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Round The Volcano Race 2016

Image courtesy: Girlie Cervantes

The Round The Volcano Race 2016, principal sponsor Club Balai Isabel, organized by the Taal Lake Yacht Club, is unique in all the World. Where else on Earth can you sail in a volcano lake that has at its centre an active volcano?

A weekend spent sailing on Taal Lake can provide more excitement and more beautiful vistas than anywhere on the Planet I have ever been (and I have been a lot of places).

Unbelievably, Taal Lake is less than 90 minutes from Metro Manila. Occasionally finding myself stuck in Makati City for weeks on end, I frequently take the opportunity to visit the Taal Lake Yacht Club (they offer day membership!) to entertain foreign visitors, in Manila on business, who would otherwise be stuck for the weekend enduring the uncaring hustle and bustle of the metropolis.

The main event, on the 3rd weekend in November every year, is the Round The Volcano race. The race is designed for all-comers, meaning any size or shape of sailing yacht, but in reality, it is only Hobie 16s (and similar beach/sports catamarans) that can accomplish the circumnavigation of the volcano in the allotted time before lunch. In years past, the Round The Volcano race included a wider variety of sailing craft because the “race” was split into two parts, with a lunch break at the half-way point, provided by the yacht club, delivered to and served on a “beach” on the southern shores of the volcano. For the past four years, the Club Balai Isabel Hotel have sponsored the Round The Volcano race weekend and provided lunch within the gardens of their sprawling resort hotel complex – better, hot food and cooler drinks for the competitors, and fewer logistical headaches for the yacht club. But, apart from the long race around the volcano itself, the Round The Volcano Race weekend attracts many other craft and competitors.

In 2016, the eight Hobie 16s in the circumnavigation fleet set off westwards with 10-12 knots of following breeze. Approaching the rhumb line for the gybe to a southerly run the breeze eased somewhat, which did not bode well for a record breaking circumnavigation, especially as the wind-shadow of the volcano, while running the gauntlet of the fish cages, was still ahead of them.

From the town of Laurel, South, to the town of Agoncillo, the main feature of Taal Lake is fish cages. Scores (possibly hundreds) of them. Taal Lake’s clean, mineral rich water, relatively sheltered to the West of the volcano, is ideal for aquaculture. Being declared shark-free since the early 1970s, this portion of Taal Lake is ideal for intensive farming of tilapia and bangus.

There is a navigable passage through the fish cages and, provided the sometimes swirling breeze is in your favor, you will pop out at the southern tip of the volcano unhindered by the obstructions, ready to pick up the steady easterly breeze once more. This year, the first to pop-out were long-time Hobie enthusiasts Monchu & Bianca Garcia and (neck-and-neck with) Maria Vidoeira-Hagedorn & Joe Hagedorn. This brace of Hobie 16s was trailed somewhat by Alex Chen, the forever-jovial, all-round, water-sports athlete, who travels from Taiwan every year to Round The Volcano.

Image courtesy: Girlie Cervantes

The drag-race that followed, to the #3 mark facing the yacht club, did not change the relative positions, neither did the beat up to the finish-line off Club Balai Isabel. A happy Monchu and a frustrated Maria dripped ashore and joined the lunch party.

Through conversation it transpired that Maria’s frustration was centered on one maneuver: before the fish cages, she was well ahead of all competitors; it was the light, shifting breeze, that caused her to undertake “four tacks out of the fish cages . . . that’s when Monchu slipped past”. That’s yacht racing!

After lunch, back on the water, and the expanded fleet, including eight Oz geese and a Hobie Getaway, took in another couple of short races to take full advantage of the reinvigorated, afternoon breeze. Maria ended the day a little happier after hiking-out and scoring a first in the afternoon session.

The evening party and prize giving, in the gardens of Club Balai Isabel, saw much merriment and camaraderie among the new and old sailing acquaintances. It was at this venue that the perpetual Noel Lim Trophy was awarded to Michael Ngu & Boyet Magsanay, along with novel prizes to others for other notable performances on the day.

Many slept early to prepare for the following day of competition, some, especially those billeted at Walter’s place – adjacent but one to the yacht club – continued their revelations and dissertations until long after the half-moon had risen towards its zenith. A few romantics chose this evening to cuddle on the grass, bathed in the soft glow of a trillion stars – impossible to do when in Metro Manila. All were apparently, finally asleep around 2am.

The morning of the second day saw the Hobie 16s at the start line at exactly 09:30 eagerly awaiting their first gun. The Oz geese were a little slower but eventually followed the lone Hobie Getaway out onto the field of battle, as goslings may follow their mother.

Image courtesy: Girlie Cervantes

The “Oz geese”, actually a gaggle of the boat design known as the Oz Goose, were designed by Mike Storer (an Australian, retired in the Philippines), and built by members of the Philippine Home Boatbuilders’ Yacht Club. The Oz Goose is a rather ungainly looking craft that performs surprisingly well with one or two crew (could take more). The less-kind observer may refer to the Oz Goose as “a bathtub with a sail” but those who have sailed them will extol the virtues of: light weight, superb buoyancy, simple controls and a relatively dry sailing experience – very little water over the bow even with the short, choppy wave sets evident on wind-blown, inland waterways.

Being a mono-hull design, the Oz Goose is not as fast on the water as the Hobie 16 but if you wanted to carry an esky full of cold ones then the Oz Goose will more likely handle the task without any hassle and, as a fishing platform, the Oz Goose has less rig and fewer lines to get in the way. The other distinct advantage that the Oz Goose holds over the Hobie is the you can buy a complete kit, ready to build, for less than US$1,000.

Throughout the year the Taal Lake Yacht Club offer a variety of sailing boats for hire to anyone who has some sailing experience. As the saying goes: become a day-member at Taal and have a blast beside a volcano. However, during competition weekends the yacht club use the occasion to encourage one-design racing. Thus, in 2016, the club was promoting the use of the Oz Goose as the alternative one-design craft to the Hobie 16.

Overall then, the 2016 Round The Volcano weekend fleet comprised ten Hobie 16s, eight Oz geese and one Hobie Getaway. These were divided into two divisions: the Hobie 16 division and the “PY” division.

As well as being part of the PY division, four of the Oz Goose fleet were coincidentally involved in their own private competition. These four were all members of Sailability, the Philippine sailing association for sailors with disabilities, including international sailing medal winner: Cherrie Pinpin.

Sailing small boats is a sport that requires brain rather than brawn so, with a few caveats for safety, it is can be a thoroughly enjoyable sport for persons with disability. Cherrie Pinpin, who lost her right leg before she became a teenager but never saw this as a disability, has traveled throughout Asia competing as part of Team Philippines through the Sailability team and here, on this weekend, on Taal Lake, she took second place overall, beating everyone on the water except Mike Storer, the designer of the Oz Goose.

The second day saw an expanded Hobie 16 fleet and all the rest, competing for honors over the four remaining races. The objective being to get as many as eight races completed during the two days of competition, so that a meaningful set of results would be seen to reward consistent effort and team work.

Image courtesy: Girlie Cervantes

In the more gusty conditions on the second day, some additional aspects of teamwork became evident as we witnessed five capsizes. In the case of a Hobie 16, a capsized boat can usually be righted if sufficient turning moment is applied to the upper hull for long enough, to raise sufficient sail area out of the water to overcome air pressure and surface tension. It is about the only time that tall, heavy crew are a significant advantage; without tall, heavy crew then creativity must be employed.

And so it was that after two glorious sailing days of sunshine and (mostly) puffy white clouds, over Taal Lake and its diminutive volcano, the winners and not-quite-winners were acknowledged and rewarded with unique sets of prizes that were sourced from as far away as Romblon and Boracay.

The overall winner for the race weekend was the team of Michael Ngu & Boyet Magsanay, closely followed by Maria Vidoeira-Hagedorn & Joe Hagedorn and Monchu Garcia & Bianca Garcia. Honorable mentions should go to Dennis Cruz (4th ) and Eric Tomacruz (6th) for their long devotion to the sport of sailing in the Philippines; long time supporter of Philippine sailing, Doni Altura, most recently under the banner of Sailability and the Philippine Sailing Association, who attended the second day of racing as spectator and awarder of prizes. Special thanks also to Roman Azanza (8th) for providing transport to/from the event for GetWet Philippines. And of course to TLYC Commodore, Peter Capotosto, for organizing the weekend and to Carla Kramer for the all-important breakfasts and facilities.

Before sundown almost everyone was heading home, mostly back to Metro Manila to engage in another week of mostly, less-than-rewarding, human progress; all motivated to endure their lot in anticipation of the next opportunity for friendly competition on the water.

If you want to be motivated by the anticipation of a weekend of fun, sailing around a volcano within a volcano lake or, simply to observe the spectacle of those who will, then mark your diary now for the Round The Volcano Race weekend on 18-19 November, 2017. It will probably be sponsored again by Club Balai Isabel Hotel & Resort, and it will definitively be the best fun you can have during the 3rd weekend in November, anywhere on the water, anywhere on the Planet, in the Philippines. For more information contact the Taal Lake Yacht Club . . . one of the perfect places to GetWet in the Philippines.

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