WetaFest feast of family fun

By Mike Rose

The user friendly 4.4 trimaran sailing dingy.
The user friendly 4.4 trimaran sailing dingy.

Like many of our greatest inventions, the Weta is perhaps better known overseas.

Developed by Roger Kitchen and son Chris in their Campbells Bay garage nearly 10 years ago, the Weta is a Kiwi success story, with well over 900 of the 4.4m trimaran sailing dinghies in use in more than 30 countries.

France and the United States, in particular, have shown a real fondness for the Weta and it was in the latter that the "WetaFest" was born.

"The idea for the regatta originated in Florida," says Weta Marine sales manager Miranda Powrie, "The inaugural Weta North American Championships in March featured a great mixture of short races, longer fun races and a fantastic social atmosphere, bolstered by good food and good yarns.

"It was quickly nicknamed 'WetaFest' and the name stuck."

The huge success of that first WetaFest inspired company director Chris Kitchen to run something similar in New Zealand and the inaugural New Zealand WetaFest will be held next weekend at the Tauranga Yacht and Powerboat Club.

It will start on Friday, November 22, and continue through to Sunday, November 24.

Run by the New Zealand Weta Class Association, the New Zealand WetaFest will, like its American forerunner, consist largely of fun and, hopefully, exciting racing.

"The races will be kept short and interesting to keep the kids engaged," says Gary Napier, chairman of the Weta Class Association. "It's just wonderful to be out on the water and, with the family there, it makes it that much more enjoyable.

"Rather than the more serious style of dinghy racing, we wanted to make an event where everyone could get a taste of sailing and enjoy a fun social atmosphere."

Powrie says the event will kick off in a relaxed style with coaching "to ease everyone into it" on the Friday afternoon. Participants will then be invited to join the Tauranga Yacht and Powerboat Club rum race.

A sailing orienteering race is scheduled for the Saturday with teams of two or more sailors searching the harbour for five landmarks. Each landmark will have code on it which the competing sailors will need to remember to prove they have found it.

Powrie says navigation and planning skills will be very important as the marks will be able to be visited in any order. "Sailors will have to plan for tide and wind changes if they are to collect all the codes and be the first back to the beach."

She says there will be a large number of children from the TYPBC happy to join crews that need an extra hand.

On the Sunday, the club will set up normal racing courses, designed to ensure close, tactical racing.

Those competing in this more serious part of the regatta will include former Olympian Jon Bilger, national and world 18ft skiff champion Chris Kitchen and Powrie, a Laser Radial national champion (and sister of Olympic gold medallist Polly Powrie).

While these three will obviously start as favourites, Powrie is quick to point out that the Weta is a one-design class; all boats are exactly the same with no extra development allowed.

"This will ensure an even playing field that rewards the best sailor, not the fastest boat. Anyone could take a race or two."

While the Sunday racing will no doubt be both fierce and competitive, Powrie says the organisers are firmly focused on providing a fun, family sailing environment that gives as many people as possible the chance to get out on the water.

She stresses that the Weta was developed to be both lots of fun and uncomplicated and easy to sail. "That's why these Weta events are specially designed with activities that involve the whole family. All sorts of crew combinations have entered, from families to singles, and we will have prizes for everything from first parent and child combination to first couple."

Rounding out the activities will be beach games and a barbecue on the Saturday night for the sailors and their families.

Both Powrie and Kitchen are keen to stress that the WetaFest is open to anyone interested in sailing, not just existing Weta owners.

"Roger Kitchen is a former high-school teacher and developed the Weta to make sailing both more accessible to and more exciting for young kids, a combination that doesn't seem to exist in any other sailboat.

"It is a great boat for adults and families who want to learn to sail; it's very hard to capsize and very easy to learn as you go. Time and time again I take out first-timers and see their eyes light up when they blast along, steering the boat on their own."

Powrie says those attending the WetaFest will also be able to meet designer Kitchen and learn directly from him.

She says Weta Marine has boats available for those who would like to charter one for the WetaFest. "It's a great way to see if the Weta is right for you. Last summer, Simon Daubney [an Oracle Team USA trimmer] leased a Weta to sail from his Lake Pupuke home. He was impressed that, in gentle winds he could get his three kids out learning to sail while, on the blustery days, he could really thrill his brother in law."

Powrie says those in Auckland unable to attend the WetaFest can get a close-up look at Weta sailing trimarans at the Torbay Sailing Club on the first or third Sunday of each month.

NZ WetaFest

Where: Tauranga Yacht and Power Boat Club
When: November 22-24
Contact: miranda@wetamarine.com
More information: www.wetamarine.com

- NZ Herald

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