If you enjoy sailing fast and furiously on a reach for four hours straight this is The Phil Hobie Challenge - an extreme sailing event that every year takes sailors across a different 250 nautical mile route around the islands.
Bon Bon Beach, Romblon - Philippine Hobie Challenge 2011
Five days, five islands, 13 teams, eight nationalities. This year's route from Lucena to Boracay had many surprises- whales in Lucena, waterfalls in Sibuyan, Grecian resorts and more.
Leg 1 : Para’Kito Sariaya to Maniuaya Island, Marinduque (40nm)
After two days of heavy Amihan winds the sailors awoke to a light breeze for the official Start of the first Challenge leg. Teams quickly broke into three groups in search of better breeze, one group led by Grandmaster champion Bruce Tardrew and Eric Tomacruz sailed high parallel to the Lucena coastline, the second led by Australian champion and five-time Hobie Challenge winner Bob Engwirda and Bradley 'Dog' Wilson opted to go south searching for wind closer to Marinduque, while the third group with Monchu Garcia and daughter Bianca kept on the rhumbline playing 'connect the dots' with the puffs that came and went throughout the morning. As the day started to cool off the Amihan winds came back with a vengeance and soon boats were reaching at 17 knots with crews twin-wiring toward the finish in Maniuya Is. Those closer to the wind at the Lucena coastline benefited the most as Bruce and Eric came in first place with Bob and Dog coming in second, and Andrew Locke and wife MJ in a close third. The teams arrived just as the sun was setting and in time to pitch up their tents for their first Challenge night.
Leg 2 : Blood Red Maniuaya Is. to Bellaroca Resort, Marinduque (24 nm)
The day started again with mild 4-5 knot winds and most of the fleet following leader Bob Engwirda and Dog in a jibing ballet around the Marinduque coast. About a third of the fleet though decided to cast their bets with Bruce 'Gambit' Tardrew and Eric who went off from the pack once again and decided to look for fresh breeze far off shore. After an hour and a half, it was clear that the teams that hugged the coastline enjoyed better winds. As the fleet rounded the eastern most tip of Marinduque for a straight sail down the 12 nautical mile eastern coast of the island, the wind gusted up to 20kts providing the sailors close to an hour of intense sailing in three-six foot waves. This caused those at the back of the fleet to eventually merged with the lead pack along the south Marinduque coast. However, as they approached the white Greek island facades of Bellaroca Resort , the speeding fleet was hit by the massive wind shadow of majestic cloud-capped 1,157 meter high Mt. Malindig, a potentially active volcano; from the 15kt pace, the Hobie 16s were literally ground to a halt as sailors faced a gruelling last nautical mile sail to the finish line in close to windless, but confused sea conditions. In search of wind the leading teams of Bob Engwirda and Andrew Locke sailed out to catch whatever puffs were able to come around Bellaroca island. On the other hand Monchu Garcia opted to squeeze through using the coast hugging breeze to keep on course. Ultimately the three leading teams finished within a few minutes of each other with Bob and Dog in first, Andrew Locke and MJ in second, and Monchu and Bianca in third.
Leg 3 : Hobie Australasia Bellaroca to Romblon (41 nm)
Sailors were greeted with howling wind over the channel separating Bellaroca and the mainland. With gusts of over 20 kts several boats capsized within minutes of the start as the combination of heavy wind and waves caught many sailors off guard. The fast paced broad-reach race continued for most of the morning covering the 15nm stretch past Banton Island in slightly over an hour before the 12 boat fleet travelled another 19.5nm down to Cobrador island at a brisk 12-16kt clip. Up front the fleet were treated to a ‘battle of titans’ as Bruce Tardrew and Bob Engwirda exchanged the lead a dozen times as they criss-crossed each others track. Some two miles after the fleet passed a makeshift gate set up by one of the safety boats on one end and Alad Island at the other, the competitors gybed down a three mile long protected channel towards Bon-bon Beach with Bruce in the lead. However, the intensity of the earlier battle may have taken its toll as Bruce let down his guard and allowed Bob to go below him and block his wind. This was all the chance Bob needed and he squeezed inside of Bruce to finish seconds ahead in first, with Bruce in second and Andrew in third – again! In view of the fast racing sailors had an early afternoon finish just off a beautiful sand bar, for the Challenge’s second longest leg.
Since the Hobie 16 fleet covered the 41 nm course in only four hours, it took several more hours for the slower support vessels to arrive; leaving the sailors relaxing on the beach enjoying the ice cold beverages brought in by the race committee speed boat for the rest of the afternoon.
Leg 4 : Mobile 1 Romblon to Magdiwang, Sibuyan Island (21 nm)
The fleet sailed upwind back up the 3nm channel from Bonbon Beach in a tacking duel between the lead boats, before bearing off towards the East and heavy, white capped 6 ft. waves for the 18nm across the Sibuyan sea. In view of the short route and furious winds it took barely two hours to reach the finish off the majestic two kilometre long Magdiwang beach. Once again those who stuck to the more conservative rhumbline were out paced by the more aggressive sailors who sailed higher above the course but were able to come back down towards the finish with faster boat speed. Solid proof that cats like to sail fast and not conservatively. Although the winners were identical to the previous day, the tough and rough conditions separated the teams allowing Bob to take time from his closest challenger Bruce.
After arriving ashore, the fleet was greeted by hundreds of local fisher folk and children who came out to welcome them. Young Sibuyans marvelled at the sailboats and indulged the participants in photos and conversation. Sibuyan is considered the 'Galapagos Islands' of Asia due to its rich biodiversity of flora and fauna stemming from having never been connected to the main land masses of Asia.
Later that day, the sailors went on a tour of the country side marvelling at the sight of 2,085 meter Mt. Guiting Guiting, one of the country’s most challenging peaks to climb; and swam in the cool waters of Lambingan Falls.
Leg 5 : Shangri-La Boracay Resort Sibuyan to Boracay Leg (48 nm)
3am – sailors awoke to the thunder of torrential rains and howling winds gusting to over 25kts – a wake up call to all that the last and longest leg was to be the most challenging of all. Fortunately winds moderated to 12-15kts by the time racing commenced promptly at 8am. The fleet split early on with half the fleet hugging the 14 nm Sibuyan island coastline while others sought better speed by veering slightly more upwind. By the time the fleet found itself in the six nautical mile wide channel between Sibuyan and Romblon, the previous night’s winds had built up heavy six-ten foot waves all throughout. To make conditions even tougher, the fleet had to contend with sudden gusts of over 20kts that funnelled through the gap between Sibuyan and Romblon and consequently ripped across the tops of waves; causing many teams to capsize in the middle of the channel.
Conditions remained very rough for the duration of the 20 nautical miles separating the western most tip of Sibuyan from Tablas Island; competitors followed the rugged Tablas coastline downind while literally surfing their H16s down the rolling 10 foot swells for another 15 miles before hitting the Cabalian Point gate on the Southern tip of the island and sailing four miles across to Carabao island in relatively calmer seas.
The calm lasted only briefly however as the gusts resumed in full force in the remaining 5 nautical mile reach down towards the northern tip of Boracay. And unlike the past 35 miles of travel, wherein waves generally moved in a consistent south westerly direction, the confluence of the Sibuyan sea to the east and the Sulu sea to the west caused absolute havoc on the water with waves coming from all directions.
Once the Hobie 16 sailors whizzed passed the jagged northern tip of Boracay island, they rounded the island towards the western coast; and sailed the remaining half mile towards the picturesque Shangri-La Boracay finish line. In typical Shangri-La fashion, all the sailors were greeted by iced cold rum cokes and cheers from guests, staff and fellow participants. Bob and Dog did not disappoint and finished first with Andrew Locke and wife MJ in second, and a coming-from-behind Bruce and Eric in a close third.
The awards dinner was held on Punta Bunga, the Shangri-La’s pristine beach, amidst a full moon and great company. A fitting and well deserved respite after a week of incredible sailing!
Overall Cleanergy 11th Philippine Hobie Challenge Winners:
• 1st Bob Engwirda and Bradley Wilson (Australia)
• 2nd Bruce Tardrew and Eric Tomacruz (Australia / Philippines)
• 3rd Andrew Locke and MJ Locke (Papua New Guinea)