With the start of the 24th edition of the Rolex China Sea Race just a week away, a competitive group of yachts is ready for the tactical challenges that this 565-nautical mile Asian offshore classic offers up every other year.
Twenty-four boats are entered in the race, with 21 racing in the IRC Racing Division, and five in the Cruising Division. The race start is Thursday 20 March at 12:00 off the Royal Hong Kong Yacht Club in Victoria Harbour.
The 2008 list of competitors combines returning race veterans with new faces. The Race has attracted several overseas entries including two Australian crews, Jon WARDILL's Australian Maid and Geoff HILL's Strewth; Chris MEADS' Full Metal Jacket from New Zealand, and Fidel/Echauz's Subic Centennial and Martin TANCO's Challenge both from the Philippines.
Defending her 2006 winner's title, the Kinmonth/Burns owned Fortis Mandrake will face stiff competition from the overseas entries whilst continuing the local rivalry with Hong Kong boats such as Sam CHAN's FfreeFire 52, Neil PRYDE's Hi Fi and the Leon CHAN/James LAU owned Tipsy Frenz. All will be chasing the 2000 race record set by Karl KWOK on the Volvo 60 Beau Geste of 47 hours, 43 minutes and 7 seconds.
For one of the overseas entries, Australian Geoff HILL on his TP52, Strewth, it is a race that he enthusiastically looks forward to and one he feels is vastly underestimated in the international circuit. HILL is very familiar with offshore racing around the world, having competed in eight Rolex Sydney Hobart Races, the Rolex Fastnet Race, and the Newport Bermuda Race. Distance races are often held up to each other, but in fact each race has its own unique set of challenges.
HILL said, "I think the Rolex China Sea Race is one of the most underrated offshore races in terms of challenges, distance from shore, and range of conditions. You leave Hong Kong and you head offshore till you hit the Philippines. This isn't a coastal cling for the most part, or a Channel dash, or a Mediterranean meander. This is a genuine offshore event across a tricky, crowded, notorious seaway with the added challenge that SAR services are basic at best. The Royal Ocean Racing Club clearly understands the challenge quality and complexity of the race as it appears in their calendar and is run under their auspices."
HILL continues, "This race is world-class and, if it was held in Europe, would have hundreds of entries. If it was possible to overcome some of the logistics I know Australasian, American and European offshore yachtsman would queue up to join."
As to the challenges the race holds, he says, "Firstly, boat and crew. In Hong Kong, whilst we have many talented sailors we don't have the pool of talent available in Australia, New Zealand, or Europe. Chinese interest is only now emerging but it will be quite awhile. Secondly, preparing the boat. The race itself is a complex tactical race and generally breaks into three bits: a bash for 60-70 miles from Hong Kong, a reach across the China Sea, and finally the tricky bit working out where to pick up your sighting of the Philippines, as usually there is a wind shadow effect and the wind can be everywhere and nowhere."
"This year I have a new boat, a Transpac 52 Strewth [previously called Trader] which only arrived in Hong Kong in September. This will be the new Strewth's first serious outing so whilst we expect to do well, it will be a steep learning curve for all onboard. I have a good experienced crew but it still takes time to learn a boat's idiosyncrasies and optimize performance. We are the new boys in the racing division this year, so we have to expect strong competition amongst the established competitors. Clearly our sister ship Ffreefire will be our benchmark and competition, but I expect Neil PRYDE's new Hi Fi and also Mandrake will keep us on our mettle."
RHKYC member Peter CHURCHOUSE has been in Hong Kong for over 25 years and has competed in most of the China Sea Races since 1982. This year he will be racing onboard his Warwick 64, Moonblue 2, launched in New Zealand in 1999. CHURCHOUSE has an illustrious past race history on a number of different boats from Charisma, a Chance 37, to Mandalay, a Dubois 67. In the mid-80s he was onboard Bugis, Vic LOCKE's Ron Holland 40, when they won their division.
Moonblue 2's crew includes, among others, some China Sea veterans: Vic LOCKE, long-time race chairman of the San Fernando race; Victor MALLET, a journalist for the Financial Times; past RHKYC Commodore Inge STROMPF, who will be navigating; plus two 18-year old experienced dinghy sailors, on their first offshore race.
For CHURCHOUSE, his race strategy is, "Get there quickly! Sailing north of the rhumbline has rarely if ever paid off. Most winners have always sailed a bit south of the line, avoiding getting trapped close into the Philippine coast where the wind can often be light.
"For the fleet overall, the ability to handle light airs is important. Pretty much all boats go well in the normally heavy airs leaving Hong Kong, but when the race gets closer to the Philippines, winds tend to get lighter and light air boats tend to do better. That is typically where the race is won or lost, and can sometimes be a bit of a lottery. Some boats have been known to make up 30 miles or more by being good in light winds."
CHURCHOUSE adds, "This race produces some absolutely sterling sailing, as the boat approaches the Philippine coast - evenings, full moon coming up from the east in front of the boat [always full moon at Easter time], flat sea, spinnaker up in 12 knots of wind. Absolutely magic moments that get relived by every single sailor a dozen times in the bar at Subic."
This will be the 24th edition of the biennial Rolex China Sea Race, organised by the Royal Hong Kong (RHKYC) with Manila Yacht Club and run under the auspices of the Royal Ocean Racing Club. The race starts in Hong Kong and will finish at Subic Bay, northwest of Manila in the Philippines.
This Asian blue-water classic has become part of Rolex's distinguished portfolio of international offshore races under a long-term partnership between Rolex and the RHKYC that commenced in 2007. The Rolex China Sea Race joins other prestigious Rolex-sponsored 2008 events including the Maxi Yacht Rolex Cup, Rolex Swan Cup, Rolex Middle Sea Race, and the Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race.
Rolex China Sea Race - www.rolexchinasearace.com