The Round Hainan Regatta kicked off on Friday in great style, with fresh conditions that at times tested the sailors and their boats. Despite the overcast skies and light rain at start time, the breeze topped 17 knots and allowed for close and exciting races on off Serenity Marina in Sanya.
372 sailors from 15 countries are contesting the regatta.
In the hotly-contested IRC B2 division, Dongfeng 2, skippered by British round-the-world record man Brian Thompson, took the upper hand over Vatti, where two-time Olympic gold medalist Malcolm Page is joined by a crew of world champions and Olympic medalists.
A mere five years have passed since its inception, but the Round Hainan Regatta proved to be today the battleground for some of the world's best sailors, especially in the IRC B2 division where the day's only race was a very good indicator of what is to come in the next seven days. Despite the early-morning rain and the light-air start, conditions on Sanya bay got brisker as the breeze reached 17 knots.
The Jeanneau 32 Dongfeng 2, skippered by Britain's round-the-world record man Brian Thompson and crewed by three aspiring Chinese sailors beat Vatti in corrected time. Not only is Thompson sailing for the first time ever in China, the Dongfeng 2 boat is crewed by only four sailors, instead of the usual seven under IRC, and helmed by Chinese Finn sailor Zhang Peng. What makes this victory even more impressive is the fact the three Chinese sailors hardly spoke any word of English two months ago and despite being Olympic sailors, some of them had never sailed with a gennaker or spinnaker up to two weeks prior to the Round Hainan Regatta.
Still, even with Friday's strong wind the four sailors had an excellent day. Thompson was impressed by the progress Chinese sailors have made. Jokingly, he said that today, 'Zhang Peng was driving while the rest of us were hiking.' Thompson was impressed by the level of enthusiasm he encountered and the number of boats taking part in the Round Hainan Regatta and was convinced the sport of sailing was destined to grow in China.
Malcolm Page isn't a newcomer in China but this is the first time he is back after the Beijing Olympics in 2008 where he took the gold medal in the 470 class. He feels it is 'obviously very exciting to be back here again', not only because it is his first time sailing in Sanya but also because he sees China 'growing a lot in the sport of sailing.'
According to Page, the Chinese 'obviously, won medals in Beijing, that was their home games, but they did keep up and won a medal in the London Olympics in great style. They are really starting to make their mark in the sport of sailing and, obviously, having a Volvo Ocean Race team from here is really impressive and a stopover of that race as well. So, to be here and race in the Round Hainan Regatta is only natural.'
What advice does a two-time Olympic gold medalist have for the Chinese? Page thinks that 'the Chinese should take this opportunity from many different angles. I guess that one angle, in order to increase the race-management side of things is to learn not only from the competitors but also from the international connections they have through ISAF. The Chinese sailors as well should take this opportunity in their country to have the international sailors and learn from them. I'm sure though that international sailors will also learn from the Chinese and this is a natural progression.'
For Page, the Round Hainan Regatta is a perfect start to the season and serves as a team-building exercise. They can focus on getting the right communications and the right mechanics on the boat so that they can be at their best in summer time.
In the Soto 27 one-design fleet, today's three wins propelled GMGE / Koo Racing Team to first place. The two Malaysian siblings, Jeremy and Tiffany Koo, together with Singapore's Maximilan Soh, all three being Asia's top match racers, proved unbeatable for their opponents.
In the Beneteau Oceanis 40 fleet, the all-Russian crew on the Wanning-sponsored boat took the day's only race. Maibo, skippered by Huabing Wang, claimed leadership in the IRC-A division while Youbao and Yunda lead, respectively, the IRC B1 and Fareast 26 divisions.
Racing on Sanya bay continues on Saturday, with two windward/leeward races scheduled for the IRC A, IRC B and Beneteau Oceanis 40 while the one-design Soto 27's and Fareast 26's will hold three races.