On regular summer mornings, Manila Bay would be filled with imposing ships docked on the bay. But one weekend last March 24 to 25, the usually quiet bay was roused by motorized boats and dragon boats.
For two days, it became a race track for the 12th Manila Bay Summer Sea Sports Festival, a yearly event organized by the City of Manila along with partners Radio Mindanao Network and Manila Ocean Park.
The festival was divided into two categories: the bankathon, and the dragon boat race. Bankathon is the race between small boats, or bancas, that are made of lightweight materials and equipped with motors that would propel them. The boats raced around Manila Bay, from the waters of Manila Ocean Park, then near the stationed USS Blue Ridge, to the breakwater, then near the docks of Manila Yacht Club, then back to the ocean park.
Around 50 colorful bancas from different seaside towns in the country contended for the prestige. Still, it is subdivided into two divisions: the formula and stock division. Their lightness and speed make them a good contender and alternative against much more expensive jet skis.
While the bancas were part of the motorized division of the competitions, the dragon boat racing became the ultimate test of strength, endurance, and willpower. With the phenomenal victory of the Philippine Dragon Boat Federation (PDBF) team last year at Tampa Bay, Florida, dragon boat racing finally got the recognition it deserved. Twelve teams, all members of the PDBF, contended against each other to bag the champion’s crown.
Before dragon boat racers paddled their way to victory, however, an important ritual was performed on their boats first. Tracing its roots back to ancient China, the spirit of the dragon had to be “awakened” first by dabbing the dragon’s eyes with paint.
Long before Manila Bay hosted the said watersports events, the world-famous bay became a witness to the showdown of naval power and supremacy. Back in the 17th century, the Filipino-aided Spanish navy thwarted the Dutch invasion of Manila. Although outgunned and outnumbered, they were able inflict heavy damage to the Dutch fleet, forcing the invaders to abandon their plots, purportedly because of the intervention of the Our Lady of the Rosary.
During the Spanish-American war, Commodore George Dewey led his fleet to conquer Manila, which happened swiftly due to the obsolescence of the Spanish ships and their lack of preparedness. In World War II, American and Filipino forces used Manila Bay as a front in attempting to hold back the Japanese invasion. After the war, they rehabilitated the bay and soon became a point of commerce and industry.
Manila Bay is also famous for its sunset.