Rolex China Sea Race to finish in Subic Bay
With the start of the Rolex China Sea Race just three weeks away, a competitive fleet is lining up for this 565-nautical mile Asian offshore classic. To date, 29 boats are registered, with several more anticipated to enter the race, which starts on Thursday, April 1 in Hong Kong and finishes in Subic Bay, northwest of Manila, the Philippines.
Organised by the Royal Hong Kong Yacht Club, in co-operation with Manila Yacht Club and the Subic Bay Yacht Club, this will be the 25th edition of the biennial blue-water race that will start, weather permitting, amidst the hustle and bustle of seagoing activity - sampans, ferries, and ships - of Hong Kong's Victoria Harbour.
From the starting line off the RHKYC, there is a short leg to a windward mark before the fleet heads eastwards across the South China Sea, along the west coast of the Philippines to the finish off Subic Bay.
Seasoned competitors know it is never as easy as it sounds. Typically, weather on the first day and night in the South China Sea can feature a boat and crew-testing combination of lumpy seas and a strong headwind. The race then becomes fairly strategic as tacticians and navigators have to decide how close to sail to the Philippine shoreline in search of breeze.
RHKYC Commodore Warwick Downes, an enthusiastic competitor, will be a helmsman of Avant Garde, a new Archambault 40 owned and skippered by Greg Kearns. Downes, having raced in the RCSR around 10 times, including several wins, knows what to expect offshore.
"I look forward to a spectacular start, a rollicking reach to the obstacles of the oil rigs, then a blue-water blast towards a fickle finish," Downes said.
As to strategy, he offered, "It usually pays to go a bit south of the rhumbline, but sometimes a northern route will get you there - it depends on the weather reports and how much you trust them."
The current race record of just under two days was established in 2000 by local yachtsman Karl Kwok on his Volvo 60, Beau Geste, with an elapsed time of 47h 43m 07s.
This year's entries include several strong contenders to challenge Kwok's race record; 2008 RCSR line honours winner, Neil Pryde with his modified Welbourn Custom 52 Hi Fi; the TP52's Geoff Hill's Strewth (AUS), Ray Robert's Evolution Racing (AUS), and Sam Chan's FfreeFire 52; and Fred Kinmonth/Nick Burns' Mills 51 EFG Mandrake.
Also in the line-up is FfreeFire 70, a ULDB sled, skippered by Lowell Chang, as well as the 2008 RCSR handicap winner, Ernesto Echauz' Subic Centennial (PHI), a Sydney 46, back to defend their win.
An internationally known sailmaker and formidable competitor, Neil Pryde is a veteran of 18 China Sea Races with two wins - including 2008 line honours - so he knows well what may lie in store en-route.
Pryde offered, "It is always a very challenging race. We start with a sprint across the South China Sea driven by the northeast monsoon. As this runs out, we then work our way into a new weather system that develops off the Philippines coast and there is always a gap in the middle, which is difficult to bridge.
“Like any other ocean race, to win you need an element of luck and obviously, we hope we are going to get plenty!
“Tactically, this is a very interesting race and the objective is always to place the boat in the right position to get first use of the new breeze that takes us into the Philippines, but even when we get to the (Philippine) coast, the last few miles into Subic Bay can bring surprises.
“Depending on the time of the day you arrive, you can either get land or sea breezes and again, there is always a gap in the middle. Such is the joy of ocean racing!
“This year the competition is going to be tough with four other 52 ft boats in Racing Division, including three TP52s. We certainly will have company!"
The Rolex China Sea Race rules require boats must be a minimum length of 10m (LOA) to compete and will be divided into: IRC Racing (three divisions), Cruising Class, and Premier Cruising Class.
Shore-based fans will once again have the opportunity to follow the racing online. Pole Star and SkyWave have joined forces to provide a web-based tracking facility for the event.
The race was first run in 1962, and has been held every two years since then. In 1972, it was officially recognised by the Royal Ocean Racing Club. Since then it has continued to attract increased interest and served to draw the attention of the international yachting fraternity to Hong Kong and Southeast Asia.
The Rolex China Sea Race joins other prestigious Rolex sponsored events including the Farr 40 Worlds, Maxi Yacht Rolex Cup, Swan Cup, Middle Sea Race and the Sydney Hobart Yacht Race.
Further information including entry list: www.rhkyc.org.hk/rolexchinasearace.htm