Some of the world's most famous and celebrated sailors are gathering at the Royal Hong Kong Yacht Club in preparation for the start of the China Cup.
With 91 boats representing 18 different nations, entered across five divisions, the 30-strong Beneteau 40.7 fleet looks set to be very competitive.
Michel Desjoyeaux, best known for his singlehanded exploits in winning two around-the-world Vendée Globes, is this week taking the helm of Team Beneteau China. For all his vast racing experience, this will be Desjoyeaux's first time at the helm of a Beneteau 40.7, and first time sailing in China. "Discovering a new place and experiencing new cultures, meeting new sailors, it's very exciting to be coming here,"
Among his toughest competition will be fellow Frenchman Gery Trenteseaux, who skippers the very successful Courrier Team, returning to the China Cup for the third time. Winners of many international regattas since Courrier's formation in 1999, for this regatta Trenteseaux has the ocean racing experience of Lionel Lemonchois, winner of the legendary Route du Rhum transatlantic race.
Then again, there's nothing like local knowledge and Rick Pointon's Beijing Sailing Center has plenty of that, being defending champions of the China Cup and champions at a number of top Asian regattas including Langkawi, Phuket and Hainan. "This is one of the largest one-design fleets in the world and the teams are very competitive,"
said Pointon. "Our goal is to keep our noses clean and podium place for Beijing."
One boat eager to steal Pointon's crown is Vatti Sailing skippered by Jono Rankine. Calling tactics on Vatti will be the 21-year-old Peter Burling, just two months after winning a silver medal in the 49er class at the Olympic Games. Former 49er World Champion and America's Cup sailor Ed Smyth is navigating, with past 470 World Champion Simon Cooke steering the boat.
For Cooke the appeal of the regatta is clear, "The China Cup offers the largest one design fleet racing in Asia. This is the premier event of the year. After sailing other rating system events in Asia, I found the racing to be very money based, with teams only winning because of their boat and its rating. So now I focus only on doing the best one design events in Asia. The enjoyment of sailors making the difference is what drives me to continue to do more events in Asia."
Other racing divisions competing this week are the FarEast 26, the SOTO 27, the HKPN Class and the IRC Division. The scratch boat in IRC is the Reichel-Pugh 75, Jelik III, skippered by local sailor Frank Pong. Jelik will be expected to reach Shenzhen before the rest of the fleet tomorrow on the opening Simpson Passage Race from Hong Kong to Shenzhen, where the regatta will be based for the rest of the four day regatta.
For Vatti's Ed Smythe, navigating on the 34 nautical mile passage race will be one of the most challenging parts of the regatta. "Once we leave Hong Kong on Friday for the start of the distance race it's all new territory for me which is kind of exciting. The first challenge will be getting a clean start with the big fleet. The wind looks good right now 15 to 20 knots on Friday. I think the other big challenge will be working out the local tides and current features as we approach the Chinese mainland."
* The China Cup International Regatta 2012 takes place on 26th to 29th October 2012 in the waters of Shenzhen and Hong Kong. Its consist of four days of racing organised by Royal Hong Kong Yacht Club (RHKYC), Shenzhen Marine Sports Base and Shenzhen Vanke Longcheer Yacht Club (LYC). There are 91 entries representing 18 nations: Colombia, Australia, China, Hong Kong, China, Germany, France, Israel, Turkey, Singapore, Japan, Chinese Taipei, Mauritius, Argentina, Uruguay, Philippines, USA and the Netherlands.