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13th China Club Challenge Match, Part 1. So how was it for you?

by Al Skinner on 12 Oct 2017
CCCM 2017, Round 1: fleet racing Al Skinner
The CCCM is by any reckoning the longest-running and entirely amateur sailing regatta in China. Club crews against club crews, representing their clubs. A long weekend’s fleet racing to seed the field, followed by a weekend’s match racing to sort the salty tars from the dilettantes – and judging by the smiles of the sailors as they came off the water at the end of it all, it was PDG (Pretty Damn Good)!

37 competing teams stepped up to the plate for the 13th China Club Challenge Match. Maybe not as many as the organisers had made allowances for, but for an event which is only in its 13th year in a nation where sailing is not much older, this is an impressive figure.

This year’s event started with three days of mainly champagne sailing on the waters off Xiamen – an overused expression perhaps, but in this case it was truly sparkling. 11 races scheduled and sailed over three three days, with sailors from the top to the bottom of the fleet giving it their all – and with the huge majority with the right attitude. In fact, the crew that was last in almost every race could always be seen with big smiles on their faces and a wave for every support boat that passed close by whether media, umpire or mark boat – and that’s what sailing should be all about.

The event was overseen by an excellent PRO who set fair windward-leeward courses up and down the sometimes fierce equinoctial tidal current. When the tide started to go slack on a couple of days, the huge number of OCS prompted general recalls with the black flag in evidence. That caught out a couple, but on the final day the BFG threat was enough to pull all the competitors into line for a clean start on the first attempt. Some previous over-enthusiasm would have made it easier for the RO to count the legal starters than the OCS boats!

The racing was kept ‘honest’ by Addendum Q on the water judging, provided by a team of sharp-eyed umpires: John and Wayne up from New Zealand, Cathy Delaney from Hong Kong (another Kiwi) and Al Skinner from China making up the foursome. Although briefed and warned about early bowsprit deployment, the early races saw multiple penalties for over eager use of the prods, but by the final day the lesson had, it seemed finally sunk in with only two or three red flags for that particular ‘over eagerness’.

The racing was effectively policed, but with two umpire boats for a fleet of 37, many of whom seemed to have an almost magnetic attraction for each other, the on-the-water hearings were still busy, with protests up into double figures at the end of the second day. Strangely – perhaps with the realisation that a protestor wasn’t guaranteed a result, or worse still with a reverse decision - many were withdrawn. The spirit however was an example to sailors everywhere with the losers smiling, happily shaking hands, and the two skippers heading off together to the free beer.

Nowhere was this spirit of sportsmanship better displayed than at the prizegiving dinner at the end of the event. All teams who sailed with at least one female crewmember received a point “discount” on their score. One of the prizewinners realised that this meant that they had received a prize - and that prize was to come back for the match race finals and a nice silver trophy (plus some Ronstan and Sunrise Marine goodies). However, although they had entered with a female crew member, they actually sailed with an all male crew - so they immediately informed the Race Committee and handed over their slot to the crew below them. That was almost as cool as the actual team that won the event. In response to this, the owner of Sunrise Marine deemed they should keep his contribution to the prizes and awarded an additional set to the replacement winners.

The main trophy remained on its plinth as in reality the event has just reached its midway stage, with 8 teams invited back in around 5 weeks time for the head-to-head match racing element to determine the 2017 champion. This is an event which is not ‘padded out’ by multiple teams of foreigners engaging in a bit of regatta tourism; every team was from within China. This is a country where, 15 years ago, sailing outside vocational provincial teams of Olympic hopefuls was unheard of.
This was an event of sailors trying hard to win for the honour. There are no big cash prizes, so why is the event proving to be successful, growing in numbers, stature, and reputation year on year?

Speaking to many competitors the answers received are not quite unique but follow a similar vein all the way through: this is a fun event with the balance between the quality of the racing, the competition, the race management, the ‘apres-sail’ activities, the adherence to the rules, and the camaraderie. Also interesting were the comments that the competitors felt it was great to leave the race course knowing where they came was where they came, with the majority of disputes settled on the water instead of having to wait for a sometimes long drawn out process in the ‘room’. Perhaps other events in more established areas might learn from this.

It is interesting to note that a well run event, designed entirely for the benefit of the competitors – call them the customers if you like – is growing in this manner whilst in other, sometimes much more established sailing nations the concern is about falling rather than rising numbers. Could it be that in some cases the organisers believe it is THEIR event rather than the sailors’?

The China Club Challenge Match most certainly belongs to the customer.

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