Three hours before the kick-off of the Musket Cove Regatta Week, the sky lowered and ushered in the first heavy rain of the season. The rain came so hard that it spouted from the scuppers like a fire hose. It did not bode well for the evening’s festivities.
Yet the organizers of the regatta must live right as the clouds pulled back in time for the opening ceremonies to roll on. By the light of flaming torches, the sponsors kicked the evening off with free rum punch and Heineken to get the cruisers in the mood which was followed by some very impressive traditional music and dance (meke) by the resort dance troupe. Female Fijian dance is quite restrained, but the male dancers -- muscled, bare-chested and in grass skirts and fringed with leaves – dance stylized war dances to a throbbing drumbeat with clubs and sticks and aggressive shouts. Accented by strobe lighting and a little man-made fog, I’m surprised the show didn’t drive the little kids screaming from the front line!
The meke was followed by national anthems from all the participants – New Zealand, Australia, England, France, Italy, Norway, Germany, Canada and the United States, followed by the Fijian anthem (quite long) sung by the Fijian-based sailors and the staff. None of us held a candle to the musicality of the Fijians, for whom song is an everyday part of life, but I will say we Americans, making up about a third of the entrants, acquitted ourselves relatively well. All this was followed by a good buffet.
Saturday brought the Pirate’s Day Race to
During the windless motor I had whipped up an eleventh hour entry in the “Figurehead competition” – Joshua (the Teddy bear) in his pirate bandana with Don’s fillet knife as his cutlass embracing a can of Fiji Gold astride an inflatable flamingo on the bow pulpit. Pretty cute. But by the time we approached Beachcombers, the wind began to pipe up -- on the nose, of course -- whipping the flat seas into a 2’ chop. Our “figurehead” pretty well fell to pieces, Don’s fillet knife -- but NOT Joshua --falling into the briny deep!
Oh well, by the time we reached the finish line, the finish line judge had given up and gone to shore, so there was no one to judge us! By the time we were finally picked up by Beachcomber’s tenders, we’d pretty much missed all the beach events. We did not miss the excellent lunch buffet, but we gathered our crew (Jane of Lionheart and Lee and Jan of La Boheme) after the last bite to get a head start back else we might not have reached our mooring before sunset! (And could we sail back? Nay, nay. The afternoon wind swung 180* and was yet again on the nose!)
On Sunday the racing switched from big boats to Hobie Cats. Don actually started his sailing career on one of these 20-25 years ago, so of course, we signed up. Musket Cove has fleet of Hobie 16s (with modified shoal draft rudders) for the resort guests, so the heats were run as match races. The wind once again was very light, and after our discouraging performance Saturday on our heavyweight boat, Don and I had very little hope for our heavyweight selves. So it was a pleasant surprise when, after nipping at the heels of our competitors the whole way round the course, Don opted for a different final-leg strategy than the leaders and we handily won our heat!
In the afternoon, the big event was a cruiser swap meet. Don and I looked at this as a great opportunity to continue our hard-hearted getting-rid-of-stuff campaign. We took ashore everything from clothes to videocassettes to food to parts, and came back with very little of it as well as a few $ in our pocket! Can you believe it, people paid to take this stuff away! The biggest surprise of the session was the snapping up of four very short skirts by one Fijian lady after another!
That evening we hosted a pot-luck cocktail gathering by and for SSCA members and recruits. The SSCA is an international organization of cruisers about 10,000 strong, to which Don and I have belonged for many years. They are best known for their monthly Bulletin, written by and for active cruisers, which is full of real practical information you don’t find in other publications. This Bulletin is now available online (www.sssca.org), and I had the computer ashore so people could check out SSCA’s new website. Most of the cruisers who attended we had gotten to know during the previous weeks here, but there were several new faces. I managed to get six Associate Members to upgrade to Commodore status and handed out new membership applications to another half-dozen. It was a fun time.
Monday - “Fun Race” to Namotu
I’m not sure these two captains believe that racing is ever fun. After Saturday’s frustrating outing, Don and I bowed to the reality that neither we nor Tackless II are really cut out for it (certainly not until we get a bottom job!), and so, for Monday’s “Fun Race” to Namotu, we jumped ship to crew aboard our friends Tom and Bette Lee’s catamaran Quantum Leap. Quantum Leap, a St. Francis 51, is a big boat. In addition to her length, she stands high off the water, which makes not only for lots of head room inside, but a quieter ride underway. Tom and Bette Lee had the boat built for them in
Today there was just enough wind to make real racing a possibility, so despite the cringing of the women as Tom squeezed the 26’ wide boat through the pack at the start line, we wereall determined to give it the old college try. The moment we rounded the first mark, out came the red and blue spinnaker, and given a little elbow room, the big boat gradually gained on the leaders. However, as we approached the second mark, another catamaran, a Leopard 50 called Camissa, started to play chicken with us. I suppose these shenanigans are part of the fun of it for real racers, but we cruiser-pretenders just found it irritating, especially when, after screwing us up and causing us to lose ground, they ended up motoring in the windward leg! Not Tom. Determined to sail across the finish line, we tacked that sucker six times. My job was to run the genoa around from side to side, making for a sort of nautical step aerobics.
Tuesday morning brought the next rounds of the Hobie Cat matches. We had very little hope as we were matched in the second round against the stars of the regatta, Bill and Julie of the Kiwi catamaran Synchronicity. The wind was still ridiculously light, and though we gave it our all and dogged their heels the whole way around, they not surprisingly left us in the dust at the end. The good news is we had fun and are thinking ahead to some Hobie rentals back in
We were a tad more optimistic about the afternoon golf tournament, since we’d at least swung a few golf clubs in the States last year and played a round the previous week. Our foursome was comprised of our young friends Tricky and Jane of Lionheart, and we were up against eight other teams. Boy, I can tell you a scramble is the only way to play golf! There’s no time nor need to brood over your crappy shots. Don enjoyed a particularly good day, and together our foursome came in only one stroke behind the winning team!
The evening BBQ closed the day with an “essay” contest for the women on “Why I hate sailing,” which brought some funny performances. If the subject had been why I hate "racing", I might have partook.
Wednesday’s race – The Round Malolo Race – is the most serious race of the Regatta, and this time there was wind. Lots of it. Probably 15-20+ knots. All over the anchorage, serious race boats were lightening the load, clearing their decks and dumping anchors and chain as well as excess gear into their dinghies! Yikes!
For the Malolo Race we were invited to sail with Sid and Viv aboard the monohull Freedom Hunter, along with our friend Rachel of Apogee (enticed out from the Vuda boat yard for a few days by Tricky and Jane) and Sid and Viv’s guest Kathy. We first met Sid, a circumnavigator who now sails seasonally from
Viv, however, is a new recruit to sailing who has so far avoided any major passages, so it was her first experience of any serious heeling. Poor Viv was clearly not sure which was more alarming, feeling Freedom Hunter heel over under the press of the wind or watching all the boats crisscrossing all around us dip their rails and show their bottom paint! Quite honestly, I found both a little alarming myself.
Just to make life a little more exciting, when Sid cuilt the boat, he made some unusual choices in equipping her. Unlike 99% of boats with a wheel, Freedom Hunter does not steer like a car. That is, if you want to turn right, you must turn the wheel to the left (like a tiller!) This would be unnerving enough to a volunteer helmsman in everyday conditions, but for Don in the melee before the race start it was terrifying. Sid also has the old style winches where you crank with one hand and tail with the other (or someone else does) instead of self-tailers like we have that grip the line for you. To counter this inconvenience, he has an elaborate system of jam cleats and cam locks, which are great once you learn the system, but mighty tough on newbie crew. It was a fast learning curve for Don and me – in the 20 minutes before the start!
The race proved pretty exciting. Almost all the racers were over-canvassed, and there was no stopping to take a reef. In the first stretch the little Italian monohull Libertee was so over-powered, her rudder would come clear out of the water when she'd heel over in a gust, causing her to go nearly on her beam ends before rounding up. We watched the unsettling spectacle six times before we were able to scoot past on her leeward side. Don and I were kept quite busy easing and taking in main and genoa sheets in response to those gusts (no way were either of us taking that crazy helm in race conditions!) On the reach down the backside of the island, Freedom Hunter maintained a steady 8.1 knots , even with a reefed genoa, a blistering speed from our point of view! Kathy and Rachel had a great ride on the upwind rail, and they finally coaxed Viv out on deck with them, where I think she eventually began to enjoy herself. Although the serious guys up front popped spinnakers on the downwind run, we made do with letting out the rest of the genoa, before having to furl it back in on the final beat in to the finish line. Freedom Hunter completed the fourteen-mile circuit in a mere two hours and fifteen minutes! The winner – the cat Synchronicity -- however, made it in just one 1 hour 35 minutes!
The final day of the Regatta started with the semi-finals and finals of the Hobie matches. Several friends of ours reached this point, including Tricky and Jane, so we were on the beach to cheer despite the black sky and roiling, thunderous clouds creeping ominously towards Musket from the southeast. It took that sky and those clouds to finally bring the breeze to the beach that these Hobie so love and give us some exciting races. Before we knew it the semis were over, and it was Tricky and Jane in the final against the Synchronicity stars!
Unfortunately, some last minute fussing over the boats allowed the last of the squall-generated wind to blow on by, so that the finals – best two out of three – took place at the same snail’s pace of the first rounds. There were times when both boats seem to come to an actual standstill – very anticlimactic for the crowd. Still, Tricky and Jane did very well, leading the rounds much of the time, but first once, and then again, Bill and Julie’s experienced teamwork gave them the edge in the final crawl to the finish line.
The Awards Ceremony
Much like the opening night, the finale of the Regatta was threatened by bad weather, yet once again it backed off enough that the awards feast could go on. The resort had set up a bar and tables for a crowd of 350 under tents on the bach alongside their regular restaurant, and the dress code for the night was sarongs, sulus and “bula” shirts, so that crowd was quite colorful. Also like opening night, the sponsors sprang for free rum punch and beer, and the buffet of roast pig and all the fixings was scrumptious (actually, whoever makes the soups here -- tonight's choice was seafood or pumpkin -- is definitely their best chef!). The resort’s band of three guitarists provided a background mix of Fijian and American rock tunes throughout the evening, and we were treated to more meke, which this time included several dances by two lovely Polynesian girls (much more fun for the men) and some very impressive fire-dancing by a gifted Samoan ten-year-old!
The race awards pretty much all went to Synchronicity. In truth, the sweep couldn’t have been effected by a nicer couple. In their first year of full-time cruising, Bill and Julie – like many of the catamarans – have their young family aboard, and the maturity of these boat kids is a great advertisement for bringing up a family on a boat. Fortunately, there were lots of second and third place awards in many categories, so Tricky and Jane came home with a pile of loot – two Vodaphone cell phones (complete with prepaid SIM cards!), golf shirts and a mini keg of Heineken -- for their second place finish in the Hobie races. Several very nice prizes were also awarded randomly, but the luck of the numbers was not with us, and, as Don said, we weren’t forced to bring home any more unwanted junk. The night ran late with lots of drinking and dancing, and these two captains fell into bed just about midnight. It was a great week, but we are glad it is OVER!
Labels: Musket Cove