Neil Pryde's Hi Fi took line honours whilst Subic Centennial emerged as IRC overall winner at Rolex China Sea Race.
Hi Fi claimed line hours on Sunday as an increase in wind strength off the West coast of the Philippines through the night gave the lead boats exactly what they needed to close in on the finish line off Grande Island at the entrance to Subic Bay, Philippines. Neil PRYDE's Wellbourn 52 Hi Fi crossed the finish line just before noon local time with an elapsed time of 71 hours, 35 minutes and 42 seconds to win the 565-nautical mile offshore Asian classic. On Monday night the land-sea breeze off the Philippine coast made and lost fortunes for the potential handicap winners but in the end it was Philippines entry, Subic Centennial, co-skippered by Judes ECHAUZ and Vince PEREZ and their crew of young Filipino sailors, who scored IRC victory.
In the battle for line honours, Hi Fi held off Fortis Mandrake, 20 miles behind, which had a shot at the overall corrected win. In the end, Mandrake finished at 14:38 on Sunday, missing the win by a mere 13 minutes. Dockside at the Subic Bay Yacht Club, skipper Neil PRYDE was presented with a Rolex Yacht-Master timepiece by John DE LUNA from Rolex Philippines for Hi Fi's line honours win.
Hi Fi completed the course with an average speed of 7.6 knots over the 565-nautical mile course from Hong Kong to the Philippines. Not a bad speed considering the boat "parked up" on Saturday morning for five hours with no wind at all. A long, hot wait for a boat that could be excused for wondering then if its' game plan had gone wrong.
PRYDE said, "We had planned to always go the south side of the rhumb line, we figured we'd get the shift, which we did, but we didn't plan on the big park up yesterday when Mandrake went inshore and gained about ten miles on us. We went from 30 miles ahead to only 13 miles [in one sked]. Mandrake had their strategy, and we stuck to our game plan, and in the end that's what yacht racing is all about."
The Rolex China Sea Race line honours win was a first for PRYDE, who has previously won the race before on overall corrected time. Hi Fi was launched in January and the crew had only competed in the Royal Langkawi and Singapore Straits regattas. This was the first offshore test, which was an impressive showing. PRYDE commented, "We had a lot more time to settle down and get organized. Most of the races we had done were short, round the cans. This time we've been on the boat a long time, we had a chance to really sort things out. We had an excellent crew on the boat, some very good technicians, who were able to put the boat together."
In contrast to first-time winner PRYDE, handicap victors ECHAUZ and PEREZ had won the China Sea Race ten years earlier, in 1998 with the same boat. ECHAUZ is President of the Philippines Sailing Association and head of the Philippines sailing team and was involved in the ASEAN Games in Manila. Subic Centennial, a Sydney 46 from the Manila Yacht Club, is mostly composed of young kids who are part of the Philippines Team, with Australian Jamie Wilmot as the senior coach.
PEREZ commented, "Judes really does a good job trying to involve young Filipinos who otherwise wouldn't enjoy the sport of sailing. He has provided scholarships in the Philippines Sailing Association, and sent them to the Southeast Asia Games, so this is a great experience for them. Some of them have never been to Hong Kong before, so it's a wonderful ocean race for them to participate in."
Once again tactics played as much a part as luck. ECHAUZ said, "We were trying to be close to the rhumb line - we did not want to go south, as we might have been stuck. The way we looked at it was to be on the rhumb line, or eventually trying to go north of the rhumb line, so that when we got further down [the course] and the wind conditions were northeast as forecast, on the last day it would be favouring us."
He continued, "The northeast was supposedly forecast for the last two days, but I guess in terms of weather prediction there was a big hole. Yesterday, true enough we got caught up for four hours and were not moving. It was very calm, 2 or 3 knots, up until about four in the afternoon."
ECHAUZ added, "We've seen Rolex as a sponsor in international regattas and their being the sponsor for the Rolex China Sea Race will really give it a big boost and a lot of prestige."
Paul BANKOWSKI's Ker 11.3 Jaywalker, won IRC Racing B division and was second overall on corrected time after Subic Centennial. In IRC Premier Cruising Division, it was Mark THORNBURROW, from Hong Kong, on his Taswell 49 Dream who finished first. Jaywalker persevered where others were stymied, coming in on the northwesterly which shut off, filled in from the southeast and shut down again, before finally filling in from the northwest again to get them across the finish line at 22:04 on Monday.
They also persevered in that this was only the second time the boat has finished this race, after starting in four editions, having had to retire twice due to mechanical problems.
Outlining their winning game plan, crewmember Don WILKS from Hong Kong said, "We decided to go south of the rhumb line and come in from the sea side. First night we dove south quite deeply, mainly because it was a bit windy - didn't have an option. Took off south, stayed south, gybed a couple of times and came in just as we planned."
Jaywalker was one of the few boats that avoided any holes, WILKS adding, "From that point of view, we were very lucky, we kept the boat moving at all times."
Interestingly enough, there wasn't a clear right winning track this year to the Philippines - if there ever is - some boats chose to go south of the rhumb line, such as Hi Fi, Jaywalker, and Dream, while others such as Subic Centennial and Fortis Mandrake headed more inshore.
Rolex China Sea Race chairman Peter CREMERS, who raced on board his Warwick 55, Shahtoosh, finishing second in IRC Performance Cruising, was pleased with another successful edition of this biennial race from Hong Kong. CREMERS said, "The race gives a bit to everybody, the top racing machines and the cruisers like mine. If they do the race in a proper way, everybody has a chance to do well, that's the purpose. It's not just the top hot boats that find a home in this race, everyone needs to find his niche in the race."
The official prize giving ceremony will take place on 16 April 2008 at the Royal Hong Kong Yacht Club. Among the trophies, Rolex timepieces will be awarded to Hi Fi's for the Line Honours win and to Subic Centennial for winning IRC Overall.
Rolex China Sea Race - www.rolexchinasearace.com