The China Club Challenge Match is the premier Chinese sailing event for Chinese sailors, with 34 teams from around the country battling it out for the right to challenge the 2010 trophy holder. It is run on the waters off Xiamen in Fujian Province, which this time of year serves up good breezes every day, almost like clockwork.
The event is open to all sailors in China - including foreigners who live and work in the country - and has earned a reputation in recent years for good winds, tight courses, fair, unbiased umpiring and rulings, and good tight racing in the ‘proper’ spirit of sailing. We have even observed defeated teams crossing the line a few boat lengths behind the victors, and spontaneously raising their hands in applause for the victor!
It was expected that the fleet racing element of the event would sort out the men from the boys. The breeze was providing a steady 20kts, and with some sailors on the J/80s for the first time it proved so, with some of the fleet opting to avoid the spinnaker. But with the committee boat recording 30+ kts in the gusts perhaps this wasn’t surprising.
Spin outs were very much in evidence, with some skippers failing to keep their boats under the rig, providing some dramatic viewing for those on the spectator boats.
A busy time was had by the on-the-water judges who then were back sitting behind the table in the protest room for much of the evening, especially on day 1 when they left the venue at 2250h. Altogether around a dozen protests were lodged, but it could easily have been more as the racing was close, competitive and at times a little too combatative.
Having said that, boat damage and breakdowns were remarkably light considering the conditions, and the J/80s lent by built and lent by Hudson Yachts proved to be more than up to the task, and only two requests for redress due to gear failure were lodged in the entire fleet racing section of the regatta.
Three days racing, 14 races, and the fleet whittled down from 34 to 16.
The event then shifted gear into the match racing phase with the round of 16 requiring 24 races in one day
. Sounds incredible, but that is what the race management team managed to squeeze out on day four.
Race Officers Russ Parker and Tony Liu, along with umpires Al, Ewan, Peter and Tim certainly earned their corn on this day. with all of them on the water for every race.
The fleet were gradually whittled down to four semi-finalists from all over China - Sanya, Shenzhen, Ironrock of Xiamen (the hosts for the event) and Shanghai. Two matches later, Seawolf from Longcheer Yacht Club in Shenzhen emerged the winners of the China Club Cup Challengers Trophy, earning the right to sail against the defenders on the final day of the event.
It was a bit of a David and Goliath event, with the defender Hudson Fei Peng (the J-80 builder) helmed by American professional sailor and President of Hudson Yachts, Jim Johnstone, against the team from Shenzhen.
Unfortunately for the part timers, the result wasn’t the same as the biblical encounter, with Fei Peng successfully defending their trophy, although the amateurs from the south were hardly embarrassed by the 4-1 score line and never finished a race more than eight boat lengths down on the winners.
What an event. For the numbers people amongst you there were 34 teams, 72 races, 12 protests, too many blue, yellow and green flags to count (along with a couple of reds and blacks thrown in for good measure), a worthy winner in the challenger series and a fair and penalty free challenger/defender series. And just like Queen Victoria was told all those years ago – there was no second.