Vanke Longcheer dominated the final day's competition with a 2,1 score to win the 35-boat Beneteau 40.7 fleet at the China Cup International Regatta in Shenzhen.
The level of Zeng Haitao's dominance in the fleet led to questions about whether their sails were permissible for an event where the majority of teams use charter boats with equipment as supplied. Lying in 3rd place at the end of racing, Tobias O'Connell's team on Yo! launched a protest at the two boats ahead in the overall standings, Vanke Longcheer and Vatti Sailing.
After long deliberations, the International Jury let the provisional results stand. The provisional winner was crowned the definitive winner. At last Zeng Haitao and his crew of Australian professionals could celebrate victory in an event that is attracting an increasingly high standard of sailors, and with it the kind of controversy that took place today.
"A great week on and off the water,"
said Vanke crewman Marcus Ashley-Jones. "We were lucky enough to get here a few days early. We arrived for a bit of crew training at Longcheer Yacht Club and then we found we were competitive speed-wise. We had a lot of battles with the Vatti team. It's been great."
As to the controversy around Vanke Longcheer's sails. "The rules that are written for this event are quite open ended, and it does allow for quite an uneven playing field. What's happened has happened, we can't change that.
"But for the next event I think we should look at it, the event is getting so big, it's attracting more and more talented sailors who are pushing the limits more. They need to rewrite the rules to accommodate this. It's attracting a lot more attention globally. You've got Olympic gold medallists, TP52 sailors coming to compete here. To keep level of the Beneteau 40.7 class high, they need to build some tighter rules around it."
Jamie Wilmot, sailing with his Olympic Champion son Nathan aboard Tobias O'Connell's Yo!, explained the rationale behind their final-day protest against the top two boats ahead of them. "This regatta is a great template for others to follow,"
he said. "It's the absolute future of racing - but let's do it properly. If you have a fleet of charter boats, they should all have the same sails. To get away from this situation, in future we should have teams swap boats after the end of every day."
Jono Rankine won last year and came back with a crew that on paper was the strongest of the regatta, with talent that included 470 Olympic Champion Jo Aleh and 49er World Champion and Olympic silver medallist Pete Burling. Rankine said there was nothing wrong with his team, but using charter-supplied sails they lacked the raw pace to take the fight to Vanke Longcheer. "The guys have worked very hard to keep us in the game and get us round the course. Unfortunately we didn't manage to defend our title from last year, but the guys have done us proud. We've been racing a boat that's almost in another division in terms of their relative speed to us."
The controversy in the Beneteau fleet is an example of the kind of growing pains that events go through as they gain in stature and importance. Now in its 7th year, this year's China Cup has been the most professionally managed thus far, according to Frank Pong, owner of the 75ft maxi-sled Jelik. "For us this week, our results haven't been terrific, but that happens here and there,"
he said. "For the China Cup, however, not only has the organisation got better and better, you can see the quality of the local crews has come on a long way. Overall the whole organisation, both the on-water management, and ashore, are getting close to world class now."
In IRC A, Jelik just missed out on a podium finish, with the smaller boats getting the better of Frank Pong on this occasion. HuaAn Sailing Team lost their first-choice helmsman Peter Backe to his day job back in Hong Kong. However the stand-in replacement, Mike Halkes, didn't do too badly either, steering the McConaghy 38 to a final race victory and overall victory in IRC Class A ahead of Denis Logutenko's Russky Team. "I steered the boat on the delivery trip,"
said Halkes, "so getting the boat into the groove wasn't too hard. The team has really got stronger this week, we kept improving day after day and to round it off with a win is a brilliant way to finish the regatta. I'll be back next year. Whether I'm with this boat or another, I'll definitely be back."
Last year Halkes won with Vatti Sailing in the Beneteau fleet, now this year with HuaAn Sailing Team. So Halkes will surely be a man in demand at next year's China Cup.
In IRC B, Tonny Chun's Talkinghead went into the day sitting a point in front of Whiskey Jack skippered by Nick Southward. Talkinghead was in the lead early on during the round-the-island race, but Whiskey Jack had learned their lessons from four previous China Cup campaigns, as Southward explained, "We squeaked the win. We won the last race by cutting the corner more closely round the island. We got inside Talkinghead and managed to keep them behind for the whole of the way back. It was pretty much a match race, we're very closely matched with them on speed. Whoever won the races, they won because they saw the windshifts, not so much because of speed."
It was the team's first victory at the China Cup. "We've come 2nd or 3rd, but never actually done No.1. We had the same crew this year, but gained a better understanding of how to do it. As each year has gone by we've got better at the China Cup."
Other class winners were Xie Jun's China Spirit in IRC C, Zhang Peng's CYA Great Wall in the Soto 27 one-design fleet, Tiger Zeng's TT who dominated HKPN Division 1 with a string of bullets, and Szeto Yiu Kwai's HuaAn Cutting Edge in HKPN 2.