Edgewood Yacht Club gets Bay buzzing

WASZP Nationals brings high performance foil sailboats to RI

Posted 6/21/22

By john howell

The bay was bugged the week of June 5. 

Wasps, well actually WASZPs, from across the country started buzzing at Edgewood Yacht Club Thursday and didn’t stop until …

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Edgewood Yacht Club gets Bay buzzing

WASZP Nationals brings high performance foil sailboats to RI


By john howell

The bay was bugged the week of June 5. 

Wasps, well actually WASZPs, from across the country started buzzing at Edgewood Yacht Club Thursday and didn’t stop until Sunday for the US National WASZP regatta. 

A WASZP defies conventional sailboat design. The hull is long and narrow although because of platforms – they’re referred to as wings – on either side, it is nearly as wide as it is long. It has a pointy bow resembling a beak. WASZPs are light, made from epoxy glass that is carbon infused and tough as nails. They are fast, so fast that in order to get off races on June 10, Chris Lee (Edgewood commodore who ran the races) moved the course from Edgewood to waters off Barrington. He needed an upwind leg of about a mile and with winds out of the west he wasn’t going to get that in the Providence River and the upper bay. With a southerly, the predominate wind at this time of year, waters off Edgewood make for an ideal course, but not on June 10. 

What makes the WASZP so fast is something you don’t see because it’s under water. As the craft gains speed – it needs about nine knots of wind to get to this point – the platform levitates on a wing-shaped foil extending three feet below. The boat accelerates lifting the sailor who must offset the heel with his or her weight or risk capsizing.  

The 12 competitors Friday wore wetsuits – nobody stayed dry. Most wore helmets. At speeds of more than 25MPH collisions can be painful.  

Pearl Lattanzi, the only woman competitor at the Nationals, has been stung by the WASZP, or more accurately by sailing. Her home is in Hawaii but she has a Rhode Island connection. Pearl is a senior and team sailor at Salve Regina University in Newport. She has sailed WASZPs since 2018. She’s traveled the circuit of regattas, having sailed on Lake Garda in Italy where 150 WASZPs swarmed the starting line. She found the skill and knowledge of European sailors at a notch above those here. 

Although a business administration major, Pearl’s goal is to become a professional sailor. She is already coaching and teaming up to do regattas. Yet she deems her younger brother JP, who is 17, as the one to watch. She rattles off youth sailing titles he’s won and says he’s being closely followed by those tuned into the sport. 

One of Pearl’s goals is to get more women to sailing in this country, and to introduce them to foil sailing. 

“Once you start foiling there’s no way you’re going to stop,” she says. While prepared – Pearl wore a helmet and impact vest on June 10 – she can think of only one collision and that was a minor one when crossing tacks with another WASZP. She was relatively new to the boat and she figures the competitor who hit her was even less experienced. 

The WASZP, as compared to a Moth, is an affordable and practical boat. Also a mono hull, the Moth is tricked out for higher speed and is undergoes perpetual revision requiring upgrades to remain competitive. Pearl put the cost of a Moth at $35,000 to $50,000 whereas the WASZP is $15,000 or less. 

For past EYC Commodore George Shuster, who ran one of the support boats for the regatta, hosting a national event is more than a privilege. In this case he sees it as reviving high tech sailing to the Providence River. EYC has been a magnet for competitive sailing for decades but not a locus for cutting edge class (boats of all the same design and make) racing like that of the WASZP. 

So how does Edgewood Yacht Club end up hosting the nationals for a class of sailboats of which there are only a few in these parts? 

Oddly, to a degree, the answer is the pandemic. Lee’s son, Henry, is an avid sailor and during the pandemic looked to learn how to foil. As his father tells the story, he found a used WASZP and started teaching himself before connecting with All American Sailor and Brown graduate Charlie Enright of Bristol. Enright coached Henry and once Henry took to sailing the WASZP he connecting with the class. He and his father entertained the idea of hosting the nationals. 

“I thought we could do it, we have a good crew here,” Lee said of the yacht club. The club runs races pretty much around the year, even in the winter months when it hosts “The Frozen Few,” on Sunday mornings. This is a fleet of Sunfish sailors who brave icy conditions for bragging rights. 

Before committing, Lee flew out to San Francisco in March to race in the WASZP Americas’ Championship and qualifier for SailGP’s Inspire event. From what he saw and learned, Lee felt confident EYC could stage the nationals. The word went out to the class and registrations came in. Apart from Pearl and her brother, the farthest contestant was from Florida who trailered his boat from behind a camper. Lee found housing for many of the competitors. 

Because the boats are so fast, Lee said most races last about 15 minutes although the boats are covering about five miles as the crow flies. In reality the boats are probably covering nearly twice the distance between upwind tacks and downwind jibes. 

The objective, as Pearl points out, is to be on foil as much as possible. 

“If you’re not foiling, you’re not going very fast,” said Lee. 

Pearl and JP’s parents are fully dialed into their kids’ sailing.

Karen and John along with their dog made the trip from Hawaii. Karen accompanied JP to Chicago last week for the SailGP Inspire event. JP competed with 15 other sailors from the United States and Canada who are under 21. The male and female winners will be flown with the winners of each SailGP event circling the globe for the Championship of Champions in San Francisco at the finals for Season 3. The winners of the finals will be offered jobs with their home country team to complete the junior pathway to professional foiling.

Karen equated the SailGP, GP for Grand Pre, foil racing to formula one racing only on the water. She said that on boat cameras and headset microphones on each team catch the action in thrill-packed competition in tight short courses designed for fantastic viewing. Using the free phone app called SailGP, viewers can watch the action from within the boat of their favorite team, the umpire, or the commentator. With a $1 million purse going to the winning team, the competition is intense and the athletes take risks that provide an exhilarating show.

Karen sees the road to the high tech foil sailing as the O’pen Skiff. In Hawaii, there is a fleet of about 15 WASZPs, two of which are club boats, and equally the newest addition to the 2024 Olympics the foiling windsurfer called the iQFoil. She believes if kids were taught to sail on skiffs rather than Opti boats, they would more easily transition into performance boats like the 29er skiffs and foilers. She attributes the success of Hawaii’s foilers to their start on the O’pen Skiff which challenges their boat handing, and builds a love for the sport that lasts a lifetime.

JP won the WASZP national championship hosted by Edgewood. In an unusual occurrence three boats including Pearl were tied for third place based on their points at the end of the regatta. In such cases, placement is determined on the basis of the final race that put Pearl in fifth place.

In Chicago last week, JP placed third.

He now returns to Newport where he is searching out companies that may want to buy a panel for advertising on his next boat, a Beaker Moth. If successful in finding some funding, he is off to Garda for Foil Week from June 28 to July 3 where Russell Coutts will help him get going on his new boat. Russell’s son, Mattias Coutts, is going with his Beaker and the boys haven’t seen each other since Feb. 2020 in NZ.

“The rest of the summer will be more focused on IQFoil with Jr Olympic training camps and regattas in Hawaii and San Francisco. In August, he will race with Team USA in the Jr. World Championships in Silvaplana, Switzerland,” Karen wrote in an email.

Edgewood Yacht Club, WASZP