The Fiji Hobie Youth Programme has been running for over seven years now. Dubbed The Water Rats Club, the majority of its members are underprivileged youths from villages in Ra, Rewa and Lau, as well as from squatter settlements (Kalekana Settlement in Lami and Jittu Estate in Raiwaqa).
Grahame Southwick, Fleet 252 President said, "The history of the 'Water Rats' of Raiwaqa, and the later 'Kalekana Kalavos' stemmed from our need for young lightweight crew to partner the established Fiji Hobie Racing skippers."
To become good sailors, the Water Rats have had to show discipline, motivation and dedication to train every weekend, and sometimes during the week, throughout the sailing season. At least four Water Rats are now extremely competent skippers who can hold their own in any international competition.
After Southwick made an enquiry for kids interested in participating from the Jittu Estate, home of some senior Fijian sailors, there was a turnout of over 30 kids with more coming in from Kalekana.
"We were overwhelmed by the keenness and enthusiasm of these kids,"
added Soutwick, "and have done the utmost to accommodate as many as possible, with the few financial fleet members we have, buying 6 training race Hobies valued at around $60,000 for their use exclusively."
"With this many kids sailing, two per boat, we are still able to cater for only 12 kids at a time, leaving 30 or more to wait on shore, hoping to get a sail."
Despite the challenges the young sailors have learnt to harness the wind to make their boat fly over the waves at speeds often exceeding 25 knots/hour (~ 46 Km/hour). They unconsciously practice physics and learn to read water and wind conditions to manoeuvre their double hull boats in addition to practising water safety. Physical development includes enhancement of hand to eye coordination whilst building body strength.
However, the real attraction to hobie cat sailing for the Water Rats is the fun factor created from the thrill of racing high performance boats and the exhilaration of flying over the water while hanging out on the trapeze! There is nothing but you and your boat with the natural elements of wind and water.
"Over the last 5 years, we have funded many of the kids into International offshore competitions in Hong Kong, Thailand, the USA and Australia, but their needs are now well beyond our small club to finance and this is why we are now reaching out to major Corporations for assistance to support this program.
"Last week, our young sailors successfully competed in the Youth Oceanic Hobie Championship, taking out 1st, 2nd, and 4th positions, and finishing ahead of strong competitors from New Caledonia, and other Pacific Island countries.
"We wish to continue and grow this sport, but more importantly to advance these kids into higher and more competitive offshore competition, and in doing so, improve their lives and circumstances.
"We realize that Hobie racing is not a high profile sport in Fiji, but with the many offshore regattas attended by our Fiji Hobie team, and their high success, Fiji has been put on the sailing worlds map, and Fiji Hobie teams are well ranked internationally."
Fiji Hobie Website