The 28 competitors on the entry list for the 2012 edition of Asia's oldest Category 1 Offshore race, comprise an intriguing combination of Maxis, clearly intent on claiming Line Honours, together with the 50 and 40 footers that form the backbone of Asia's racing scene. Visiting boats from Singapore, Philippines, and Australia will also give the Hong Kong boats a run for their money.
These boats, amongst them defending champion Neil Pryde with his team on Hi Fi, will be competing for the China Sea Race Trophy on corrected time, however throw into that mix a number of competitive 35 to 40 footers, and the results will be heavily influenced by which boat selects the best tactics and course as they reach the Philippine coast.
The tactical element of the Race keeps skippers coming back for more, according to Pryde, who has been competing since the 1966 edition, "There is something about the Rolex China Sea Race that continues to fascinate me. The challenging conditions that develop as the race crosses the South China Sea make this race one of the tactically most interesting ocean races in the world and a real test for navigators and their weather skills."
It's not necessarily all about winning Line Honours. Demonstrating that offshore racing can be a very pleasant experience, the five-strong Premier Cruising Division and eight-boat Cruising Division will see out the 565nm in relative comfort, while keenly contesting the silverware.
Asked why the Rolex China Sea Race is such a special race, Peter Churchouse, owner of Moonblue 2 and regular offshore racer, responded, "I love getting out of HK's "fog belt" - love that spinnaker in the moonlight that comes up in the early evening on the port bow. The aft deck is specifically designed for fishing, which we do a lot on offshore races and cruises."
For many entrants, just getting to the start line is an achievement, with the Category 1 status requiring investment in crew training and boat preparation. Dean Chisholm, whose boat Darling is named after the Victorian heroine Grace Darling, notes, "Offshore racing is unique. There is a lot of preparation for Cat 1 racing, but it's all worthwhile out at sea - Dolphins alongside at dusk are captivating and steering at night, under the stars, on long ocean waves, with the spinnaker up is magic."
Only 50% of the entry list competed in the 2010 edition of the Rolex China Sea Race, and even allowing that experienced sailors find new boats to sail on, each edition sees a new generation of sailors converting to the thrills and spills of offshore racing. Entering the 2012 Race as a first-timer is Talkinghead, a Sydney 36 owned by Hong Kong resident, Tonny Chung. He believes she is still a competitive boat even though she was launched some 15 years ago, "She was used for cruising by her previous owner, but we have added 200kgs to her keel so she is now ISO Cat 1 compliant, and able to compete in the Rolex China Sea Race … we have spent a year preparing for the RCSR - my crew are very excited, and for half of them this will be their first-ever major offshore race."
This year marks the golden anniversary of the first race, and Rolex and RHKYC cordially invite members of the Media to celebrate this milestone at the 2012 Rolex China Sea Race Press Conference and the Rolex China Sea Race Welcome Drinks, supported by Mount Gay Rum, on Monday 2 April.
The Main Bar Balcony will be a prime viewing platform for the 2012 Race warning signal, which will sound at 1210hrs on 4 April for a 'Club start'.
Further information, including the current 2012 Rolex China Sea Race entry list, may be found at http://www.rhkyc.org.hk/rolexchinasearace.aspx