by Niamh Byrne
Local hero and Fiji Hobie president Graham Southwick secured line honours on the last day of the Total Fiji Hobie Challenge at the beach at Smugglers Cove, Wailoaloa Bay, Nadi, having overtaken three former world champions ten kilometres out from the finishing line to secure the winning position.
Father & son team of Andrew & Will Mckenzie from Vincentia, NSW, Australia - John Philp (JP)
Now in its eight year, this International event attracts competitors from Australia, New Zealand, USA, Tahiti and Ireland. The overall event was won by Mick Buttler and his 10 year old son Patrick from Australia; a former Hobie World Champion and Australian National Champion. In second place were Australian young guns James Wierzhoswki and Pip Pietromonaco and in third place came Andrew Springford, National Champion from New Zealand crewed by local talent Epeli Droma Lulusago.
A series of five days offshore and inshore racing, The Fiji Hobie Challenge was sailed from The Uprising Resort in Pacific harbour via The Intercontinental Hotel, Natadola sailing to the Mamanucua Islands and finishing in Wailoaloa Bay.
The crews saw all types of conditions from light winds to 35 knot plus gales force winds, heavy seas and severe rain squalls. 'Fiji’s beautiful coastline means we have to deal with numerous reefs and the great swells of the Pacific Ocean and the weather can change at any minute so we need to be prepared for all conditions' said Graham Southwick, the event organiser.
The crews saw epic conditions on the first two days of the challenge with long downwind courses in big seas. 'The Challenge started out a typical sunny morning with light and variable breezes decreasing to zero. The weather proved unpredictable as grey cloud and rains squalls moved over the racing area around Nomoto Island just off Momi, when a major rain squall with over 35Knot winds kicked in. The crews did a great job with fourteen of the fleet finishing the race at Treasure Island, and only two boats requiring assistance and two boats seeking shelter at Musket Cove. The spirit of the race was summed up by Andrew McKenzie picking up Evelyn Curtis who was washed off her boat skippered by Anthony Duchatel. Communications provided by Vodafone Fiji enabled the organisers to keep in touch and ensure all boats were accounted for during the storm.
From Treasure Island until the last day at Wailoloa bay, the racing was inside the reef so the crews experienced flat seas but strong north westerly breezes. These were perfect conditions for the Fiji youth team who partnered with local and international sailors, with Epeli Droma Lulusago bringing local knowledge to help secure third place overall with his New Zealand Skipper Andrew Springford.
The Fiji Youth team is made up of kids from the Jittu Estate in Raiwaqa and Kalekana village in Lami. The Fiji Youth team recently beat off stiff competition to win the Youth Challenge in July 2011 beating New Caledonia, and Wallis and Fortuna.
Grahame Southwick, Fiji Hobie President said ‘This year we were lucky to attract many international sailors of calibre to the Total Fiji Hobie challenge. I would like to thank our lead sponsor Total for their commitment and support in making this year’s event possible, and a big word of thanks to our other sponsors Vodafone, Fiji Tourism and the Ministry of Youth and Sports. Safety is a priority and sponsorship means that we have rescue boats available and onshore communication facilities. The event is in its eight year, and continues to go from strength to strength’.
Southwick added ‘The races are great preparation for home-grown talent John Philp, Charlotte Dugdale, and Shane and Torika Brodie who will represent Fiji in the Pacific Games next month.’
Results of the overall event and photos are available here