Hobie cat sailors Lisa Darmanin and Ben Roulant, both 20, of Sydney at the nationals in Mooloolaba this week.
Hobie cat sailors Lisa Darmanin and Ben Roulant, both 20, of Sydney at the nationals in Mooloolaba this week.

Cats fast, furious fun for family

FROM the coastline there doesn't seem to be any more peaceful or placid of sports. Sails bob up and down, filling the Mooloolaba bay with a spectacle of colour.

But get a little closer to the action and you will soon see that a national Hobie Cat championship can be fast and furious with every turn crucial in the quest for race points.

Even the start of each battle is a logistical nightmare.

Try getting 70-plus boats to line up at the same time without collisions and anyone crossing the line too early while trying to accommodate last- minute wind changes.

Turning around the first marker point can be as crowded as a Sydney freeway.

In the sea of sails, race officials have to watch out for rule breaches that may lead to protests well after the race is over.

The beauty of these small sailing craft, however, is that anyone can, with a little practice, master them.

They are nimble on the water, very easy to control and very fast when the wind conditions are right.

The boats have been clocked at speeds of up to 26 knots - about 50kmh - a speed that probably feels more like 100kmh when your backside is hanging just off the water.

The boats are pretty easy to capsize - or send into a nose dive - if you don't get the human balancing act on board right.

But talk to competitors in the nationals, hosted by Sunshine Coast Yacht Club and Mooloolaba Marina, this week and you'll find that there are few better family sports.

Dads and daughters, husbands and wives, young mates learning to sail together and even those finding romance on the water are among the mix.

Sydney's 20-year-old Lisa Darmanin has been sailing for six years and was earlier this week leading the field with her cousin, Jason Waterhouse.

Her French boyfriend, Ben Roulant, was more than 20 spots behind her on the leaderboard but joked he was accustomed to being beaten by her.

Jason comes from a Hobie Cat family, with his dad racing for about 40 years.

Lisa loves the culture of the sport. "It is relaxed. Everyone helps one another,'' she said.

But when the race is under way, she says the competition is on with everyone jockeying for the best start.

"You have to get a good position. You have to be there pretty early and hope no one else gets in your way.''

In high winds, she says, not sensing an upcoming wind gust or a big wave can mean disaster.

"You can capsize at any minute.''

Noosa teenagers Ben Vercoe and Elliott Clayton have been racing for three months and dream of being able to travel the world through competition.

The pair is in the Queensland development training team and hopes to make it all the way through to the Australian Institute of Sport.

This year the youth world titles are being held in Ireland.

"That would be pretty wicked,'' Ben dreams.

With each of the boats having a standard setup, the two reckon the key to success is good communication and teamwork on the water, and reading the conditions.

"On the windier days it is very easy to go over.

"And when you go over that's pretty much the end of your race because it takes forever to get them back up,'' Ben said.

Someone who has lived the dream and seen the world through sailing is Peter Bates, who has been sailing with his wife, Juliet, for 25 years.

"A lot of the people you see here on the beach I've seen for the last 25 years at these regattas,'' he said.

"It's a holiday as much as anything. It's relaxed, fun and everyone enjoys themselves. It is a very simple boat to sail while being very fast and exciting. You see a lot of younger girls sailing … You don't have to be a 100kg guy to sail them.

"Hobie 16 is the biggest multi-hull catamaran class in the world.

"There is a very big global network of Hobie Cat racing as well.''

At Mooloolaba this week there were crews from Noumea, Denmark and New Zealand while Peter has taken in places such as Mexico, Dubai, Noumea and Airlie Beach at the world championships where even the boat is provided.

It's not a bad way to see the world.

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