Report, Pics and Video From Ronnie Simpson

Nadi, Fiji - The 36th annual Fiji Regatta Week - Fiji’s largest annual regatta - has drawn to a conclusion after six days of yacht racing, parties, seminars and more. One of the largest racing and cruising regattas in the South Pacific, 2019 was once again very well attended with just over 100 yachts and 380 sailors participating in at least some portion of the regatta. Representing more than twenty countries on six different continents, the regatta had an incredibly diverse fleet ranging in size from a little 26-foot sloop from California all the way up to a handful of catamarans and monohulls in the 60 to 75 foot range.

The first day of racing to nearby Beachcomber Island was held on Saturday 14 September in completely glassy conditions and zero wind, as a trough of low-pressure between two highs settled over the region bringing uncharacteristically grey skies and light winds. “In many ways, the conditions were actually perfect for today’s race, not for a sailing race maybe, but yesterday it was blowing 35 knots through here and a lot of boats were talking about not coming out today. We’re quite happy for the wind to be light today”, commented event sponsor Bruce Fuller of Seapower Marine in Opua, New Zealand.

With the light conditions of Saturday sticking around through Sunday, the first day of the Bay of Islands Marina Hobie Cat Challenge was also a light-air affair. Paddling was legal in the first round of racing as nearly 40 races were held in light to non-existent winds. While the morning’s racing tended to have breeze, the afternoon’s racing turned into a full-on paddle event as teams sent one sailor to the front of the leeward hull to paddle their 16-foot Hobie while the other steered and trimmed the sails to take advantage of any breeze. “You can’t dampen these people’s spirits”, commented event sponsor Russell Carlyon of Port Opua in Opua, New Zealand. “As a cruising yachtsman you have to take it rain, hail or shine, and these people are all here in Fiji having a good time on the water. We got through 38 races today, and we’ll be into it for the next few days. There’s a good bit of breeze expected to fill in for tomorrow’s racing.”

That forecast proved to be accurate as Monday saw reinforced southeast tradewinds filling back in for the second day of the Bay of Islands Marina Hobie Cat challenge as well as the Bay of Islands Boatyard Sandbank Race. With breeze topping out in the 30-knot range just outside the lagoon and 20+ knots inside, it was full-on for the little Hobie Cats as boats were capsizing and pitch-poling all over the course. Fortunately, the boats and the sailors on them emerged without injury. At 11 AM sharp, close to thirty boats and two intrepid kite boarders took the start of what would be the first actual race for the big boats. Starting inside of Musket Cove, it was quite a sight to see the fleet sailing out through a narrow cut in the reef. As soon as the fleet exited the reef they hardened up on a long port tack beat before having to throw in a handful of tacks to reach the top mark, some four miles away near the famous surfing waves of Namotu Island. At the top mark, it was the Craig Schionning-designed Spirited 480 ROAM who rounded first, followed closely by the Finot-Conq designed FC53 monohull Nica. A few minutes behind them, the custom cruising cat Kapai rounded in third. The lengthened Open 60 NV looked poised to round in fourth, but just managed to under stand the mark and had to throw in two tacks allowing the German-flagged Hanse performance cruiser Seaside to slip by.

Once headed downhill, the longer, lighter Open 66 lit the afterburners and moved into third place while ROAM and Nica continued their match race at the head of the fleet. Entering the reef pass nearly overlapped, ROAM overtook Nica in the pass and continued to show impressive height and speed sailing upwind to extend on the all-carbon Finot-Conq monohull to the finish. “That was actually our first big boat race with the boat”, commented ROAM’s owner, skipper and builder Michael Hoult of Hobart, Tasmania. “We’ve put close to 35,000 miles on the boat… since launching her after a six-year build… but that was our first race with ROAM.” Second-place skipper Gorm Gondesen of Nica added, “Conditions were really perfect for a yacht race. It was very windy, but the competition was close and it was a fantastic event. For a northern European, it is just amazing to be sailing upwind in 25 knots while wearing shorts and a t-shirt!”.

The afternoon’s Hobie cat racing was cancelled due to too much wind. The wind backed off over night which created spectacular racing and sailing conditions on Tuesday morning in moderate winds before the finals were completed in very light conditions at sunset on Tuesday. Taking out the win, not for the first time, was Rod and Kerry Waterhouse of Sydney, Australia. Parents to Olympic silver medallist and America’s Cup sailor Jason Waterhouse, the Australian couple has won several notable Hobie Cat regattas and will soon be competing at the 2019 Hobie 16 Worlds in Captiva, Florida to be held in November. “This is an event that holds a special place in our hearts”, the couple explained. “We’ve been coming here and doing the Hobie Cat regatta at Fiji Regatta Week since the mid-90’s. In fact when Jason was just three years old he sailed in this regatta!”. With several young children sailing as crew for their parents, one can only imagine what those young sailors will go on to accomplish in their sailing careers.

Wednesday morning saw the final day of racing in the 2019 Fiji Regatta Week with the Marsden Cove Marina Around Malolo Classic. Again, nearly thirty boats took the start of the race that takes sailors nearly thirty nautical miles around Malolo and Malolo Lailai islands. With light west to northwest winds, the fleet sailed north alongside a reef before exiting the reef and sailing clockwise around the island. Andrew Rhodes and his crew took an early lead on the Tim Clissold-designed Open 8.5 meter catamaran Miss Minnie, owned by the local charter fleet Coral Cats of Fiji. With a small, very light catamaran it looked to be game over for the cruising boats but the Schionning-designed Spirited 480 ROAM again showed impressive pace to grind down Miss Minnie. Swapping the lead no fewer than four times, ROAM tacked further offshore on the final leg while Miss Minnie hugged the coast towards the finish and this proved to be the decisive move. Ghosting across the line in winds that had died down to just six to eight knots, ROAM made it a clean sweep of the Fiji Regatta Week, claiming line honors in both of the big boat races. Third over the line and first monohull to finish was the Open 66 NV.

A well attended awards dinner was held at Dick’s Place restaurant, named after Musket Cove Resort and Marina founder and Fiji Regatta Week creator Dick Smith. Smith created this regatta in 1982 as a means of getting more yachts to engage in cruising Fiji and the South Pacific. With the majority of the event sponsors coming from Fiji and from the marine industry in the Northland of New Zealand, the regatta has maintained it’s core values of being about fun, inclusion and getting yachts to cruise through Fiji and the South Pacific.

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