When faipule Va’amua barked his orders for the fastest strokes to shift ahead of Nu’uuli with about 400 meters to the finish line in front of the ASCO Motors in Pago Pago, it spelled the end of a tight race. [photo: TG]

The ocean was calm, peaceful, and still.  Five miles out of Pago Harbor, the water was flat with very little rolling swells. The easterly breeze that created havoc in past Flag Day fautasi regatta did not wake up in time to blow the 2012 Flag Day race into chaos.

Wednesday’s condition was one of the best ever in the history of tu’uga fautasi. It was an excellent and perfect situation for faigamea ile tai in American Samoa.  It made things easier for the fautasi committee to control the seven long boats that raced for the 2012 Flag Day championship. In those kinds of exceptional circumstances, the new high tech Aeto fautasi ruled the territorial sami.

The village of Pago Pago has invested heavily in its pride. In just three years since the Aeto was built, the Pago Pago fautasi has a very impressive record of two Flag Day championships. Today’s weather was what the Aeto was made for. As Va’amua told this correspondent, “Pago Harbor is Aeto’s battlefield.”

In clear and quiet ocean, the Aeto and crew, under the leadership of captain Va’amua Henry Sesepasara was biding their time, gliding, surfing, and patiently waiting for their time to surge ahead of the Nu’uuli fautasi.

The Pago crew conserved their energy well and did not rush to take over the race.  When faipule Va’amua barked his orders for the fastest strokes to shift ahead of Nu’uuli with about 400 meters to the finish line in front of the ASCO Motors in Pago Pago, it spelled the end of a tight race.

As Va’amua passed Fanene So’oto’s Nu’uuli fautasi with grace, the Aeto rower at the bow raised the victorious flag. Pago Pago has won the 2012 Flag Day fautasi championship.

What a brillant climax to the Flag Day activities.  It was one of the closest races ever in the history of faigamea ile tai in the territory.  The two top fautasi fought from the beginning when the horn from tugboat Tatoso went off to signal the start of the tu’uga va’a.

Va’amua’s Aeto was off the blocks and surged ahead.  Captain Fanene was off his pace at the start of the race but he soon rushed past every fautasi.  Suddenly Va’amua was trailing Nu’uuli in the first 10 minutes of the fa’agatama ole tai.  The two leading boats maintained their top positions for quite sometime. 

Va’amua was not worried. He could follow Nu’uuli all day long and stayed within striking distance as long as the sea remained flat and calm. This was his racetrack. The Pago Pago high tech Aeto excelled in these conditions.

The Matasaua from the Manu’a Sa gained ground on the Aeto as it cruised in at number three and stayed close behind until captain, Taliga Vai’olo and his au va’a ran out of steam.

Nu’uuli could not break clear away from the Aeto as Va’amua maintained speed and stuck around long enough to put doubts in the minds of the Nu’uuli captain and his auva’a.  It was as if Va’amua was toying with his archrival Fanene.

The Aeto was well suited for the calm water. When the two leading boats reached the turning point at the Rainmaker Hotel for the home stretch, Va’amua began to slowly overtake Nu’uuli. When they were about a 1000 meters from the finish line, Va’amua said goodbye to Fanene and the Nu’uuli crew and changed gear for his fast strokes to take him home. 

The Matasaua from Manu’a cruised in third position while the new fautasi from the village of Vatia, the Fua’o, skippered by Ga’ote’ote Pala’ie Tofau took the fourth position; and Pauli Ivan Williams and his Tolotolo O Tama Uli from Salelologa Savai’i placed fifth.

Samoana High School Shark fautasi kapiteni, Meatua Mageo and his young students had to fight off the Iseulaimoana from Fagatogo to take sixth place. Fagatogo’s captain, faipule Vailiuama Steve Leasiolagi stayed in front of the other six fautasi about three-fautasi length when the blast from the Tatoso tugboat horned the beginning of the race.

Samoa News Sports reporter Tony Gasu talked to the winning kapiteni, Va’amua after the race. “Vi’ia le Atua”, he said. “First of all we would like to give praise to our Heavenly Father for blessing us with the strength and knowledge. We have managed to finish the race with no one getting hurt. W also give thanks to the Lord for a very blessed morning, the calm water, and the bright sunrise we had today.”

Va’amua paid tribute to the 2012 Flag Day fautasi committee for a job well done. Today’s race had a near perfect line up at the starting point except for the Iseulaimoana, which was three-fautasi length ahead of the other boats.

The faipule from the village of Pago Pago also congratulated the Nu’uuli captain Fanene So’oto and his auva’a for a hard fought race. “Today was the test to find out which crew wanted it more. Nu’uuli’s sa was very strong out there.

The other fautasi that was strong this morning was the Tolotolo o Tama Uli from Samoa, but I know they are not used to our sea here in American Samoa. Vatia’s boat was also very competitive from the beginning.  I would like to thank the president of the Senate, Gaoteote, for trying hard and having competitive hearts. I would also like to acknowledge the Iseula from Fagatogo and Samoana High School for a good race this morning. Malo lava le tausini o”.

As Nu’uuli and Aeto reached the red buoy at the Rainmaker Hotel, there was concern the two fautasi oars might come into contact creating a collision. Va’amua however said, “there was never a problem. All I wanted was to stick right behind Nu’uuli’s boat, as I didn’t want them to break away from us.”

Va’amua did not want to let Fanene out of his sight as he did last Saturday during the preliminary heat. “I know if Nu’uuli’s boat was ahead of us by a fautasi length or two, we would’ve been in trouble.

Nevertheless, my crew was strong, and focused today. I give props to my foemua, Avele for his leadership role and experience in pushing the crew to the limit. As we passed the pin at the hotel, I felt our crew grew stronger and stronger, and the boys wanted it more and more.”

Va’amua said even when he was behind Fanene by about half a fautasi length, he was not worried as he had confidence in his Aeto boat and crew as the tu’uga va’a was nearing the finish line.

When we were positioned right next to Fanene and his Nu’uuli crew behind the marina, I knew then and there, we were going to win. My crew kept on growing stronger and stronger.

I looked into their eyes, and I said to them, now is the time. This is our house, this is our spot, this side of the ocean has Aeto written all over it, so row strong and show your Aeto heart. That’s when I ordered the fast ten strokes to my auva’a that got our fautasi flying to the finish line”.

With his second championship in three years, Va’amua is not sure whether he would want to accept an invitation from Samoa to participate in the 50th Independence faigamea ile tai in June.

If the Aeto is invited to race in Apia for that special occasion, Va’amua told Samoa News reporter, Gasu the issue would first be discussed by the leader of Pago Pago, Maoputasi Asuega and the village council.

Va’amua explained his reluctance to return to Apia to race there was because of what happened when the Aeto took part in the 2010 international faigamea ile tai in Apia.

I was very disappointed in the results and the coordination of that race,” he said. “The Apia fautasi conspired and blocked my boat during the race in Samoa. That is the only reason why I am kind of questioning myself about going back to Samoa. They might just do the same thing to us again.

Today however, we are just blessed to have been the winners of today’s race.”

Va’amua complimented his fellow captains and their crews for taking part in the 2012 Flag day faigamea ile tai. “I would like to say fa’afetai to all the captains and their crew members for coming out and competing today.

Fa’afetai le ta’alo fa’atamali’i, ta’alo fa’atausala. I know none of the crews looked weak today. I know all the boats came out to try to win. The sun will race again, and we will all be back at it once more.”

Samoa News correspondent Tony Gasu contributed to this story.


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