Last week’s inaugural Neptune Regatta was a huge and resounding success. Event Organiser Tudor John was feeling pretty pleased with himself (and his team), on closing night, saying, ‘In my wildest dreams I did not envisage such a tremendous success as has unfolded over the past week.’
The concept was simple enough – a race to the equator and back. Heck, it’s only 72 nm from Singapore as the crow flies. Or 83 nm through the islands of the Riau Archipelago, starting at Nongsa Point Marina. How hard can it be? Well, quite hard actually. Firstly, you are now operating in Indonesia: that means there will be an awful lot of bureaucracy to deal with. And second, some of your potential competitors will have concerns – real or perceived - about security. Add in the fact that there are no support facilities of any sort, let alone a marina, on the islands near the equator, and you have set yourself a real organisational and logistics challenge.
In the event Tudor John, Alex ‘Ferret’ Voss and all the others who got roped in along the way did a magnificent job of sweet-talking the relevant parties and getting the Indonesian Tourism authorities on side – not to mention enlisting the assistance of the Indonesian Navy who provided both transportation and a visible security presence.
No less than three reconnaissance expeditions ‘went south’ to check both Indonesian and British Admiralty charts. An anchorage was identified at Pulau Buaya, just 8 nm from the equator; a campsite and forward operating base was located (Pulau Sikeling); and villagers from nearby Pulau Blanding were entrained to clear the proposed campsite of fallen trees, build a 60m jetty, and help with the setting up of the camp when the time came.
There were 101 other considerations, and just as many problems to overcome, but the short story is that eight sailing yachts and four powerboats (yes, motor vessels are very much welcome at this event as well) raced and cruised from Nongsa Point Marina to Pulau Buaya, then ‘sprinted’ to the equator and back, and then raced and cruised home again. There were two nights of partying and camping on Pulau Sikeling (aka Neptune Island), featuring endless supplies of sausages, hamburgers and bacon sarnies, and The Jetty Bar erected, stocked, sponsored and run by Uncabunca (Singapore). Cheers!
It was an event that started as a good idea over a few beers, and after a great deal of hard work became reality. PRO Jerry Rollin said ‘ this event was an exciting and challenging experience, more so than any other regatta that I can think of. Everything was happening for the first time, so you never knew quite what was going to happen next. There was no previous experience to draw on, and everyone – organisers and competitors alike – had to stay flexible!’
Many naysayers wondered why anyone would want to race to the equator, and the Doldrums. John and Voss checked the met records for the last 30 years, and identified the optimum time of year to deliver (hopefully) not only breeze, but consistent directional breeze. They were not disappointed – all racing over five days and across all the race courses was conducted in between 9 and 20 kts of wind. Added Rollin, ‘Doldrums? What Doldrums?! The breeze peaked at 24 kts in the Pengelap Strait during the long race south, so concern about lack of wind was unfounded – but we were prepared just in case, and I made lots of provisions for shortened courses in the SIs.’
‘I believe that this event will develop and grow quickly, because it really is a great event - and an adventure - and lots of people haven’t done anything like this before. As an inaugural event there were plenty of onlookers ‘waiting to see’ – either they wouldn’t wear the expense or risk wasting holiday time for an unproven deal – but they will now.’
On a practical note, a ‘proven’ event is more likely to appeal to sponsors, as well. Organisers dug deep to get this one afloat, and tapped a few additional private pockets as well. Now there is an opportunity for commercial sponsors to associate themselves with a unique and special event.
From the point of view of the participants, this is an event that will appeal to those who want to add a little adventure to their boating. But don’t make the mistake of thinking that this is a weekend cruise with extra bbq sauce provided. The IRC Racing fleet completed four windward-leeward races, two 79-milers, and a 20 nm sprint to the Equator in just five days. Seven races and something over 200 nm. As David Ross, owner of Kukukerchu, pointed out, ‘that’s just about as much as the Raja Muda – in half the time. And one of those long races was to windward all the way.’ It is definitely not an event for the faint-hearted. ‘A regatta by sailors, for sailors,’ is how Tudor John describes it. ‘There’s a strong endurance element in this, so don’t turn up if you don’t want to sail hard and sail the distance.’
Rob Berkley, RO for the PY division, said ‘There was so much that was right about this regatta, but I do have one grumble. I came off the Four Peaks Race in Hong Kong, and went straight down to the Neptune Regatta. Having been involved in two 'adventurous' sailing events in the space of eight days, I have been cast right back to how I learned how to sail. Now I am looking at the rest of the sailing calendar, and it all looks rather boring…’
Competitors and participants – both power and sail - undoubtedly enjoyed themselves. There are testimonials all over the event’s Facebook page. The recurring words are ‘great’, ‘adventure’, and ‘organisation’. Add in ‘fun’, and ‘challenging’. Will Schick, crewmember on support vessel El Oro, put nearly all of them together, saying ‘What a great regatta. It was fun, challenging, competitive, well-organised and safe, and you pulled it off in style. I will definitely be recommending to many more to join in the next one (but there will never be another first
James Harris, owner of m/y ‘Something Special’ had some succinct words to say as well. ‘It's so often the case that ‘bar talk’ never makes it to the next level - let alone delivering something as monumental and historic as this. My faith in bar talk is restored! Bravo!’
We applaud the energy and vision that went into creating this all-new event from scratch, and congratulate the organisers on a hugely successful ‘show’. It took a lot of people, and lot of time, and the Organisation has proved that it is up to the challenge. We can only imagine that Neptune 2012 will be even better. We’ll be there, proudly wearing a Neptune ‘1’ shirt, and looking for some more Slimy Pollywogs to introduce to King Neptune…