SUBIC BAY FREEPORT—It’s sailing season on Subic Bay, but this year it would be for something far deeper.
As the sleek, silent and swift sailboats wrest dominance of the waters here from the bulky cargo vessels for several weeks of sailing events, organizers would try to inject awareness of the country’s maritime heritage, and the natural prowess of Filipinos as sailors and seafarers.
Subic, steeped as it is in the tradition of naval commerce and having played an important role in the maritime history of the Philippines, couldn’t be any more appropriate as the starting point of “sailing with a cause,” said Zed Avecilla, event director of the ongoing Subic sailboat races.
“All throughout history, Subic Bay has been a ship’s refuge that was most coveted by foreign powers like Spain, Great Britain, the United States and Japan. From fishermen’s dinghies to Spanish galleons, from steamships to the most sophisticated warships, to the modern cruise ships and racing yachts, Subic Bay has provided them all a safe haven with its naturally deep harbor and protected coves,” Avecilla noted.
“Now, we are trying to give Subic its place of honor by helping promote our rich maritime heritage through these sailing events and proving once more that Filipinos are among the best sailors in the world,” he added.
The move to promote Philippine maritime heritage was rooted in the government’s Maritime and Archipelagic Nation Awareness Month (Mana Mo) campaign that was launched in Malacañang in September last year.
Avecilla, who is area coordinator for Zambales of the International Coastal Cleanup (ICC) project, was invited as a special guest during the opening of the Mana Mo campaign, which aims to enhance the awareness and consciousness of Filipinos on the important features and concerns of the Philippines as a maritime and archipelagic domain.
Executive Secretary Salvador C. Medialdea, chairman of the National Coast Watch Council, presided over the ceremony and called for maritime stakeholders “to advocate for awareness of the distinctly sea-based heritage of our proud nation.”
“Secretary Medialdea challenged us to help raise the level of awareness of our marine wealth and endowments, as well as the challenges and opportunities in harnessing such resources,” Avecilla recalled.
“I would like to think that even in a small way, we are now committing ourselves to address that challenge,” he added.
In Subic the marine resources do not consist only of the rich marine life that abound in the bay, or the beautiful beaches that helped make the Subic Bay Freeport one of the most visited tourism attractions in the Philippines today.
Under the still waters of the blue bay are sunken artifacts from the global wars that saw Subic actively defending the western coast of Luzon as a strategic military outpost.
Among the more famous shipwrecks in Subic Bay are the so-called “Hell Ship” SS OryukoMaru, a Japanese ship that carried prisoners of war that was sunk in Subic Bay during World War II; the SeianMaru, which ran aground in 1944 and was sunk by American aircraft artillery; the San Quentin, which was scuttled by the Spanish during the Spanish-American War and, perhaps, the oldest existing wreck in the Philippines; the USS New York, a World War I ship; and the El Capitan, built in 1919 and used for supply runs for the US military.
Aside from these, there are also at least three aircraft wrecks in the bay that are now among the most popular diving spots in Subic.
To preserve these artifacts, the Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority (SBMA) has coordinated with the National Museum and private experts in efforts to locate, identify and catalog the underwater treasures.
As steeped into Subic’s maritime heritage as can be, this year’s sailing events also gave participating sailors a new challenge to tackle, and an opportunity to make an environmental statement.
For several years the Subic Bay to Boracay Race (SBBR) and the Boracay Cup Regatta (BCR) , which are both organized by Standard Insurance, were annual events that kicked off the Subic sailing season from February to April.
This year, however, organizers decided to forego the Boracay races and opted, instead, for the Subic Bay around Verde Island Passage Race (SBVIPR) and the Subic Bay Cup Regatta (SBCR).
Standard Insurance Chairman Ernesto Echauz said the move to bypass Boracay is an expression of support to the “alarming environmental concern” on Boracay Island that was recently raised by no other than President Duterte.
“We are a responsible insurance company in the business of protecting clients from accidents, including health-related risks. We apologize for the inconvenience to those who have made prior arrangements for flights and hotel bookings in Boracay, but we adhere to strict environmental compliance and, therefore, are loath to exposing the regatta, its organizers and participants to health risks in an unhealthy environment,” Echauz explained.
He added that the replacement race is also a 200-mile course, the same distance as the Subic to Boracay run.
“Fittingly, the offshore race highlights Verde Island passage, which is an acknowledged center of marine biodiversity,” Echauz added.
Meanwhile, another new feature highlights the Subic Bay Cup, which began right after the Subic-Verde Island run. This is the debut of the FarEast 28R boats that Standard Insurance recently acquired and donated to the Philippine Sailing Association (PSA).
Avecilla said that with these boats, there are now four classes for participants in the Subic races: International Racing Class 1 (IRC1), International Racing Class 2 (IRC2), Cruising Class and the FarEast 28 Class.
Under IRC1, four boats are now in the running: Karakoa, which is from the Philippines; Antipodes, from Hong Kong; Freefire (Hong Kong); and Standard Insurance Centennial III (Philippines).
The IRC2 class is being contested by seven boats: Mandrake III (Hong Kong), Sabad(Philipines), Emocean (Germany), Selma Star (Philippines), Bella Uno (Philippines), Misty Mountain (Philippines) and Bella Trix.
Meanwhile, two boats are racing in the Cruising Class: Asia Pacific Sailing and Apsaras, which are both from Hong Kong.
Under the new FarEast 28 Class, six local and foreign teams are competing: Centennial II (Philippines), Standard Insurance-PSA (Philippines), Japan (Japan), SMU Sailing (Singapore), Taiwan (Taiwan) and the local bet Subic Sailing Team.
“In all these races, Filipinos are proving their mettle against the topnotch sailors from all over the world,” Avecilla said.
He noted that as the Philippines is acknowledged as the No. 1 producer of seafarers all throughout the world, supplying about a fifth of the world’s maritime workers, “there is more reason to showcase the skills and capabilities of Filipino sailors.”
Fortunately, Avecilla added, more races will be held in Subic Bay from April 2 to 7 with the hosting of the 10th Commodore’s Cup Regatta (CCR), an event of which the Subic Sailing Club is the main organizer.
He said some of the participants in the CCR are participating in the Rolex China Sea Race, a bi-annual 500+ nautical-mile race from Hong Kong to Subic Bay.
“We have several divisions in this regatta, from the small dinghy boats for kids to large cruising boats to high-performance racing boats. Here, we can show our support to our local Filipino sailors as they battle it out with the best in sailing,” he added.
“We hope that this event will show just that—that Filipinos are on a par with the best,” Avecilla said.
As an added attraction to the Commodore’s Cup, the organizers have invited a distinctively Filipino sailing vessel to the event.
This is the Balangay, a replica of the ancient balangay boats that Filipino forefathers are thought to have used in their maritime exploits.
Avecilla said three units of this modern balangay have sailed around the Philippines and Southeast Asia seven years ago to prove that Filipinos have a strong maritime heritage.
“The arrival of the Balangay in Subic in time for the races will remind us of what we have been in the past and what we can be in the future,” Avecilla added.