At the skippers briefing this evening at the Royal Hong Kong Yacht Club, Rolex China Sea Race Chairman Peter CREMERS and race officials updated the fleet on the latest weather forecast for the 565-nautical mile race, which starts tomorrow at 12:00.
A monsoon crossing the area will produce an east northeasterly breeze at race start of Force 5 (17-21 knots), and possibly higher. This should continue through Friday, before dropping to around Force 3-4 (7-16 knots) and going more easterly as the fleet reaches the Philippine coast. This bodes well for a harbour start just off the Royal Hong Kong Yacht Club in Victoria Harbour, Hong Kong.
For the 2006 Race winner Fred KINMOUTH, on the Mills 51 Fortis Mandrake, the forecast sounds promising, "I think it could be quite good for us. We'll probably have [Force] 4-5 out of harbour and most of the first day, but then it'll tail off. Our boat is really perfectly suited for light breeze, 10-11 knots, and also it will be easterly, which is ahead of the beam, which also suits our boat. We're racing against three boats of similar length but they are lighter then us, so if it's windy and the wind is behind, they get up on a plane and disappear and we lose. But if they're not planing and the wind is ahead of the beam - even though our boat is older, we're still quite competitive."
As optimistic as KINMOUTH was, he quickly noted, "The thing about the China Sea Race is it's a lottery, you go sailing out of here [Hong Kong], then you go right down and depending on what time you arrive [off the Philippine coast], you can be becalmed for eight hours and it's that last bit that actually works out who's going to win."
Given the weather forecast, there are several contenders in IRC Racing for the overall Rolex China Sea Race handicap win, which in addition to Mandrake,, includes Neil PRYDE's newly-refit Welbourne 52 Hi Fi, and two TP52's, Sam CHAN's Ffreefire 52 and Geoff HILL's new Strewth. All are expected to stage a good fight for line honours as well. Also in the mix is Chris MEADS on his Corby 43 Full Metal Jacket sailing in his first Rolex China Sea Race. Ma. FIDEL/Ernesto ECHAUZ' Sydney 46 Subic Centennial has had a good showing in past races and Jon WARDILL's Cassidy 55 Australian Maid should never be counted out.
With the propensity of the wind to shut down and cause, in effect, a restart off the Philippine coast, the smaller boats in IRC Racing B, such as Roland Buser's Sydney 38 Stella, Paul BANKOWSKI's Kerr 11.3 Jaywalker, and three Beneteau First 44.7's Cloud, Crystal and Walawala, could also be contenders for both silverware and the Rolex Yachtmaster timepiece. All will be chasing the race record set by Karl Kwok on the Whitbread 60 Beau Geste in 2000 of 47 hours, 43 minutes and 7 seconds.
There will be two starts for the four divisions: IRC Racing A and B will start at 12:10 and IRC Premier Cruising and HPKN Cruising will start at 12:20. This will be the 24th edition of the biennial Rolex China Sea Race, organised by the Royal Hong Kong (RHKYC) with the Manila Yacht Club and run under the auspices of the Royal Ocean Racing Club. The race will finish at Subic Bay, northwest of Manila in the Philippines.
The Rolex China Sea Race is truly an international race with a mix of crew coming from Hong Kong, Philippines, Great Britain, New Zealand, Australia, Netherlands, USA, Germany, France, Switzerland, and Belgium.
Chris MEADS, an expatriate Kiwi who has lived in Hong Kong for 15 years, is entering the race for the first time, on his Corby 43 Full Metal Jacket. Meads and crew sailed in last year's San Fernando Race, and he said, "In the intervening 12 months we've made a big step up in terms of both crew and boat selection: we've got a new boat, top technology onboard, and top crew. I think with this race it's pretty straightforward, we're trying to get over there [the Philippines] as fast as we can and then it's sort of a lottery as we get towards the coast. Tactics will be determined by conditions we see on the water."
Full Metal Jacket was a fairly stiff boat, so Meads had one ton of lead taken off the keel in January, between the Phuket King's Cup Regatta and the Royal Langkawi International Regatta. They saw immediate results in the performance and are hoping the boat will be optimized for the lighter airs of the race. Full Metal Jacket has a talented and experienced crew, many of whom have been on Whitbread and Volvo round-the world races, and numerous Rolex Sydney Hobarts and Rolex Fastnets, yet none of them have done this race.
In IRC Premier Cruising, Leon Chan and James Lau on Tipsy FRENZ said, "We are a little bit different from the very experienced skippers. We are amateur sailors and have participated in the China Sea Race since the early 1980s. This is the third boat owned by the Tipsy syndicate, it's a cruiser/racer, not a high performance boat."
This is the maiden ocean race for Tipsy Frenz, which they've owned since November 2007. CHAN continued, "We have a crew of 12 local sailors and we've done quite some training - day and night sailing in the past few weeks, and we dare say, we are quite prepared. We firmly believe that ocean racing is a game of fewer mistakes, so we are trying to just make fewer mistakes."
Rolex China Sea Race - www.rolexchinasearace.com