar, the Formula Wave Class is about to enter its fifth year of existence. We took the starting point of what used to be the IWCA [international Wave Class Association] and set out to build a new class, and have been “making waves” (pun intended) ever since.

Our class is made up of about 75 paid members, most of whom are active racers and participate at several of our Regional Regattas. We see the Wave as an ideal racing boat for sailors of all ages and skill levels—it’s wonderful for novice sailors, and for older sailors who may not want to deal with everything that comes with larger catamarans, the simplicity of the boat is quite attractive.

Our goal is to host several regattas each year in different regions of the USA, with the purpose of building up local sailors and fleets in those regions. Sailors earn points at Regional Regattas, and those who do well enough can earn some bragging rights at the end of the season.

This year’s Championship should bring out some quality racing and close competition. There are many good sailors the live locally in Florida, and we will have quite a few who will be travelling from other parts of the country as well for a shot at the crown.

Formula Wave regattas rarely, if ever, see a single sailor winning every single race and running away with it. The scores are almost always close right up until the end. With the best of the best sailing for the Championship, the sailing is expected to be close and fast!

What kind of entry numbers are you seeing this year? Also, are there any notable geographical concentrations to this entry list?

As of this [interview] we have 19 sailors registered, and we expect to be somewhere in the neighborhood of 25 when all is said in done. Because this year’s Championship is in Florida, many of the sailors will likely live in or near to Florida. We have top sailors travelling from other states as well, so as usual, it will be a mix.

Weather-wise, what kind conditions can sailors expect to encounter off of Gulfport, Florida in mid-November? What are the best-case and worst-case weather scenarios?

We always hope for warm, sunny days with a nice, consistent, moderate breeze, but of course – we never know what will happen until we get there!

The typical weather patterns lead us to believe there should be good sailing wind, and comfortable temperatures. Best case scenario is subjective – some like lighter air, and some people perform better when it gets heavy.

Personally, I’d like to see the regatta have a good mix of light, moderate, and heavy air. That way, the skill sets are tested across the board, and the best of the best can truly rise to the top.

Worst case scenario is the light/fluky wind where sometimes just being at the right place at the right time means winning a race versus losing it. If there’s no wind, that’s unfortunate too, but at least you know and can enjoy the time on the beach with your friends!

Do you see local knowledge playing a big or small role in the regatta’s outcome? Can you please explain?

Yes and no. Local knowledge is always good, no matter if you are sailing on a lake or on the ocean. Ocean sailors and locals will be more accustomed to currents, tides, and wind patterns in that area, and having that knowledge and knowing how to apply it on the water is important.

That said, a sloppy sailor who may have local knowledge could still finish behind another sailor who may not be as familiar with local trends, but can learn, adapt, and race mistake free. No blown tacks, good starts, and decision making plays a major factor also. A sailor who can combine those two things together will be very tough to beat.

If you could offer one piece of advice to visiting (and local) sailors, what would it be?

Have fun! That’s why we do this. It’s why we travel hundreds of miles every summer, and invest in new sails, and all the other things sailors do that cost time and money. Yes—it’s the Championship regatta. Yes—we are all competitive people. But before any of us raced, we did it to have fun, and the racing only elevated the fun. At any regatta, anywhere, I think it’s something all sailors should remember.

Do you have any entries that you’re eyeing for podium finishes? What about any dark horses who you think could prove to be fast, once the starting guns begin sounding?

I hate to speculate on questions like this, because you just never know. Any number of sailors could end up finishing well.

When I look at the current list of sailors, there are five to six names I can pick out, and on any given day, I think any one of them could win it all. As I’ve said before, I expect the competition to be close, if not coming down to the last race. Wind conditions could play a role also. If we get three days of [16-knot] winds, the top five place will likely look different than if it’s three days of a [5-knot] breeze.

What kinds of post-racing/onshore entertainment can sailors look forward to?

We are keeping things a little more low-key for this event, but we will have drinks and a meal on Saturday night provided for the sailors. FWC leadership on site will be hosting a Q&A session on Friday for any sailors who would like to learn more about the FWC, where we are headed, and any questions in general.

Can you tell us about any efforts that you and the other regatta organizers have made to try to lower the regatta’s environmental footprint or otherwise green-up the regatta?

I love that you’ve asked this question, because it’s really near and dear to my heart. As the class President, I’ve tried to keep sustainability and clean boating practices in mind, and something that our organization embraces.

Last year we hosted the US Sailing Multihull Championship, and partnered with local organizations to make it a “green” regatta. We received a Platinum Certification from Sailors for the Sea for our efforts – something we are very proud of. We learned a lot from that experience, and will incorporate more of those practices into future events.

For this regatta, we encourage all sailors to limit single-use plastics, and use reusable water bottles that were given out as new-member gifts several years ago (or whatever water bottle they choose!). Many of the sailors would have received re-usable dinnerware kits from the Multihull Championship last year, and we hope they continue to use those also.

Is there anything else that you’d like to add, for the record?

We are excited about the direction of the class and our continued membership growth. We see the Wave as a viable racing catamaran for many years to come, and it will only grow in popularity. If anyone would like to learn more, please ask any questions, or come join us at a regatta somewhere!

I also want to acknowledge the Gulfport Yacht Club – this championship regatta wouldn’t be possible without their partnership, and we are grateful for them hosting us this November.

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