Le Manu Fe’ai chewed up its opponents in the Ocean Challenge Fautasi Race this past Wednesday morning, after what has become a given — yet another bad start to a fautasi race. The Fuao from Vatia is the reigning champion from this year’s Flag Day Fautasi Race and now they have another notch in their oars. Pago Pago’s Aeto was a hot contender to beat the Fuao and it was a sharply contested race between the two boats.
Despite a seven-boat field, it looked like a two fautasi race most of the way.
At the start of the race, Samoa News witnessed that it was the Matasaua II that arrived last at the starting line and headed towards their assigned lane before the boat was behind the starting line where all registered competitors were awaiting their arrival, along with the “Big Bang” for the start of the race.
As Manu’a was set up way in front, Samoa News witnessed Aua’s Paepaeulupo’o and Fagatogo’s Ise’ula starting to move forward – pass the starting line, to try and get even with the Matasaua II, but when these two competitors made their moves forward, the majority of the remaining boats started to move forward as well – which led to the unofficial start of the race this past Wednesday morning.
Heading out towards the Eastern Bay Area, a majority of the boats were bunched up ahead, but just passed the cannery area, the Aeto from Pago Pago and the Fuao from Vatia took over the race and strong-armed their way out in front to compete in a race that almost looked like it was just between the two boats, and in reality it was.
At the turning point heading back into the harbor there was no question which boat made that turn better, as the Fuao’s design lent itself better to a sharp turn with it’s stern cut straight off, and not slanted like all the other fautasi in the race. (Samoa News notes that Fuao and Samoana High School’s boats are the only two remaining Fautasi in American Samoa with this design, which was crafted by boat builder, Maselino.)
Heading towards the finish line with about 300 yards remaining, Captain Va’amua Henry Sesepasara and his Aeto crew made their move to pass leading Vatia, gaining a seat with every stroke – this is Pago Pago’s strong suit and where they put on the power every year as we all have witnessed.
Apparently the Eagle Spirits didn’t want the win as much as Vatia. Captain Gaoteote ordered his crew to a strong finishing stroke and the Fuao seemed like it was running with a 700-horse power inboard engine the way they flew to the finish line.
Samoa News spoke to Vatia’s Captain Gaoteote Pala’ie after the race, and he said he depended on nothing but the manpower that was in front of him – his crew, “I asked my ‘foe-mua’ Vai’olo Taliga, if he was nervous with Pago Pago’s vessel closing in, but he was calm and said to me along the way not to worry, that we had this race. I knew Aeto’s boat is not one to fool around with,” said Gaoteote.
He added, “Captain Va’amua and his crew are feared by most competitors because of their dominating power in the smooth areas inside the harbor, heading back to the finish line. But my heart believed that my crew was strong, fit, and ready for the situation. But it was a big challenge when it came down to us and the Aeto.”
He stated, “I depended on my crew at the very moment I saw at the corner of my view, Pago Pago’s boat gaining fast towards the finish line. At that point, I knew that this is a situation where I can no longer depend on the boat, but my crew and their power were the only thing that could make us fly to the finish line, if they were willing to win – and it was proven, their spirits and strength put together pushed us farther than expected.”
When Samoa News asked Gaoteote what he thought of the start of the race, Gaoteote said, “Aua o le mea moni, e ‘ese tala e fai i uta, ese tala e fai i tai.”
He added, “That is the big problem with these races. We were behind our designated lane, with Pago Pago who was right next to us, and Fagasa that was two lanes down from us. But when I saw some of the opposing crews rowing forward, we sat and awaited the signal for the start.”
“Awaiting for the signal when majority of these other boats were already rowing their beginning sets, alarmed me and caused me to move forward – Only a stupid captain would wait for the starting signal, when everyone took off already, because this is not the first time this has happened, and there never was a race that was coordinated in the proper way from start to finish.”
He mentioned to Samoa News some advice he would like to give to help the committee with future fautasi races because, “I don’t understand the situation of these meetings we have with all the captains and the committee, and we never abide by these agreements when everyone is settled into their competing boats, ready to take off.”
He added, “I know for a fact, that the committee themselves cannot do this alone. It won’t matter if there is a designed starting line, or if the committee even tries to hold the starting line, if a captain or a skipper decides not to follow regulations...”
“I believe that if all the captains take into consideration the preparations of the committee and the agreements on the race, everything would run smoothly, because it takes teamwork on both sides to make something work fairly – In our culture, we call a boat captain stupid, if all the other boats are moving forward, and he’s still holding back to regulations that have already been violated by all competitors in the race.”
As the village of Vatia celebrates their second Fautasi victory this year, Captain Gaoteote told Samoa News that, “The only thing I pride today, and has made me very happy, that despite the fact that we and Pago Pago were behind everyone, we managed to climb to the front and win this race. So as long as we won, I’m fine with it.”
He concluded, “I would like to acknowledge Captain Va’amua Sesepasara and his crew, for a competitive race today. They were the only ones who I was worried about coming into the race, they were the only ones next to us behind everyone else, and they were the only ones who kept us on our toes the whole way down to the finish line – I totally forgot that there were other boats in this race,” concluded Captain Gaoteote.