Hong Kong was called nine times to the podium during the prize ceremony that drew to a close the 15th Asian sailing championships, on Saturday 25th February on the Malaysian resort island Langkawi.
15th Asian Sailing Championships, 2012. HKG team members take a water break
The event gathered 275 sailors from 19 countries and 60 technical officials (including international jury, measurement controllers and race officers). Participating countries included China, India, Japan, Singapore, Thailand and Korea. Hong Kong entered the highest number of participants, 25 boats and 35 sailors, second only to the host country, Malaysia, which entered 32 boats. Hong Kong was present in all categories except match racing.
Most races took place in light conditions 5-12 knots of wind and scorching heat that the young sailors fought by drinking gallons of water. Several races had to be called off after the wind dropped below racing conditions. Strong currents related to the tide complicated the conditions for sailors unfamiliar with these waters.
Commenting on the overall results of the Hong Kong team, HKG Team Manager Warwick Downes said: 'We always expected the windsurfers to do well, considering how solid Hong Kong has become in this sport. And yet, this is not even the A list since the very best windsurfers were training and qualifying for the Olympics elsewhere in the world. The medal we got in the Hobie 16' was also sort of expected, and Nagisa Sakai (Laser Radial) is a strong sailor. But the rest was a bit unknown. Cosmas and Nathan's class (29ers) is new, so it was great to see them win so comprehensively. It is very unfortunate that our 470 men were disadvantaged by a jury decision in one race and the vagaries of the wind in some others. They won three races and surely should have medalled. Then, we had many other sailors who were here for the experience, especially in 420 and Optimists. '
A Hong Kong medal winners - 15th Asian Sailing Championships, 2012
The biggest surprise came from Aberdeen Boat Club Sailors Cosmas Grelon and Nathan Bradley who created a sensation by winning gold in the two handed high-performance 29er class against one of the very best young sailors in the world, the former Optimist World Champion 2010, Thai national Noppakao Poonpat. After a few days of racing, the struggle between the pink spinnaker (THAI 1946) and the pale blue spinnaker (HKG 1952) looked more and more like a match race. 'We started pretty bad' remembers crew Nathan Bradley with a smile.' First we did the wrong course and though we finished first, the second boat went through the finish line and beat us. We still managed to finish second on that one. Then, during race 2, we had gear failures; the tack-line of our spinnaker came loose. So we sailed without a spinnaker...' But things started looking up for the two former Optimist sailors after the third race, when it became clear that two teams, namely Thailand and Hong Kong, were the strongest contenders for gold.
A Hong Kong Gold Medal Winners Cosmas Grelon and Nathan Bradley - 15th Asian Sailing Championships, 2012
Hong Kong started second behind Thailand with India close on their heels. They became first on the second day by one point. Then Thailand secured two wins on Day 3 and took the lead by one point. After eight races, a single point was still separating the two best teams. But HKG1952 secured four consecutive bullets that created an almost unassailable lead. Malaysia won the 12th and last race while HKG1952 concentrated on covering its main contender, THAI 1946, and finished second, two places ahead of Thailand. Hong Kong won overall, six points ahead of Thailand. 'We kept our cool throughout the regatta and worked closely together during the whole time' said helmsman Cosmas Grelon, 17, who won the Junior World Championship for Hong Kong in the RS 500 class in Weymouth (UK) in August 2011.
'Our sailors were good, they improved over the week and their consistency paid off' said race coach Rory Godman, from Aberdeen Boat Club (ABC). 'The competition was of high level, and their result is all the more impressive that they've only trained in this kind of boat for two months before the regatta' added Godman. The predominating light conditions made it harder for the heavier ABC 29er team Peter Simpson and Louis Bond-Smith who finished sixth overall.
Both Hong Kong 29ers teams were selected after a qualification regatta took place in Hong Kong in extreme conditions early December 2011 with wind gusting to 25 knots and boats capsizing several times during most races.
A bright future, funding permitting
Looking to the future, Hong Kong 29er team is hoping to enter the Youth World championships, which will take place in July 2012, in Dublin (Ireland), and then hit the World championships in Germany, funding permitting. Unlike windsurfing, sailing gets little government support, and most events abroad have to be financed privately or with the help of sponsors. On this occasion, the ABC 29ers were shipped to Langkawi thanks to the generous support of OOCL shipping and Hellman Logistics.
29ers : an exciting newcomer to Asia
29er is an exciting dinghy class that the Asian championships welcome for the first time this year, though it is widely spread in Europe and Australia. Currently, only ABC, HK Sea School and RHKYC have included this type of boats in their flotilla, but other clubs are considering acquiring some too. 'They are very fast, very unstable and very spectacular sailing machines that offer a new experience to young sailors who have grown out of the Optimist class' commented ABC race coach Rory Godman. 'After several years of sailing Optimists, it's completely different. The size, the speed, the sails... The tactics are also less detailed in 29ers. Now, we want to minimize tacking whereas in Optimist you don't lose as much speed when you tack. Angles are also very different, especially on the downwind...' commented Cosmas Grelon, skipper of the winning 29er and a former Opti sailor.
A strong team spirit
Warwick Downes, from the Hong Kong Sailing Federation, and Hong Kong Team Manager, wants to emphasize the strong team spirit that dominated this campaign. 'We had a big team, 35 sailors, 4 coaches, and myself. We were all hanging out together, socializing, so that the whole thing came across as a real team effort. It is very important that even the windsurfers got included. It created a unified spirit. When someone did well, everyone rejoiced,' commented Downes.
'Since our first 1996 gold medal in the 1996 Olympic games, windsurfing has become very popular in Hong Kong. The government has supported the sport a lot, and this is bringing results' said Ho Chi Ho, coach windsurf Hong Kong, who won silver at the Asian Games in 2006, after his six windsurfers all got medals in this latest competition. 'China is always our strong competitor but like us and like Korea, they have not sent their stronger team to Langkawi. Some are preparing for the Olympics. Our best girl, Vicky Chan, is currently doing the European championships and Andy Leung, is training in New Zealand. They will all go to Spain for the qualifications next month' said coach Ho.
All junior sailors had to take time off school to be able to represent Hong Kong at this international event.
Hong Kong Gold Medal Winners Cosmas Grelon and Nathan Bradley - 15th Asian Sailing Chapionships, 2012
Results : 9 medals
29er: Cosmas Grelon
Windsurf MOD Men: Ma Yik Kau
Hobie 16: Tong Shing
Laser radial: Nagisa Sakai
Windsurf MOD Women: Ma Ka Him
Windsurf RSX Women: Sonia Lo
Windsurf MOD Women: Chin Yim Law
Windsurf MOD Men: Kong Chim Lam
Windsurf RSX women: Lydia Chau
Further Information available from:
Florence de Changy email@example.com (author of this report)
Kevin Lewis firstname.lastname@example.org (Dinghy Sailing Manager at Aberdeen Boat Club)