Rolex China Sea Race kicks off tomorrow Wednesday 4th April. Activity at the Royal Hong Kong Yacht Club is gearing up for Asia’s premier Category 1 Offshore race with 26 competitors on the start line. The diverse fleet ranges from the sole participating Maxi, Geoff Hill’s Genuine Risk, to the many 50 and 40-footers competing for the China Sea Race Trophy on corrected time, including Defending Champion Neil Pryde and his team on Hi Fi.
Royal Hong Kong Yacht Club by night - Rolex China Sea Race 2012
Neil Pryde Skipper and Owner of Hi Fi - Rolex China Sea Race 2012
Genuine Risk, a Dubois 90 Maxi owned by Geoff Hill, is seen as the pre-race favourite for the line honours finish. Hill is no stranger to the Rolex China Sea Race, having raced since 2004, and whilst he has enjoyed every race so far, he admits 'perhaps less so in 2008 when we lost the keel on Strewth.' Genuine Risk is a step up for Hill as she is nearly double the size of Strewth, a TP52. With a canting keel, a 16-foot draft, huge sails and enormous power, Hill and his crew will be dealing with a very different machine this time around.
Geoff Hill, Skipper and owner of Genuine Risk - Rolex China Sea Race 2012
'There are 24 people that are going to be on this boat,' explained Hill, 'that’s double what I would have taken to Hobart this year [for the Rolex Sydney Hobart]. For us, the biggest challenge is definitely getting the boat up to its full potential in a one-week period. Preparation is really important and the sea is unforgiving, so we have to make sure we do it right.'
When asked about his predicted line honours win, Hill said, 'We may be favourites for line honours, but you can’t underestimate Neil Pryde; he’s a very good sailor, he’s competitive, he’s got a very good crew and he has optimized his boat, so I would think that he is the favourite for handicap. But that is what is interesting about this race: you just never know who it will be. The weather will actually determine who wins on handicap, because there are just so many variable patterns.'
Race veteran Neil Pryde has participated in nearly every edition of the Rolex China Sea Race since 1968 and his Welbourn 52 Hi Fi has been extremely successful offshore, counting line honours for the 2008 and 2010 editions of the Rolex China Sea Race, and overall winner in 2010, among her achievements. Pryde admits that, 'the challenging conditions developing as the race crosses the South China Sea make the smaller boats in the fleet tough to beat.' Pryde sees the TP52s as his toughest competition, including Sam Chan’s FreeFire (Hong Kong) and Jelik V, which will be crewed by a visiting all-Filipino team headed up by Ernesto 'Judes' Echauz. Echauz won the 2008 Rolex China Sea Race IRC Overall with his boat, Subic Centennial.
Skippers and weather briefing at the Royal Hong Kong Yacht Club - Rolex China Sea Race 2012
Weather forecasts announced at today’s skipper’s briefing look promising for a sparkling start in Victoria Harbour, with Easterly winds predicted between 15- 25 knots. 'The breeze can typically be strong leaving Hong Kong but, once the yachts head south-easterly across the sea, it’s a question of staying in the breeze – which can often go light approaching the Philippine coast and finish,' explained Race Chairman Richard Strompf. 'The results will be heavily influenced by which boat selects the best tactics and course as they reach the Philippine coast.'
Ambrose Lo, Commodore of the Royal Hong Kong Yacht Club with Richard Strompf, Chairman of the Rolex China Sea Race committee with the Rolex China Sea Race trophy - Rolex China Sea Race 2012
2012 marks the golden anniversary of the first race. 'Fifty years is a significant milestone for any sailing event,' said RHKYC Commodore Ambrose Lo, 'and the Royal Hong Kong Yacht Club is proud that in that time, the 565-nautical mile course from Hong Kong to the Philippines has grown from its first race to become, not only the RHKYC’s flagship sailing event, but also an event that is widely recognised as Asia’s premier offshore race. This Asian blue-water classic was the first Asian sailing event sponsored by Rolex back in 2008. With Rolex’s support, this race has further increased attention within the international yachting fraternity and is of great significance to Hong Kong and the region.'
The 2012 Rolex China Sea Race will start in Victoria Harbour at 12:10 (warning signal at noon) on April 4th, but in case of light wind in the Harbour the venue for the start may change.
Tracking will be available for public viewing (with a two-hour delay) here.
Rolex China Sea Race website