The thrill of small catamaran sailing
By Chris Barrett • Photos by Deborah Swanson

There’s nothing like being on a racing catamaran and flying a hull while out on the trapeze wire. With your body suspended by the eighth inch diameter wire just a few inches above the water balancing the boat’s heeling, knees slightly bent, trimming the sail, keep a steady hand on the tiller and watch the other racers in case it looks like you’re on a collision course. This may seem like a lot of things to do, but after just a few outings on the water, the mental and physical challenges start to become part of the fun.

The starting line of a race at Avila. Photo: Deborah Swanson

The starting line of a race at Avila. Photo: Deborah Swanson

These sublime moments, when it all comes together, is pure bliss in motion. On any given weekend around the state of California, Hobie Cat enthusiasts can be found screaming across the water just as they have since the first regatta was held off Poche Beach in Capistrano, Calif. on July 4, 1968. Thanks to the America’s Cup races on 72 ft catamarans last year, there has been renewed interest in catamaran racing. There’s never been a better time to jump into the fast moving world of racing these beach cats.

Because these lightweight yet strong boats are easily stored, rigged and launched, they are perpetually ready to take to the water. Many sailors who have logged long nautical miles on high performance races say they come to Hobie sailing for their ultimate sailing experience. The original 16 foot long model, known as Hobie 16, remains the most common size for competitions. However, these days you’re most likely to see many racers sailing 18 and 20 foot versions of the Cats.

Organized races are held throughout the year on California waters and around the world. For some racers, it’s all in pursuit of gaining enough race points to nab a coveted spot in the Hobie Cat North American and then the Hobie World Championships. For many others, Hobie racing is about the camaraderie found among the racers, the rush of flying over the water, and chasing and leading other boats and friends around a closed course in their home waters at many lakes, bays and beaches throughout the state.

According to the Hobie Class Association of North America, over 100,000 Hobie Cats are sailing around the world in huge Hobie fleets and regattas. Through the social and racing activities of Hobie fleets, members have an opportunity to participate in activities designed to enhance the quality of their recreational time, and to contribute to a spirit of friendship that has graced the sport of Hobie Cat sailing since 1967. Sailors everywhere have come to call this unique affinity “The Hobie Way of Life.”

In the early days, the center of the Hobie racing scene was Lopez Lake near San Luis Obispo. Lopez Lake was well known for consistent afternoon winds, warm water and numerous campsites under the oaks. Many regattas have been held there. After a dormant period, the scene is starting to take off again at Lopez Lake and other California sailing venues.

What Hobie sailing is all about, Scott Erwin & his wife Cathy flying a hull off the Central California Coast on a breezy day this spring. Photo: Deborah Swanson

What Hobie sailing is all about, Scott Erwin & his wife Cathy flying a hull off the Central California Coast on a breezy day this spring. Photo: Deborah Swanson

Lake sailing is often on warm water with small waves and gusty or even inconsistent winds which present challenges to the racers trying to keep ahead of the competition on the race course.

Sailing on the cool Pacific Ocean waters offers a completely different experience; strong winds, cool water and—depending where you go—ocean swells that make the racers hold on tighter just to keep from flying off the boat in a blur of spray are part of the ocean racing scene.

The wildlife is another exciting aspect to the sport; ocean racers often get close to seals, porpoises and whales in California’s waters. An added rush to be had sailing these boats is that they’re natural surfing craft. Both novice and experienced racers can ride the long ocean swells rolling outside any beach break or bay. Catching a wave during a race’s downwind leg has led to many a crucial passing move.

Lake sailing has been affected by the drought conditions this year. The popular High Sierra Regatta in Huntington Lake traditionally held in August has already been canceled and the Hobie Days Regatta last March was moved from Lopez Lake to Avila Beach due to lack of water. But this shouldn’t dissuade would-be racers from getting involved. Many events are happening up and down the west coast along California beaches and bays.

For example, the Round Treasure Island Regatta will be held in San Francisco Bay on July 13-14, the Summer Multihull Regatta in Santa Cruz on July 20-21, and the Wine & Roses Regatta North/South Challenge in Santa Barbara on August 17-18.

It’s easy to get started in Hobie sailing and racing. Check the regatta listing at, then get down to the water, offer to crew and strap yourself in for the ride of your life. Hobie cats are fun because they’re usually the fastest sailboats around.

Even if there’s no crew needed for the day’s races, it’s almost guaranteed that one or more of the Hobie sailors there will offer you a short ride so that you can get a taste of the excitement. The boats are usually sailed with two persons on board with one person at the helm.

The Regatta weekends consist of 6 or 7 races over two days at venues where camping is allowed, so the visiting racers’ guest lodging for the weekend is inexpensive and relaxed befitting the Hobie lifestyle. Quite often there’s a Saturday night party and dinner celebration with raffles of prizes donated by local businesses and the various sailing gear vendors.

These events are hosted by a group of Hobie Cat racers who come together in each region to form a local Hobie fleet. California has at least 13 fleets. Nevada and Arizona have Hobie racing fleets which routinely send racers to California events. For those seeking an adventurous road trip, the Tucson fleet holds events in Baja California on the northern end of the Sea of Cortez.

Skipper and crew suspended by a trapeze wire on a Hobie 20. Photo: Deborah Swanson

Skipper and crew suspended by a trapeze wire on a Hobie 20. Photo: Deborah Swanson

Tucson’s fleet 514 hosts a Cinco De Mayo regatta and the October Piñata Regatta at the sleepy fishing village of Puerto Peñasco, Mexico. This beach town is in the Sonora desert about 200 miles southwest of Tucson and draws boats from all over the west, including New Mexico, Colorado and California.

Used Hobie 16s & 18s are frequently found for sale on sites like Craig’s List for as little as $500. The best source is often the local Hobie fleet’s racers. In contrast to some other sports, most Hobie Cat racers really like having newbies join them and can be a good resource when looking to buy a starter boat.

So, next time you’re looking for adventure and speed, head to the water and look for your local Hobie fleet. You’ll be glad you did.