Harbour start for China Sea Race 2006

Smiling CSR Race Chairman, Peter Cremers, welcomes Jack and Vlad from Vladivostok to the China Sea Race 2006
It was smiles all round last night at the China Sea Race 2006 opening party.

Race Chairman Peter Cremers was smiling as he introduced the new race sponsors, International Paints, the competitors were all smiling as the weather forecasts improve daily, and even the press were smiling in anticipation of the start of this blue water classic on the ‘Club Line’.

Ever since the first China Sea Race in 1962, the start of Asia’s only true offshore race has taken place out in various parts of Hong Kong’s eastern approaches – near Junk Bay, Cape Collinson and Steep Island over the years. Tomorrow ‘s start line will be in the middle of Hong Kong harbour, right in front of the Royal Hong Kong Yacht Club.

The majority of tomorrow’s competitors are local sailors, so should be well able to find a quick track through Victoria Harbour’s notoriously fickle breezes. Jimmy Farquhar, a veteran of more than a dozen China Sea Races, and sailing this time on Ian Nicholson’s new Dubois Global 80, Intrigue, looked across from the RHKYC balcony: '...and I hope that cruise ship isn’t there at 1200 on Thursday, too!'

Weather forecasts last week were offering a scant force 2-3 from directions that nobody wanted – like south. But more recent forecasts are promising cloud, rain and even thunderstorms, and force 4 occasionally 5 from the north and northeast. The leading boats will probably complete the 565 nm course to Subic Bay in about 48 hours.

The China Sea Race usually falls into three distinct parts – a cold and lumpy blow out of Hong Kong, a more moderate middle section to the race with the temperature rising by the mile, and a light airs finish as boats approach the Philippine coast. 'The trick is to be in the right place when the breeze dies – which it will' said Ian Dubin, who is sailing on Frank Pong’s 76’ Boracay (ex-Enigma).

Boracay is being skippered for this outing by Peter Morton, and Pong himself will be racing on his ‘other’ boat, Jelik (formerly Pyewacket). So how does Pong feel about racing against his own boat? 'I’m looking forward to it' he said. 'Boracay will get there first, I am sure of it. She is lighter and has a higher rating. The idea of putting both boats in the race was to give some offshore experience to the young Chinese AC China Team ‘hopefuls’. And both boats will be competing in the President’s Cup in Subic Bay, so they’ll get some round-the-cans big boat racing into the bargain.'

There were a lot of familiar faces at the cocktail party at the RHKYC on Tuesday evening, some who have been out of town for a while.
The 'Dream' Team, CSR 2006
The crew list for Mark Thornburrow’s Taswell 49, Dream, includes Gerry Shutt, Tim Parsons, John Boxall and Gordon Blaauw. 'We certainly are the Dream Team,' says Shutt, 'but what worries me is that I am the youngest person on my watch'. (Gerry is not saying how old he is).

There are a number of newcomers in the fleet, including a Farr 43, Carrera, from Vladivostok. Two crewmembers are already in Hong Kong, and the boat is expected to arrive from Russia early tomorrow – just in time to turn round and go
straight back to sea. When asked the usual question - why are you doing this race? - Vladimir Kondakov replied 'Have you any idea what the temperature is like in Vladivostok right now?'

Notable by their absence will be Sam Chan and the crew of Ffree Fire, sometimes referred to as ‘the party afloat’. 'We’re very sorry that we won’t be there to defend our China Sea title', said skipper Russ Parker. 'We had a problem with the vang a couple of days ago, and by the time we realised we couldn’t fix it, there wasn’t time to get a replacement either.' Parker will now be sailing on Siren, skippered by Richard Killip who remarked, 'the CSR is the best race in Asia. It’s the only real and proper offshore race in the region, and it is a classic.'

Geoff Hill (Strewth) agrees that the CSR is a classic: 'it makes the Fastnet and the Hobart look like coastal races – although they are usually a bit more blowy', he said. About 250 miles out of Hong Kong puts the boats some 250 miles from the northern Luzon coast, giving the China Sea Race the reputation of going further offshore than any other Cat 1 race in the calendar.

The one thing that practically every crew is praying for is plenty of breeze. Breeze to get out of the harbour quickly, breeze to get well out to sea and past the 50-fathom line and the uncomfortable coastal water, breeze to push them through the main mileage of the race, and breeze to scoot them over the finish line. Simon Wood (Barnstormer) was quite explicit about what he wanted for the race: 'wind… and all the way to Subic. Last CSR we found a hole the size of Wales off the Luzon coast. Thank goodness there weren’t any parking meters around – the whole crew would have gone bankrupt.'

For the last couple of CSRs the big boats have got down the track with one weather system. 'The forecast seems to show stronger (than usual) winds in the last part of the race, which favours the middle speed boats. If the ‘slower’ boats can keep up for most of the way in lighter breeze they could pip the big boys at the end', said Robbie Knight, owner of one of those ‘slower’ boats – the dk46, Drumstick. 'We are better prepared for this race than any other offshore that we have done before,' he added. 'The crew have all sailed many hours together over the last six months on the Asian circuit, and we’re looking forward to what could be a very tactical challenge.'