It was an inauspicious start to the day – cold, rainy and miserable, and with a distinct lack of wind. Competitors looked out gloomily out from the balcony at the Royal Hong Kong Yacht Club. Many wondered – with some justification – whether the racing might be canned altogether. But when you have the assembled millions of Phoenix TV’s China audience just waiting to switch off the horse racing and the gameshow channel and switch on to small boat racing in Hong Kong harbour on a Saturday afternoon – well, you’d better not disappoint!
PHOENIX CUP 2011 - they’re off! The Phoenix Cup practice race starts from the RHKYC Club line. - Guy Nowell/J-Boats Asia Click Here to view large photo
First practice race, 1330 hrs start. Time for the live broadcast crews to practice their swing-and-pan shots, time for the pretty tv anchors to put on the foul weather gear, time for action on the water. The first start became a General Recall as almost the entire fleet of 22 J/80s was pushed gently over the line by the tide. Second start, same story. Third start and the fleet was away ‘clean’ for what is usually known at RHKYC as a ‘Sunset’ race (triangle-sausage-finish), right in front of the clubhouse.
The starting gun must have woken up the wind gods, as all of a sudden the breeze piped up, and crews suddenly found themselves sailing in 12-15 kts. A short beat to the windward mark – maybe 300 m – and then up went the colourful Phoenix TV and iFeng.com spinnakers. It was enough to make a photographer’s heart glad in spite of the clagging grey (and the incessant rain) as the harbour broke out all over in a rash of red and yellow.
Leeward mark roundings with a little pressure in the sails proved troublesome for some, and a few ‘interesting’ moments were witnessed - and in some cases recorded. Tiffany Koo and a well-drilled crew on Jelik 6 led all the way round the track and finished with a healthy lead, but you know what they say about winning practice races…
An interlude on shore allowed time for lunch before the ‘main event’ at 1600 hrs - timing dependant upon the arrival Guest of Honour, Mr Tung Chee Hwa, former Chief Executive of the Hong Kong SAR. He’s a busy man on a Saturday afternoon, is Mr Tung, so we just had to wait. The rain came and went, and came again, and the breeze wasn’t quite so sure. But Mr Tung was on time and so was the start, and this time there were no recalls. Right on cue, in came the breeze, and the rain stopped. We never got the sunshine, but the fleet did get some good racing.
PHOENIX CUP 2011Mr Liu Chang Le (Chairman and CEO, Phoenix TV), Mr Tung Chee Hwa (former CE, HKSAR), and Mr Ambrose Lo (Commodore RHKYC) check out the race course from the RHKYC balcony. - Guy Nowell/J-Boats Asia Click Here to view large photo
Fast-starting boats at the pin end set the pace for the first part of the race, with the fleet heading up towards the Hung Hom buoy before the pressing down towards the Shau Kei Wan mark. Almost all the boats held the North Point shore to stay out of the incoming tide, and were lifted along the line beneath the Island Eastern Corridor. 'We were tacking along the shore’' said Jim Johnstone later, 'but only changing 10-15° on the compass heading between tacks. It felt really good.' But there are two sides to any race course, and Jelik 7 with Louie Perfectua at the helm ‘went the other way’. Standing on past Hung Hom and then all the way into Kowloon Bay and towards the old airport runway – a longer course, and crossing the tide completely, but at Shau Kei Wan they had a commanding lead of maybe 20 lengths. The scrap was for second place between Alchemist (Nigel Reeves), Jelignite (Jim Johnstone), and Hakawati (Dan Tullberg).
The race was Perfectua’s for the taking, but the run back down back to Hung Hom was less kind than the beat up. ‘Low, slow, and straight down the middle’ was Jelignite’s programme, while Jelik 5 tried to run the angles – but although there was wind, there wasn’t enough to get a J/80 planing, and the extra distance took a toll. Perfectua later acknowledged that the v2.0 J/80 asymmetrics being used by most of the fleet (but not Jelik 5) allowed for deeper running, and a distinct advantage. By Hung Hom, Jelignite was in the lead, and Alchemist (complete with Phoenix TV anchor smiling prettily under her Phoenix TV hat) had pushed into the second slot.
The race had to last 90 minutes, according to the tv people, so the next leg went back up to Dock buoy and then returned to Hung Hom. A bit like running a pursuit race, and trying to hit a specified time for the first finisher. No matter: an ‘S’ flag on the Cheoy Lee at Hung Hom was a finish line, with Jelignite cruising home to a comfortable victory. And the camera boat got back to Kellett Island and under cover, beating the nasty-looking rain squall coming in from Central.
It was a brisk reach from the Hung Hom finish back to the RHKYC - the lucky ones got there before the rain re-started. And then at 1900 hrs, to coincide once again with live broadcast, prizegiving time with Mr Liu Chang Le, Chairman and CEO of Phoenix TV, and Mr KK Yeung, Executive Vice President and CFO. On this, the company’s 15th birthday, Mr Yeung declared the Phoenix Cup to be a resounding success, and looked forward to another edition next year.