It's plain sailing all the way for Taiwan

BEAUTIFUL BRINY: `Cocorin' was the first boat home in the only sailing race that yachtsmen from Taiwan can enter, due to security restrictions set over 50 years ago

By David Frazier  /  STAFF REPORTER

Thu, May 02, 2002 - Page 16

The crew of the Cocorin popped open the beers an hour-and-fifty-five minutes into the race. The beer was Orion, what many consider to be the "national" beer of Okinawa.

At this point in the race, most, but not all of the hard work was done.

The schooner had rounded the final checkpoint on the south shore of the Japanese island of Yonaguni and was leading the race fleet by about a couple of kilometers.

Her skipper, Tomonori Shikina, plotted a direct course for the finish line at the entrance to Hualien harbor.

One sail change and 50 minutes later, the boom box came out and the sun set over the still invisible island of Taiwan as the ship cruised comfortably at eight knots (14.8kph).

`Leaving on a jet plane'

The tape player played Peter, Paul and Mary, Leaving on a Jet Plane. The tone was set, but the race was far from over.

This was the second-ever Yonaguni-Hualien Friendship Race, a sailing event from the westernmost island in Japan, Yonaguni, and finishing in Hualien yesterday.

The 91 nautical mile (169km) race, now a bi-annual event, is currently the only chance for yachtsmen to compete in Taiwan.

The first-ever regatta from Japan to Taiwan set off from Ishigaki in 1998, an island 130 nautical miles (241km) east of Taiwan.

As expected, the double-masted Cocorin entered Hualien harbor in the shortest time, coming in 15 hours, two minutes, 37 seconds after the start and taking the "First Home" prize.

Yet as she had the largest handicap in the event -- and for that matter one of the two or three largest handicaps of any racing sailboat in Japan -- she placed ninth out of eleven boats in the points competition.

The overall points winner, or more generally "the winner", was Excelsior V, a 48.2-foot (14.7m) long X-Yacht, which came in 30 minutes, 12 seconds behind Cocorin.

The Denmark-made, Okinawa-based craft came off stealing the show, taking first place overall and among the six Class 1 entries.

Classes were assigned for the race based on the rules of Japan's sailing federations, which take their guide from the Offshore Racing Council (ORC), a UK-based international standard setting organization for sailing competitions.

Different class

Class 1 boats consisted of racers and racer-cruisers, the largest of which was the Cocorin.

The five Class 2 boats included cruisers and smaller boats.

For the first time ever in international sailing, the race featured two Taiwan entries, both owned by local enthusiast Kenny Wang.

His recent purchase Lulu, a J-boat 120 series, made a very good showing, finishing first in Class 2 and third overall.

The 12m craft was manned by a crew of five and captained by ringer, Kousei Monda, a professional sailor who was flown into Yonaguni a day before the race.

Other members included Wang, French sailor Eric Bouveron and two Taiwanese yachtsmen.

Lulu made the crossing from Yonaguni to Hualien in just over 16 hours, 50 minutes, or under two hours behind Cocorin.

Though Lulu is Taiwanese owned, she is not yet Taiwanese registered. Wang expects to complete that process within a few months.Thus the only pure Taiwanese boat was Motivation, which finished eighth out of 11 boats, coming in just over two-and-a-half hours behind Cocorin.

For the groundbreaking voyage of her first [necessarily] international competition, she was awarded a prize for hard-fought competition at the awards ceremony in Hualien last night.

Motovation was manned by an all-Taiwan crew and skippered by Pan Wei-hua, who learned sailing from Cocorin owner Shikina and her navigator, Kiyoshi Chinen.

Pan first came into contact with the two master sailors in the late 1990s while studying in Okinawa. On one voyage, the three of them sailed took the custom racer up to a blistering 25 knots (46kph) during a spell of severe weather between Japan and South Korea, according to Pan.

The race began Tuesday in Yonaguni at 4pm, which is only 111km due east of Taiwan, but separated by an international border and in a different time zone.

The race route was longer, however, as it involved first circumnavigating Yonaguni before steering a west by southwesterly course to Hualien.

The prestart was a mosh of fierce tacking and jibing as boats tried to time the crossing of starting line, which was demarcated by one end of the Yonaguni harbor and a large ferry boat that was on hand for the event.

Seas were calm and and the southeast winds were mild, making for ideal sailing conditions.

By the time the boats had completed the eastward journey of around 18.52km along Yonaguni's north shore, Cocorin had taken a decisive lead.

With the remainder of the fleet led by Excelsior and Lequios, another Okinawan boat named after the old Portuguese for Ryukyu. Lequios was third into Hualien and second in Class 1.

Though the order remained constant through the night, Cocorin stretched its lead.

But as the yacht neared eastern Taiwan in the predawn, the wind died down and shifted to the south, making for slow progress and several tacks in attempts to regain the wind.

Strong northbound currents close to shore also complicated the sailing and gave other boats a chance to close the gap.

In Hualien harbor, the sailboats tied up across the harbor from Panamanian-registered freighters and gravel boats.

Government officials provided a warm welcome, and there was a special customs service offering temporary visas for all of the race participants.

As nine of the 11 boats were Japanese, formalities were also conducted in that language. Meanwhile, local news crews approached the sailboats, some asking where the boats had sailed from.

The yachts were all set to leave Hualien today.