Philippine Hobie Challenge showcases the joy of sailing
MANILA, Philippines - Bruce “Tards” Tardrew, aged 71, knows his sailing, having been on the water since he was 18 years old. Tardrew has competed in innumerable events all over the world and won a 55-years-old-and-above Hobie Cat world title 10 years ago. But the Aussie holds the Philippine Hobie Challenge in a special place in his heart.
“For me it's the best race in the world. The Philippines has the absolute best cruising grounds. The islands are stunning. I have seen over 200 islands here, more than most Filipinos,” he says.
“There are good trade winds and the people are wonderful.”
Tardrew is competing again, and although he has finished runner-up an astonishing 7 times without ever winning, his ardor for the competition has not waned.
The Brisbane native is half of one of 21 teams figuring in this year's event, of which five are Filipino and 16 are foreign.
Hobie Cats are twin-hulled, (catamaran), fiberglass sailboats that are popular all over the world. Some will bring their own equipment like sails, but the 16-foot long Hobies are all from here, since this is a single-class race. While some smaller Hobies are meant to be sailed by one person, the 16-footer is designed for a team of two.
The race will take over a week, concluding on February 19. The protagonists will start in Nasugbu, Batangas, snake below Lubang Island, maneuver around Occidental Mindoro to Apo reef, race southwest to Coron, then finish up in South Cay, Busuanga. The entire race encompasses over 200 nautical miles. There will be stays at luxury resorts on some nights but on others the sailors will be sleeping rough on isolated islands.
You can see a map of the course here.
The race is a timed event, with the boat with the fastest cumulative time over all the legs winning.
Safety is paramount, and motorized safety boats will be shepherding the contestants throughout the race. The teams will be armed with technology, like handheld GPS devices. The wind will play a factor, as always. Too little and progress becomes impossible. Too much, and the boat is in danger.
Alex Chen from Taiwan is doing his seventh PHC. He whips out his smartphone and shows an app with a map outlining the winds, which tend to blow southwesterly. There are different colors for the different wind speeds.
The green color, about 15 knots, is very good, according to him. The orange, close to 20 knots, is “exciting.”
Then he points to the red areas on the corner, about 30 knots or more.
“This is very terrible,” he intones in a thick Chinese accent with a smile.
Danger is always present in sailing but Geoff Rowdon, another Aussie sailing this year, says it's all part of the experience.
“I love the danger of being in the elements. You can get lost, get hypothermia, the boat can break up. But I love battling the elements, the wind and the water.”
Each boat will have a GPS tracker, and I'm told that the organizers will not hesitate to postpone or cancel any legs if the weather gets dicey. It helps that the seacraft involved is so well-regarded.
“The Hobie is a safe, strong boat that has stood the test of time,” says Rowdon. The 2015 champ has tried many other types of boat but “always comes back to the Hobie.”
The appeal of Hobie sailing, and sailing in general, is spread out among many factors. Rowdon loves the navigation aspect. Monchu Garcia, another participant, appreciates the family-oriented nature of the event. He has two different partners for the race, his daughter Bianca and his son Diego. For many it's the visiting so many different breathtaking spots in the Philippines.
But there is another dimension of the PHC that makes it unique. The race participants like to help out the largely poor communities that they come into contact with.
Jerry Rollins of the Philippine Inter-island Sailing Federation or PHINSAF, says the contestants will donate solar-powered lanterns to locals along the route supplied by the Renewable Energy Enterprises Foundation or REEF. They will also help build public toilets and showers in one stop as well.
The amount of outreach supplies for this year's race is enough for one pickup truck as is evidenced by this pic.
Sailing in the Philippines could be on the uptrend, if you ask Garcia.
“Scuba diving was popularized here by foreigners now many Filipinos are into it. Sailing could be the next scuba diving,” claims Garcia.
“We are the Carribbean of the Pacific. You can't imagine how many foreign sailboats come here. If you really want to see this country, go sailing.”
Is sailing just a pursuit for the super-wealthy? The participants might beg to differ. Rowdon is a refrigeration mechanic back home in Australia, and he says he “saves his pennies” to sail. Garcia says that Lake Taal is a Mecca for sailing, where sailboats can be rented for a reasonable price, and that after 4 or 5 lessons you should be ready to sail.
Neither do you have to be an elite athlete to engage in this pastime. One former participant, Mark Haswell, weighed in excess of 300 pounds but has finished as high as third in the event.
Sailing is also suitable for any age. Tardrew has sailed with his granddaughter, who is 8 years old.
The teams are all out to chase the victory, but for many, the simple joy of getting out into the water is more than enough. Garcia tells it best.
“One year in the Hobie challenge we were becalmed off Negros. No wind. We couldn't sail. Then suddenly a whole bunch of Dolphins appears from nowhere, just dancing and playing around. It almost brought tears to my eyes.” – Rappler.com
Follow Bob on Twitter @PassionateFanPH
Like the Philippine Hobie Challenge Facebook page here.