Final preparations are underway for the 27th China Sea Race, organised by Royal Hong Kong Yacht Club (RHKYC) under the auspices of the Royal Ocean Racing Club (RORC) and sponsored by Rolex since 2008.
The entrants are currently tying up the loose ends of the Category 1 Offshore scrutineering process, finalising their crews and making sure they have satisfied the requirements for practice drills and safety training. In spite of the ever more rigorous safety requirements for offshore racing, this year’s entry list is 34-strong; up from 26 boats in 2012 and exceeding 30 boats for the first time since the millennium edition.
This classic Cat 1 offshore race is nothing if not cosmopolitan, encompassing mostly amateur sailors from every continent, an age range of 70 years (from 17 year olds Wilhelm Christensson and Aymeric Gillard to Syd Fischer at 87) and at least 20 female sailors. Experienced sailors with over 20 Sydney-Hobarts and VOR experience rub shoulders with those for whom the 2014 Rolex China Sea Race will be their first extended taste of offshore sailing.
IRC Overall should provide a riveting competition, with the fleet containing four skippers who are former winners of the China Sea Race Trophy – Neil Pryde on Hi Fi (1988, 2010), Jonathan Mahony on Zanzibar (2012), Ernesto Echauz on Standard Insurance Centennial (1998, 2008) and Sam Chan on FreeFire (2004) but each division offers its own compelling microcosm of skill, tactics and boat set-up.
Out of the six boats entered in IRC Racer 0, Chan (2004) and Pryde (2008, 2010) have also inscribed their names on the Sunday Telegraph Trophy for Line Honours. They are joined by the legendary Syd Fischer on Ragamuffin 90 (which claimed line honours under Geoff Hill as Genuine Risk in 2012), Bryon Ehrhart on TP52 Lucky (IRC Overall winner of the 2013 Hong Kong to Vietnam Race) and Geoff Hill’s Smith 72, Antipodes, also targeting a fast time.
From overseas, IRC Racing 1 welcomes back Zanzibar, together with Dr Jon Wardill’s Australian Maid, a veteran of the passage from Hong Kong to Subic Bay and David Ross’ Ker 40 KuKuKERchu competing in the race for the first time. They are joined by eight members of the ‘Hot 40’s’ which form the backbone of Hong Kong’s – and indeed Asia’s – IRC racing scene. EFG Bank Mandrake probably came closest to glory in 2012, finishing second in IRC overall, only 22 minutes behind Zanzibar, but Ambush and Redeye come with heaps of experience while Krampus and Ramrod are keen to make their mark as first-timers.
Given the well-documented tactical decisions required in the approach to the Philippine coast, where the diurnal breeze can either make or break a boat’s race depending at what time of day they approach Grande Island at the entrance to Subic Bay, it would be unwise to write off any of the 34 boats for a corrected time win.
IRC Racing 2 features 2011 San Fernando Race winner, the Archambault 35, Red Kite II, which will be hoping to pull off a win over the bigger boats, along with A40s Sell Side Dream and Sea Wolf and Sydney 36 Talkinghead.
It is Sea Wolf‘s first Cat. 1 offshore and she means business, with the all-Chinese crew having sailed together since 2007, starting with the inaugural China Cup International Regatta and improving as a team to take second overall in a 14-strong IRC Racer 2 division in last year’s China Coast Regatta in Hong Kong.
Six boats grace the list of IRC Premier boats entered for the race and with over 12 China Sea Races under his belt, Pete Churchouse tried to explain the allure for Moonblue 2, commenting 'there are all these folks that think the Hobart Race is the ‘biggie’ for sailors and yes it is a classic hard race for sure. But this Rolex China Sea Race takes sailors much further offshore and well out of range of airborne help in the event of a disaster … I have had guys on board who have done literally double-digit Hobart races and get as sick as a dog on this Race given a very uncomfortable quartering sea on the first day out … It is not quite the benign tropical paradise that some people might imagine.'
If the 55 to 75 footers in Premier might have their eyes on line honours, the seven boats in IRC Cruising are equally ambitious. Race safety is paramount and the entire fleet has been training and going through the scrutineering process to ready the boats for the Victoria Harbour start in Hong Kong on 16 April.
With a 7-strong crew boasting more than 40 Cat 1 races between them, Eric Doguet of Ex Libris summed it up for all competitors when he noted that, even after 12 months of extensive preparations 'everyone is as excited as the first time and looking forward to the start, the finish and everything in between'.
The Rolex China Sea Race 2014 will start at 1320hrs (HKT) in Victoria Harbour, Hong Kong on Wednesday 16 April. All boats will carry a Yellowbrick tracker unit, which will report positions every 30 minutes, while the race will feature for the first time as a virtual race on Sailonline.org.
For more information about the Rolex China Sea Race, please visit: www.rolexchinasearace.com