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CoastWaterSports 2014

An interview with Josh and Whitney Benge on the 2023 Hobie 20 North American Championships

by David Schmidt 15 Jun 2023 16:00 BST June 19-23, 2023
Hobie 20 racecourse action on the waters of Lake Hefner © Josh and Whitney Benge collection

It's fair to say that when Dutch designer and multihull sailor Jack Groeneveld and the Hobie Cat Design Office drew the linesplans for a 20-foot catamaran in the early 1990s, they were likely unaware of the "miracle" that they were creating. But, by 1991, when Hobie began selling the boat as the "Hobie Cat Miracle 20", it's also fair to say that the team likely had an inkling that their creation was going to be a racecourse performer. Hobie built the boats from 1991 to 2007, and while newer multihiull designs now exist, in the early '90s, the boat was in the running for the fastest set of hulls that measured less than 20 feet, LOA.

The doublehanded displacement-mode catamaran leverages a double-trapeze rig and twin daggerboards, and it has little trouble flying a hull in airs around 10 knots. While the boat is a less forgiving than other Hobie designs such as the iconic Hobie 16, advanced-level sailors will enjoy the boat's ability to accelerate quickly, and to deliver big racecourse grins.

Given the boat's performance pedigree, it's not surprising that the design remains popular with serious multihull sailors, and while the boat has been out of production since the mid-to-late aughts, it still enjoys a strong following and great racing.

One great example of this is the 2023 Hobie 20 North American Championships (June 19-23), which is being organized by the Hobie Class Association of North America, and which is being hosted by the Oklahoma City Boat Club, in Oklahoma City. Racing will take place on the waters of nearby Lake Hefner.

I checked in with Josh and Whitney Benge, regatta chair and organizer/co-chair (respectively) of the 2023 Hobie 20 North American Championships, via email, to learn more about this exciting multihull regatta.

The Hobie 20 is a great design, but it's not new. Can you please tell us a bit about the state of the Hobie 20 class, its current culture and competition levels?

I'd love to tell you it's great, but it has been in decline since I started crewing with my Dad, 20 years ago. I remember 10-12 [boats] on the starting line at a weekend regatta when I started. Now we work hard to get that many to a championship. We are lucky to have 15 pre-registered for this championship.

We all love the platform though and the competition is very tight. I don't believe there has been a repeat champion in many years.

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

We have 15 registered this year. I believe majority are from the central U.S., but we have four coming from California and a few from the Gulf Coast area.

Weather-wise, what kind conditions can sailors expect to encounter off on Lake Hefner in mid-to-late June? What are the best-case and worst-case weather scenarios?

Temperatures in the mid to upper 80s with lows in the upper 60s. Winds should be great in the 10-20 range out of the south.

It's Oklahoma, so expect gusts and nothing steady. Best case will be sunny in that 10-15 mph range, but it's storm season in Oklahoma, so worst case would be severe weather and a tornado sighting.

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

I don't think local knowledge of this particular lake will have any advantage, but lake sailors familiar with gusty and/or shifting wind conditions will definitely see an advantage.

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

Go see how friendly Oklahomans are. There's plenty to do in our state, but locally we have everything from great food venues to a white-water rapid course at OKC river sports where they can create Class 2 to Class 4 rapids.

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?

Dave Sparkuhl and Teri McKenna are the returning champs. Micheal McNeir and Krista Vind have won a couple in the last few years I believe. Keep an eye on Bart Beck who podiums and [who] won the 2022 Hobie 17 North American Championship. Richard Freer and Jacob Sailer have proven to be very fast in the past as well.

In the ideal world, how many races do you and the other organizers hope to score over the course of the regatta?

Three to four races a day totaling 12-15 over the course of the regatta would be a spectacular event and that's what we are shooting for. Mark Santorelli is the PRO and always does a fantastic job.

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?

We plan to base chase-boat use on wind conditions. If it's light we won't need as many on the water. Ronstan sent [refillable] water bottles for the competitors, and we will be encouraging their use. I don't know that they'll have it in time for our event, but the Oklahoma City Boat Club has been discussing water-filling stations for the future at their club.

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

We are very excited to host this event in Oklahoma. This is my wife (Whitney Benge) and I's first event to plan and we, she mainly, have been working very hard to make it a memorable event. We want all competitors to feel the Oklahoma standard.

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