The 36th annual Fiji Regatta Week — Fiji’s largest annual regatta — has drawn to a close after six days of yacht racing, parties, seminars and more. One of the largest racing and cruising regattas in the South Pacific, 2019’s edition attracted just over 100 yachts and 380 sailors. Representing more than 20 countries on six continents, the regatta had an incredibly diverse fleet ranging in size from a little 26-ft sloop from California all the way up to a handful of catamarans and monohulls in the 60- to 75-ft range.
Both geographically and calendar-wise, the regatta is quite ideally located for many West Coast sailors who are cruising the South Pacific after the Baja Ha-Ha and the Pacific Puddle Jump. It’s a mainstay on the cruising calendar for many American, Australian and New Zealand-based yachts. The majority of the sponsors come from the New Zealand marine industry. Musket Cove Resort and Marina founder Dick Smith of New Zealand created the regatta to encourage more foreign yachts to cruise through the region.
“After doing the Ha-Ha and the Puddle Jump, I made it to Fiji and just fell in love with the place. I’ve gone back and forth to New Zealand a few times, but this is my fourth season in Fiji,” explains 2015 Baja Ha-Ha veteran Jose Miguel Castello of the San Francisco-based Beneteau 423 Carthago. “The people, the incredible surfing, the crystal-clear water… Fiji is paradise,” Castello added.
“We just came through the Panama Canal about five months ago and crossed to French Polynesia in April,” said Jamie Leitner of the Cairns, Australia-based Leopard 62 More Amare. “Fiji has been a great spot to meet other cruising yachties and to enjoy some fun in the sun before ending this dream run and heading home for cyclone season.”
Mick and Liss Hoult’s Craig Schionning-designed Spirited 480 catamaran Roam, took out both of the big-boat races of the week — the Bay of Islands Boatyard Sandbank Race and the Marsden Cove Marina Around Malolo Classic — but not without some serious competition. In the first race, Roam had a close battle from start to finish with Gorm and Maren Gondesen’s German-flagged Finot-Conq-designed FC53 racer/cruiser monohull Nica. Third over the line was the Millett family’s New Zealand-based Open 66 NV, an ex-Vendée Globe racing yacht that has been lengthened from 60 to 66 feet and converted to a cruising boat. In the Around Malolo Race on Wednesday, Roam again claimed line honors, this time over the locally owned Tim Clissold-designed 8.5-meter box rule racing catamaran Miss Minnie, with NV again third, but top monohull.
Rod and Kerry Waterhouse of Sydney, Australia, won the week’s Hobie Cat match-racing event. Their son Jason is an Olympic silver medalist and races in the America’s Cup and SailGP circuits.
Flying to the Bahamas next week to compete in what he says is his most important regatta to date, the 2019 Optimist North American Championships, Tor Svendsen has been killing it on the Opti circuit this past year. He blazed the recent Pacific Coast Championships on the Berkeley Circle, winning four of six races sailed, and has consistently been at the top of the fleet at other Opti events.
Just goes to show, practice makes perfect — Svendsen’s hung with the Opti for some seven years now. At 15, this is his last year in the boat and he’s super-excited about representing the US in Nassau. “It’s my last regatta in this boat and the most important regatta I’ve ever done. I’m just going to do my best and see how well I do,” Svendsen said, with a big happy smile.
A decent performance at the Opti Team Trials held in late April at the California Yacht Club in Marina del Rey earned Svendsen a place on the US National Team. He’s just one of two Opti sailors from the West Coast who will join 21 sailors from around the country also representing the US in the Bahamas. More than 160 junior sailors between the ages of 12 and 15, from more than 20 countries, will race the North Americans, the largest youth regatta in North America and the Caribbean, September 27 to October 4.
Svendsen works with coaches Nico Winograd and Eliza Richartz. In May he attended a US National Team practice in New Jersey, but mainly his training is sailing against other kids. His confidence on the racecourse has really developed over the past year, says Richartz. “The improvement I have seen in him over the past year is recognizing patterns on the water. We discuss them when he comes back to the coach boat. One minute they don’t know anything, then next minute they’re like, ‘Yeah, I saw that shift!'”
Genes may have a part to play in young Svendsen’s love for the sport — in 1963 his grandparents founded Svendsen’s Boat Works in Alameda. His grandfather Svend was an avid and successful sailor/racer, as is Sean Svendsen, his dad. Already Tor is broadening his sailing horizons — just this past summer he’s sailed some 40 days on boats from Lasers to 420s, J/70s, J/105s and Knarrs, and he’s gotten into kiteboarding.
“What we love about sailing (racing) is that it taps into so many disciplines. In this sense the sport mirrors life,” Sean, a very proud dad, commented. “Sailing prepares kids very well for whatever challenges they face elsewhere.”
Tor is optimistic about the conditions he expects to be up against next week. “I think it’s going to be pretty heavy wind in the Bahamas because it’ll be ocean racing, but one of my biggest strengths is heavy breeze because I’m big and I hike hard. I’m excited!”
It’s easy to get complacent about things like a Category 1 hurricane when you’ve recently witnessed, at a distance, the impact of a Category 5. However, if you’re in the path of a Cat 1 or even a tropical storm, complacency is the last thing you want. Hurricane Lorena brushed along the coast south of Banderas Bay with strong winds and rain, and is now approaching Cabo with its Category 1 status. It looks as though it may peel west and weaken but, nonetheless, the impact of the resulting wind, rain and waves could cause damage.
The word from Dick and Gina Markie at Paradise Village Marina in Banderas Bay is all good. Lots of rain from Lorena for a day, but no problems from the wind and waves. We also spoke to the crew at Marina Puerto de la Navidad to the south, who also experienced lots of rain and strong winds but, luckily, said there was no damage.
Now, as Lorena approaches the cape, we know boat owners and harbormasters from Cabo to La Paz are battening down the hatches, preparing for a blow while hoping the whole thing dissipates and slides west. Regardless, as Texans know from the recent 35-plus inches of rain from Hurricane Imelda, charts are one thing, but storms do whatever they like. We’ll keep our fingers crossed for everyone nervously preparing for the arrival of Lorena.
Meanwhile, in the Caribbean, it’s looking like Hurricane Jerry will hopefully stay north of the islands, perhaps just brushing by Anguilla and Barbuda. Fingers crossed there too!
It is a big weekend for the planet — or at least our little slice of it. Today marks the Global Climate Strike and tomorrow is California Coastal Cleanup Day. Greta Thunberg’s sail across the Atlantic to the UN Climate Conference, and her testimony to Congress, has brought attention and renewed activism to the issue of climate change (we saw a sign that read “Make the World Greta Again”). You can join both events before you go off for a pleasant, wind-powered afternoon this weekend. We do miss our Friday beer can racing, but that doesn’t mean we have to miss sailing.
Both events encourage you to bring your refillable water bottle. For the Coastal Cleanup, this seems a little ironic, since Crystal Geyser is a major sponsor. Such is the corporate-sponsored state of our current environmental predicament.
We encourage you to find a beach cleanup site for Saturday morning before you hit the water in the afternoon. The forecast looks ideal after last weekend’s blustery Rolex Big Boat Series.
We’ll see you out there!