Ffree Fire crossed the line at 17:35:08 hours yesterday afternoon after the 356 nm romp which saw her recording top speeds in excess of 24 knots. 'Big breeze, big spinnakers, BIG fun' was how crew boss Russ PARKER summed it up. He reported Ffree Fire's owner CHAN as 'very happy', which is probably an understatement. 'We reached into the finish under a fractional kite hitting over 20 knots VMG. The whole trip just got better and better right up to the end.'
After a rather lack-lustre performance in the China Coast Regatta a week earlier, Ffree Fire took off on the Hainan Race with the full 'A' Team on board, determined to knock some time off the course record they set in 2000.
Ffree Fire is getting to be something of an old lady now. A Nelson-Marek 68' built in 1987, she was Roy DISNEY's first Pyewacket, and the first all-carbon sled in the Transpac Race.
Later she became Phantom, and CHAN bought her in 1995, just in time for the inaugural Hong Kong to Vietnam Race in 1996. 'I wanted a big boat [CHAN's Other Boat is a Flying 15 called Noisy Fforefather] to do the long races - and to be fun - and it needed to be light enough to cope with the predominantly light winds in the Asian region.'
Ffree Fire took line honours in the Vietnam Race 1996, and has since then racked up an enviable race record in Asian waters, competing in China Sea Races, San Fernando Races, Hainan, Vietnam and others. She is still the monohull record holder for the San Fernando Race.
'She's getting rather old now,' says CHAN, 'and it's probably time to look at a new boat. But that's a tough call to make when we are still winning races against the likes of Neil PRYDE's refurbished Farr 52 Hi Fi [formerly Hollywood Boulevard] and Mandrake, the Mills 50 owned by Nick BURNS and Fred KINMONTH. Over the years we have had more fun on Ffree Fire than I could ever have imagined.'
Second across the line in Hainan was Mandrake, 1 hour and 45 minutes behind. Where Ffree Fire sailed a course well south of the rhumb line and reached into finish at Sanya Bay, Mandrake stuck to a more direct route. Hi Fi Team Pryde finished a further 15 minutes back, having run down the coast at a much broader angle than Ffree Fire who reached into the finish from well out at sea.
In IRC Premier Cruising Geoff HILL's Lyons 49 Strewth took both line and handicap honours in a depleted fleet of four: Walawala retired, as did Hocux Pocux 2 ('ran out of spinnakers'), and Peter CHURCHOUSE's Moonblue 2 did not compete.