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China Club Challenge Match 2009 - an event 'comes of age'

by Al Skinner on 9 Oct 2009
Winning Team - Seawolf. China Club Challenge Match 2009. Joyce Ravara
Over the last six days the China Club Challenge Match organised by Iron Rock Sailing Club has been run off Xiamen, China and the first thing to note is that the standard of the teams has risen quite incredibly from even last year. Numbers have risen also, with 18 teams entered instead of the 10 of last year. It’s a small number compared with a European regatta, but as 'growth of sailing in China' it is nothing short of exciting.

The event is easily the biggest really ‘Chinese’ regatta’, with all the teams coming from China or sailing clubs in China. The China Cup run in Shenzhen at the end of October has a greater number of entries, but most of them are ‘invited’ from outside China…. So far, this year only 11 boats are entered from China.

And no less exciting were the events on the water in what can only be described as testing conditions. Umpire boats were called on not only to oversee racing, but when a lifeline broke on one of the Flying Tiger 10’s being used for the event they turned into rescue boats also, scooping one crewman from the water and then, as conditions freshened, plucked two of the event organisers from a swamped and capsized mark boat – all in a days work.

On day one of the match racing around 90 minutes were lost as the wind got close to 30 knots requiring almost survival tactics rather than racing tactics.

The wind did however reduce sufficiently for racing to recommence and four, by now salt encrusted, umpires in two race boats took up position to attempt to get the first days programme completed. However, with the light fading fast beyond maritime lighting up time, the day ended with just one race from one match carried over until the following morning with scores standing at 1-1 between Saimeng Sailing Club from Shanghai and Microlab from Shenzhen. And what a race that turned out to be - with the boats never far apart, but with final honours going to Microlab.

That set up semi-finals between Microlab and Qingdao Santi, and between Shanghai Boat & Yacht Club (SBYC) and Seawolf, also from Shenzhen.

Seawolf had a fairly easy task against SBYC who had unfortunately lost their skipper as he had to go to back to work – ain’t it sad for work to get in the way of sailing? SBYC’s task was not helped by being in the box early in Race 1 of their Semi and an OCS in Race 2.

In the other semi-final things were not so clear cut with Microlab and Qingdao Santi trading blows in each race of their flight. 1-0, 1-1 then a final race as the sun went down with first one team in the lead then the other, penalties given one way then cancelled by one back and the final result only being placed beyond doubt as the final bottom mark was rounded before the short beat back to the finish line where the northern team of Qingdao Santi crossed the line a little further ahead than one of their earlier round victories of a matter of seconds.

The last day saw the final between Seawolf and Qingdao Santi, and started off with softer breeze but this gradually built through the day and went to the decider.

This match saw the first black flag of the regatta as Santi came off the line with two flags against them. Although the opportunity was there to take the turn, the team didn’t and so it was game over within 100m.

In the deciding race a dramatic wipe-out by their opposition saw Seawolves make it through to the final in a finish that, although it looked like a big win, all hung on that one Santi error – an error, by the way, that saw their keel waving in the air.

And so to the best-of-five final: the Seawolves charged into the box from the right in a manner that reflected their name, and took the match to the defenders from Wu Yuan Wan Sailing Club. Two races, one with a black flag, and the team from Shenzhen stood on the threshold of taking the Challenge Cup away from Xiamen for the first time.

After another pre-start with the southern team totally in control, both boats headed up the first beat. Rounding the top mark behind, and with the wind up around the 20s, the defenders launched their kite. A bit too hurried though as the boat wasn’t quite in balance. The power of the large Flying Tiger asymmetric just tipped the balance – the balance on the Wu Yuan Wan boat, that is, and after a dramatic 100m of ‘just hanging in there’, the boat rounded up violently and Seawolf won the final 3-0.

The event, certainly the match racing part of the event, was champagne sailing with the ‘L’ flag flying most of the week signifying that teams must sail with a reef - and even then boats were often overpowered. The race management team got in 40 umpired races in the 6 days of the regatta, 16 fleet races and 24 match races – impressive by any standard. Penalties were relatively few, only 2 black flags and 4 contacts in the whole event, none causing injury or damage.

The event was excellently run by Iron Rock Sailing Club with a team led by organiser Rick Qu – this event is really coming of age.

The on the water umpires were Russ Parker and Steve Trebitch ‘on loan’ from North Sails in Hong Kong assisted by Li Li and Al Skinner.

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