Regatta de Zamboanga | Stories Behind the Sails
Regatta de Zamboanga is the largest & most crowd-drawing sailing extravaganza in the Philippines. Each year, thousands of people swarm the kilometer stretch of RT Lim Boulevard as hundreds of colorful vintas open the Zamboanga Hermosa Festival.
Vintas or small outrigger canoes are the traditional boats of the people of the Sulu archipelago. They are customarily tiny & used only for short distance sailing. They are also called lepa-lepa or sakayan.
However, what makes the vintas unique from other small boats in the Philippines are its colourful rectangular sails. During special community occasions like weddings & festivals, these ornately patterned sails come larger than life.
Regatta de Zamboanga: Romancing the Vinta
Vintas are not just utilitarian tools to transport goods & people. It is also a symbol of their art, culture & traditions. In fact, many places that share the waters of Sulu use it in their seals as a representation of their identity & aspirations.
While we borrow these imageries in timeless artworks & badges of honour, how well do we know what goes into making one vinta? And while we celebrate its pride in festivals & other tourism activities, haven’t we really forgotten the people that makes all the spectacle?
Regatta de Zamboanga is an annual vinta race exclusively participated by residents of the city. They are usually from coastal barangays like Sinunuc, Maasin, Mariki, Labuan & the island of Santa Cruz.
About 200 vintas race each year in a marked-out watercourse. The Samas, Badjaos & Tausugs usually dominate this 2-man fluvial race proving their lifelong affairs with the sea. Winning teams take-away about P50,000 in cash & goods.
Meet the Men of Power
You can’t talk about Regatta de Zamboanga without mentioning the name Danny Ladja. Since his first race in 1993, he had won more than 10 times already & was undefeated between 2011 to 2016.
Although he & his brother Hajad Hamid lost in the 2019 race to cousins Frankie Apalad & Abibasar Asmad, their names are already on the Hall of Fame. Indeed, winners come & go but Ladja remains the name to beat!
Danny, Hajad, Abibasar & Frankie are among the many other Filipino-Muslims whose deep origins trace back to the islands of Basilan, Sulu & Tawi-Tawi. They too are part of what makes up the collective social fabric of Zamboanga City.
It is no wonder if the Samas, Badjaos & Tausugs are tough to top at the annual Regatta de Zamboanga. Above all, they are natural seafaring people whose lives are deeply attached to the wild waters of Sulu.
As most of them are hook-and-line fishermen, training for the Regatta de Zamboanga competition is a daily affair. But come the festival season, they train harder to achieve their peak strength.
The Vintas in the Winds of Change
Boat building is a tradition passed on from generation to generation among the people of the south seas. Vintas were originally dug-out canoes from a single log. But today, most of it are made of fiber glass but retains the bamboo outriggers.
While bigger boats like the kumpit & other houseboats used for crossing high seas are already motor-powered, the vintas or sakayan remain hand-paddled. Fishermen still use it today. Tourists may try vinta rides too along Paseo del Mar & at Santa Cruz Island.
The most striking part of the vinta is the colorful sail. Perhaps, it’s what makes the whole ensemble dramatic. To the Sama it is banog & layag to the Tausug. In Chavacano, it’s called vela.
Generally, the designs & colors carry their usual love for intricate patterns & hues from nature. But it has also come to symbolize the diversity of cultures of Zamboanga City.
The Medley of Race and Grace
Regatta de Zamboanga is more than just a race for the money. It is more about showcasing their time-honoured traditions in a jovial competition. The carrera de vinta expresses their people’s maritime prowess with the grace of camaraderie.
Moreover, vintas go beyond just pretty images before the setting sun. It tells more than just romanticized feelings of quiet paddles. Sailing vintas are a performance art narrating the stories of its people, their customs & hopes.
It is a living cultural pride powered by brute strength & kept afloat for generations by its treasure guardians. Its bright coloured sails tell the world who they are but also steer their hearts to where home is found.
And indeed, Regatta de Zamboanga is what celebrates them all.