China Club Challenge Match 2013 - stage 1 completed

China Club Challenge Match 2013 - Small wind, big tide. Black flag at the ready
Al Skinner
It takes time for anything to grow and the China Club Challenge Match is no different.

The event started as a challenge between two embryonic Chinese sailing clubs, Ironrock Sailing Club in Xiamen and Zhuhai Sailing Club in two beat-up old J/24s, and over the years the event has grown.

Over the last few days in Xiamen the ninth edition has been sailed in a competitive and sportsmanlike manner better than ever before, with 30 teams locking horns in J/80s. The number of teams depending on retired athletes has gone down, and the female involvement has gone up with 20% of the boats being driven by the fairer sex – although judging by their competitiveness that is very much a relative term.

The event had everything: protests (valid!); general recalls; and even one or two black flags. Close competitive racing, yet very little in the way of ‘bumper cars’ that can sometimes be seen in regattas with borrowed boats.

The event was sailed in boats supplied by the organizers thanks to the support of Hudson Marine, with the boats being equalised and checked by Jim Johnstone (the name is no coincidence) who heads up J-Boats Asia.

With 20 boats and 30 teams it was necessary to split into two flights, both getting in seven races each over the three days of racing in conditions that ranged from a shortened course to genuine broaching weather, with the event finishing just ahead of Typhoon Fitou which hit the coast around 100 miles away not many hours after the noise of the prize-giving party died away.

The standard of sailing has certainly evolved and improved over the years I have been attending the event, with far more amateurs involved than the early days, and with some teams even being owner driven.

The Club Cup, as it is known, is the oldest keelboat regatta in China, pre-dating China Cup by a full year, and it has become the ‘must win’ event for many Chinese teams. This year, some were making their fourth or fifth attempt to have their name inscribed on the trophy, getting closer each time.

From the form shown in the first part of the event, the favourites heading towards the second knockout match racing phase must surely be Shanghai Airport Sailing Team which is primarily made up, as the name suggests, of employees and family from Shanghai’s airport workers sports club. They posted five bullets and two second places over their three days’ racing – not bad having a ‘2’ to discard!

So now the top 16 (eight from each flight) must go away, hone their boat handling skills further, and read up on the rules to be ready to re-join battle back down in Xiamen, 8-11 November. Will they be able to break last year’s record, when the race management team managed to get off 26 races in one day? In 2012, each match in the round of 16 went to the best-of-three decider, plus a couple of ‘exhibition’ races. Granted, it’s unlikely, given that one or two teams have shown themselves to be head and shoulders above the rest this year - but only time will tell.

China Club Challenge Match 2013 - Shanghai Airport Group showing their downwind form
Al Skinner