Ten teams representing sailors from Puerto Rico and the U.S. took to the waters off Isle Grande for the fourth Puerto Rico Hobie 16 National Championship, December 9th to 11th. At the end of the ten race series, the husband and wife team of Enrique Figueroa and Carla Malatrasi emerged victorious with nothing but first place finishes. This didn’t mean the competition wasn’t keen or that conditions weren’t challenging.
The top three teams of Figueroa and Malatrasi followed by Keki Figueroa and Natalia Olivero (2nd) and Francisco Figueroa and Jolliam Berrios (3rd), are incredibly talented. Winner Figueroa, who is a four-time Olympian, picked up a gold medal at the 2011 Pan American Games, while the second place finishers are silver medalists at the 2010 Central American and Caribbean Games. Third place finishers Figueroa and Berrios won the Hobie 16 North American Championships this fall.
“In the end,” says winner Figueroa, “Everything went well for us. The boat felt great. It seemed like the tuning was just right in all the conditions. Although we were a bit rusty sailing in heavy air conditions, we survived in one piece. The main target for us was to have fun, so we did.”
Conditions proved incredibly challenging. The first day saw 18 to 22 knots with higher gusts during rain squalls and six to eight foot seas. The crazy chop made sailors feel as if they were in the spin cycle of a washing machine. The second day proved tamer with 15 to18 knots of breeze, while the last day was picture perfect. Even though the wind came up late, the race committee was able to run two races.
“Staying upright and choosing the right side of the course were the key for the three days of the competition,” says Figueroa.
Hobie cat sailing has been popular in Puerto Rico since the 1970s. Since then, and the formation of the non-profit Puerto Rico Hobie Cat Association, members have won gold and silver medals in prestigious national and international competitions.
“Today,” says Figueroa, “although small in numbers, the Hobie 16 is one of the most competitive fleets on the island. With the sailing school now in Carolina it is a just a matter of time before the young talent starts to develop.”
Carol M. Bareuther, RD, is a St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands based marine writer and registered dietitian.