The Formula 18 fleet is exploding in San Diego, and on May 14-15th, Mission Bay Yacht Club hosted Cat Fight 2, the largest gathering of F18 catamarans on the West Coast.
Saturday’s light and bumpy seas provided frustrating conditions for the sailors. One moment, a racer was a genius, the next moment, he was an idiot. Sunday was the fun-day and nature gave the cat sailors a perfect 12-15-knots with a few 20-knot gusts just for fun.
This year’s Regatta was filled with both intense racing and personal triumph. Matt Morris, the 23-year old comeback kid, was the crew on the winning boat from last year’s Cat Fight with Steve Stroebel. After the racing in 2015, Morris suffered a seizure and ultimately had to have a very complicated brain surgery. It’s been a difficult year for Morris fighting his way back to health and vitality, but the doctors recently gave Morris the thumbs up to compete again. This weekend’s Cat Fight was Morris’ first time back on the water racing. “Matt is the gas pedal on the boat,” said Sunday’s helmsman Bryan Paine. Like a true champion, Morris and his skippers Steve Stroebel and Bryan Paine defended their title as Overall 2016 Cat Fight 2 Champions. It was the absolutely the “feel good moment” of the Regatta.
“I was nervous about my first regatta after my seizure,” said Morris. “After brain surgery, I had to relearn how to walk and I felt clumsy getting on a boat. Patience was the hard part. I realized I wasn’t invincible.”
“It was so awesome to have Matt full strength back on the boat, right where he was a year ago before his brain surgery,” said Steve Stroebel.
Morris is equally fond of Stroebel. “Steve is the best sailing partner you could possibly ask for,” said Morris. “He stays calm, cool, collected and fast, even where there is mass chaos.” In June, Stroebel and Morris are making their “team dream” come true and heading to Europe for 93 days of racing. They’ll be competing in a dozen regattas with 33 race days scheduled on their F18. Now that’s a fairy tale ending.
There was lots of talent on the spinnaker fleet start line. The current F18 National Master’s Champion Scott Miller enjoyed surfing the waves downwind in the good breeze. Miller’s least favorite moment was hitting the windward mark, not once, but twice. On Race 2, Miller was distracted by a capsized outrigger canoe on the course, when he realized his fleet was in their starting sequence. Miller launched his kite and accelerated towards the line pulling off a decent start navigating through a sea of cats with his chute up. Miller and his wife Patty’s skills overcame those few mistakes and Team Miller took an overall 3rd place in the Regatta.
Skipper Travis Vetter and crew Jason Jarrell had their own kitemare. They caught a fishing line between their daggerboards and when they launched their spinnaker it created a rat’s nest. With intense focus and teamwork, they managed to stay upright and crew Jarrell drove the boat and trimmed the chute while helmsman Vetter untangled the mess. Impressively, Jarrell kept his calm and kept pace with the fleet and barely gave up a second. “I’m blown away by how much Jason has grown as a sailor this past year,” said helmsman Vetter.
“Some of us don’t race cats to stand on a podium and get awards,” said Cherie Sogsti who was the only female skipper out of 27 boats. “Some sailors do this just to feel alive. When you’re racing cats, it’s like a thrilling meditation. You can’t think of anything else other than what’s happening in the present moment.”
The MBYC F18 cat fleet has recently drawn top sailing rockstars like Bill Hardesty, Bryan Paine, Scott Hoffman and Tyler Caroe. Hardesty is a professional sailor who has won a dozen world titles on various boats and he recently bought an F18 to race with his wife Mandi. Paine just moved to San Diego to work for Ullman Sails and with over 15 years of international sailing and coaching experience. Paine has helped prepare countless sailors to race and win F18 Championships. Hoffman has been racing for over a decade and is jumping back into catamaran sailing after an Olympic Finn Campaign. “It’s fun to haul ass around the course in these boats,” said Hoffman. “The San Diego F18 fleet has gotten incredibly competitive.” The San Diego F18 fleet is on fire with exciting addition of so many talented racers. Now we just need a few more knots of reliable wind.
“My wife Mandi and I have really enjoyed sailing our new F18,” said Hardesty, the 2011 US Rolex Yachtsman of the Year. “It’s an exciting boat with competitive racing and lots of couples sailing together. The fleet is growing at MBYC with the help of good leadership, free clinics, and exciting but casual racing.”
The Cat Fight ended with good cheer and good food. Sailing is only part of the F18 fun. The other moments we’ll remember were on the MBYC deck after our cats were put away…when we laughed together with wet feet and salty hair.