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Kadena team excels in annual Sabani Race

By: Dave Lee

Date Posted: 2001-07-13

On 2 July, the Ginowan Yacht Club held the second annual Sabani race. This race begins on the Island of Zamami, located in the Kerama Islands about 25 miles West of Kadena. The destination was Naha port. The Sabani’s used in this race are modern-day replicas of the original Sabani’s with a sail and a crew to augment propulsion with oars. This was in celebration of the arduous voyages early Okinawans undertook when trading with China and conducting commerce throughout the Ryukyu Islands.

For thousands of years, way before the first European or Japanese sailors set eyes upon Okinawa, the “Sabani” has been plying the seas in this area. A Sabani is a wooden boat with a pointed bow and stern, flat bottom and is well suited for the type of ocean she travels in. It is the same type of boat used in the annual “Hari”, or Dragon Boat races.

For the second consecutive year, Team Yushi, a talented group from Kadena 18th Maintenance Squadron entered the event. TSgt Delane Rivenbark again captained the race. “With such a large crew participating,” Rivenbark says, “it is expensive to provide all of the food and water the crew needs to perform at this level.” This year, James J.R. Brunt, General manager of Volvo Military Car Sales, Okinawa was there to help, graciously providing much needed sponsorship for the team. Brunt stated that his company takes pleasure in being a part of local events that allow camaraderie and good healthy interaction between Americans and our hosts.

Team Yushi’s Sabani was discovered in the yard of a local gentleman last year and in need of serious repairs. The craft is over 70 years old, the wooden hull still showing the darkened stains of the shark oil fishermen used to apply to preserve the wood. The organizers of last year’s race demanded that the boats maintain the traditional style of construction and materials, although many modern products and equipment are available. Accordingly, Team Yushi dutifully conducted the restoration with this in mind. Shocking the other competitors, Team Yushi’s first race was an astounding second place finish, less than a boat length from the victor.

Under a perfect day, the blue skies highlighting the white sand beaches and green luster of Zamami’s mountains, 18 teams lined up on the beach behind their small ships awaiting the horn that would signal the start of the race. At exactly 8:00 a.m. the horn sounded and the usually tranquil beach was filled with the sounds of 90 exuberant sailors yelling challenges and chants as they dashed to the beached boats in a Le Mans start. It was a truly spectacular sight as teams began to row and hoist sail.

As the race began, Team Yushi quickly leapt into third place, with over 20 miles left to go. The winds were perfect, out of the South at about 12 knots. The seas were choppy, and Captain Rivenbark opted to take a cut through a shallow area necessitating lowering the sail and rowing. Although there were only five crewmen in the boat, every 20 minutes a powered inflatable boat driven by TSgt Bob Marshall would rendezvous with the mother ship “Knighthawk.” That carried the relief crew, water, food, and a short respite before the inflatable would again motor up signaling the end of a well-deserved rest.

“Knighthawk, a 36 foot sailboat captained by the author for this event is owned and operated by Captain Rivenbark out of Kadena marina. Since “Knighthawk was unable to follow the team where the water was shallow, it was often many agonizing minutes before tired crewmen could be relieved. Never the less, Team Yushi persevered. After nearly two hours there were still three boats ahead, but the remaining 13 boats were far behind. Try as they might with superb sailing skill and arduous rowing, Team Yushi could not gain on the leading boats.

Earlier, as the team was preparing their boat for the race, they noted that many of the entrants had become somewhat ‘high tech” in comparison with last year’s entrants. It was later stated at the after race party that Team Yushi was considered the “team to beat” and no expense was spared to accomplish that, with very modern sails and masts. With Team Yushi’s 70 year-old boat rigged with old-style rope and wood, there was just no chance to overtake the leaders.

After 4 hours and 45 minutes and nearly 30 miles of open ocean sailing, Team Yushi crossed the finish line at Naha port, showing once again, that this team has the mettle to compete with local teams. Rivenbark later stated that since they have “opened the door on high tech” we’ll be back next year with a Sabani that takes advantage of newer, lighter, more efficient sailing hardware.”

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