The day started with a briefing for the first leg from Hilton Resort, Denarau to Mana Island Resort, a distance of 30 Km in a straight line. The best laid plans and expectations for a downwind run to Mana went out the window as did the planned downwind start. With the start-line set, and the wind swinging from a easterly direction to north west within 15 minutes, a quick decision resulted in an upwind start and the fleet got away in a light eight knot breeze. The fleet quickly spread out with half opting to tack away early, and Murray Peterson (Aust), Fish (Fiji), Mike Montague (USA), Blair Wallace (USA) and several others opting to continue along the south west and bang the corner.
This turned out to be the better option as the wind filled in from that side of the course first and the boats on that side after nearly an hour of creeping along at 5-6 knots found themselves in a steady 12 knot breeze, gusting to 14-15 at times. These boats made good use of the breeze and a nice reach directly towards Mana. Mike, who was looking pretty famous for a while, went a little too far before tacking and found himself in the wind shadow of Malolo Island and confronted by several reefs, that required some back tracking and quickly fell back as the others reached brisk away directly for the finish line, 10 Km ahead. Murray and crew, Haylee Williams, took good advantage of their jumpstart and crossed the finish-line first, closely followed by Phil Smythe of Western Australia. Fish finished third and Blair forth. The young New Caledonian youth girl team (Johanna Adams and Amelie Guillemaille) managed some good speed to finish in the top 10 in the fleet of 19 boats.
Everyone is looking forward to its second day tomorrow, with winds forecast to be much the same, 10 to 14 knots, expecting another long-distance Challenge leg.
Day 2 had all the sailors kitted up and sitting on the beach at 9.30 am … having a clear view of why tourists love to visit Fiji in the winter – crystal clear water, coconut trees and 2 knots of breeze. Lots of story telling on the beach and a postponement to break for lunch … the reconvening at 2 pm saw 5 knots of breeze, and so it was off the beach and a downwind start in 7 knots. A shortened course due to the late start saw the fleet quickly spread out with a lead pack of Murray and Haylee (Aust), Blair and Sasha (USA), Mike and Kathy (USA), Fish and Michaela (Fiji/USA), and Ray and Heather (Aust/USA). A ducks-in-a-row situation soon developed with Fish opting to run low, anticipating the lead five to sail into the shadow of the high island ahead (Castaway), but bad mistake! Turned out that those sailing close to the island got a nice lift and spat Fish out the back door. The lead group rounded the turning mark, dubbed Paris Hilton Island, and turned for home, leaving Fish to double tack.
A gentle run home in 6 knots, close encounter with a fast-drying reef saw the final run up the channel led by Blair, closely followed by Murray, Mike, Phil Smyth and Kieran Smyth (W Aust), and the New Caledonian youth team of Gaëlle Ravenel and Luc Enee.
Tomorrow’s forecast is for light winds, and so a decision has been made to insert a lay day ahead of forecasted 12-14 knots the following day. The lay day will see some fishing and snorkelling … and visit/picnic to one of the nearby spectacular island beaches.
Day 3 – Picnic Day, Saturday 18th Aug
With the winds light as predicted, it was decided to have a lay day; so we all boarded our mother-support-boat, the Aristocat, and headed out to a lovely sandy beach. Some people went snorkelling while others enjoyed sunbaking. At lunchtime, the Fiji Hobie boys brought ashore lunch for everyone to enjoy. Then, after lunch, we all boarded the Aristocat to explore another reef that surrounded a sand bar for more snorkelling in the beautiful clear Fiji waters. When everyone was tired … we headed back to our Mana Island home for more R & R …
It was really nice for the teams to enjoy themselves outside of sailing. The more adventurous kids particularly loved jumping off the Aristocat into the crystal-clear waters!
Day 4 – TOTAL Fiji Hobie Challenge, Sunday 19th Aug (Around The Rock, Monu Island)
The Challenge commenced in the Mana Island lagoon with light wind to take us through the narrow channel before we turned northwest to head out to Monu Island. We reached Monu which we rounded to port with winds strengthening to double trap conditions for an upwind sail home. After tacking over to a starboard tack, sailing was spectacular through brilliant turquoise blue ponds; after which the winds and waves built up as we sailed outside the reef. The teams that were accustomed to the challenging conditions did very well and the first place finishing for the day were Murray and Haylee, stretching out the lead, followed by Blair and Sasha.
Day 5 – TOTAL Fiji Hobie Challenge, Monday 20th Aug (Mana – Funky Fish)
Day 5 of the event and leg 3 of the TOTAL Fiji Hobie Challenge. It was packed bags, farewell to Mana Island and a nice start towards Funky Fish Beach Resort (Malolo Island) via the Paris Hilton Gap. The fleet set off in a gentle seven knots and within an hour, the wind dropped to barely two knots. Little scattered squirts of four knots and with drooping tell tails, the fleet meandered north, south, east and west, trying to find any whisper of breeze. This saw a multitude of right and wrong decisions across the fleet with everybody at various times finding themselves on the right or the wrong side. The fleet drifted towards the Paris Hilton Gap where Mike and Kathy (USA), from the position well to the rear took the suicide gamble and sailed into the sheltered shoreline, picked up a shoreline breeze and smoked the entire fleet. Several other boats on that side of the course recognised what was happening and followed suit, leaving Fish and the others stranded in the drift zone.
Net result was that Mike and Kathy were the first cross the finish line, recovering much of the time lost during their disastrous first day. Second were Ray & Heather (Aust/USA), closely followed by Queenslanders Murray and Haylee. The remaining fleet eventually arrived safely at Funky Fish.
Day 6 – BSP Oceania Championship, Tuesday 21st Aug (Inside Cloud Nine Lagoon)
The first day of inshore racing inside Cloud Nine Lagoon saw the fleet arrive at the start-line in a 10-12 knot breeze and flat water. After one false start, which saw the entire fleet continue on having missed the recall, only to be stopped short by the race controller, Azza … when they arrived at first gate … a nice practice run.
The first real race got away nicely as the winds picked up and gradually settled in at 17 knots, gusting to 20 for the three races. The second and third races saw some casualties with both Mike and Ray breaking jib carts and having to retire. The three races were completed in fairly flat water considering the wind speed … making the day’s sailing the best of the series thus far. Everybody retired to the beach tired and happy to repair broken tillers, trap wires, jib carts and to move to Funky Fish for Fiji rum sundowners.
Day 7 – South Pacific Youth Championship, Wednesday 22nd August
The light wind conditions didn’t make it easy for the teams visiting from New Caledonia, but they did very well nevertheless. Gaëlle Ravenel and Luc Enee finished consistently first while Luan Le-Boudec and Matyss Bouyer needed the first race to warm up, and thereafter finished second place in the following races.
Sailing inside the Cloud Nine Lagoon was still spectacular with the brilliant aquatic blue waters …
Day 8 – TOTAL Fiji Hobie Challenge, Thursday 23rd August
Another light wind sailing day for the Challenge leg that ran from Funky Fish Resort on Malolo Island to Beachcomber Island didn’t turn out so bad after all … especially for Ray Cox and Heather Mathews (Aust/USA) who decided very early upon examination of the conditions to start at the pin end of the start-line and go wide along the inside of the outer barrier reef. The gamble certainly paid off as most of the fleet that had sailed in the inner lagoon watched them seemingly fly across the horizon. The few boats that followed them around also did very well and the finish line at Beachcomber saw Ray and Heather first, New Caledonian team Gaël Warter and Nicolas Baucher second, and Murray and Haylee (Aust) third.
Day 9 – TOTAL Fiji Hobie Challenge, Friday 24th August. Beachcomber – Navini – Treasure – Beachcomber
Day 9 started off with a light 2-3 knots and flat glassy calm conditions and a forecast for 12 knots at 12 O’ clock. The decision was made to for those who wanted to depart for the excellent snorkelling areas surrounding Beachcomber. Most of the fleet joined in the snorkelling expedition, but a fair proportion of younger sailors (and a few old) that had partied hard the night before chose to return to bed after breakfast to recharge their batteries, ready for the afternoon sail.
The snorkelling expedition were rewarded by the sightings of several sea turtles, protected lobsters, a couple of spotted eagle rays and all the local inhabitants of the island reefs. Back to the shore at 11 O’ clock to rig up boats and have an early lunch as the promised 12 knots arrived.
By the time the race started at 1 O’ clock, a solid 15-18 knots had kicked in and the first leg was a one-hour punch upwind to Navini Island. Although the first leg was only one hour, it was pretty hard work, and the fleet was glad to make the rounding and commence thrilling downwind surf to round Treasure Island for the short upwind run to the finish.
Murray and Haylee (Aust) were just pipped on the finish line by Mike and Kathy (USA), closely followed by the star New Caledonian youth team of Gaëlle Ravenel and Luc Enee.
Tomorrow is the last day of course racing for the BSP Oceania Championship, which is going to be interesting given the forecast of 20 to 25 knots!! The race committee will be monitoring the situation to ensure safe sailing or a day off, if necessary.
Day 10 – BSP Oceania Championship Races, 25 Aug
Day 10 and the last day of the BSP Oceania Championship races saw the fleet line up outside Beachcomber Island with the intention of getting a bit of shelter from the forecast 20 knots. A relatively short course was set with a few obstacles to test the patience and the four races were held in dropping winds of about 12-15 knots. Although the course was short, it required multiple tacks to avoid the reefs, but it made for some thinking and some frustrations.
The last leg of the Fiji Challenge in the morning with a forecast of 20 knots and a 20 Km upwind beat … gonna be interesting!
Day 11 – TOTAL Fiji Hobie Challenge, Sunday 26th August. Beachcomber – Hilton
The final day of the Challenge and with expectations of 18-20 knots on the nose for the last leg from Beachcomber Island to Hilton on Denarau (mainland), the fleet lined up early after checkout and were surprised by a gentle 10 knots as they got away.
Given the accuracy of previous forecasts, the course was set to take the most direct route to the finish at the Hilton Beach. The fleet quickly split into two groups with Mike, Fish, Ray, Murray, Gaël, and Blair opting to run south in the expectation of picking up the better breeze. The rest of the fleet took the less adventurous direct, slow line.
The first group continuing south with expectations of improved wind and concentrating on staying ahead of each other, failed to notice a severe wind change at the back of the fleet and the second half of the fleet driving directly for the finish line, 18 Km away, as they themselves did multiple tacks in their quest for the southeast wind that never came.
Net result was that the half of the fleet who had gone in search of the heavier breeze realised far too late that the “slower” boats had managed to cut inside them. It was not until half way through the race that it became apparent that “slow” boats had successfully picked up the wind that drove them directly to the finish line, spitting all the “faster” boats out the back door.
A new record of one hour and twenty minutes was set for the time differential between first and last boat in a Challenge Leg, and this caused a massive upset at the top of the table. Fortunately for the prevailing leaders, Murray and Haylee, the resulting upset did not displace them from their first position, but the prevailing second and third positions were overtaken by new two boats, Ben King and Mel Flux, and Saimoni Naura and Jeke, much to their jubilation.
Fiji Hobie Challenge
Written by Deborah Sue