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Sun Hung Kai & Co. Around the Island Race 2021

by Guy Nowell 22 Nov 2021 06:32 PST 14 November 2021
Sun Hung Kai & Co Around the Island Race 2021 © Guy Nowell / RHKYC

Hong Kong’s annual Around the Island Race, organised by the Royal Hong Kong Yacht Club and this year sponsored by Sun Hung Kai and Co, is rather more than a yacht race – it’s more of an institution.

It’s a genuine Festival of Sail, attracting sailors and boats from all the Hong Kong clubs, some of whom rarely (if ever) race during the rest of the year. Indeed, some of them may well be at the Around the Island Race in a not particularly ‘racing’ mode! You know what I mean. This year the venerable Jadalinkir joined in just for the pleasure of being there – but weren’t actually racing as it turns out that 75-year old boats have trouble getting race insurance.

My good friend Andrea Francolini, doyenne of the Australian yacht racing photographers, maintains that you need three things for good sailing photography: “Wind, waves, and sunshine. You can get away with two out of three, but one on its own is not enough.” In Hong Kong I suggest adding a fourth condition – clean air. Last Sunday we had the lot, so no excuses from the man with the camera.

The weather forecast was a bit iffy. “Need more breeze,” said RO Dave Norton. “I do hope we’re not going to be calling finishes at Cyberport again.” In the event, and after a start sequence that went from 08.30 all the way to 11.00 (228 boats is a lot of division starts), there was breeze pretty much all the way. Almost.

Getting out of the harbour in a (very) moderate nor’easterly is always a game of snakes and ladders, but after Lei Yue Mun it was Sloop John B stuff – “spinnakers up, and we’re on our way.” An easterly swell running on to Shek O Rock provided some good visuals, and the approach to Cape d’Aguilar as the reach became broader and broader may have provided a few anxious moments for some. It was a good 18 kts when the camera boat reached the corner, and for sure there were a few boats that looked to be “on the edge of control.” The rest of the fleet thought this was Grand Stuff, put the pedal to the metal, and powered down past the oldest lighthouse in Hong Kong. It was proper rock n’ sailing, and you could hear the happy noises (“yee-ha”, etc) coming from those boats that were enjoying themselves. From the remainder is was either loud flapping noises, or grim silence.

Cape D'Aguilar to the Stanley Gate was plain sailing, with the added scenery of the AsiaSat arrays on the clifftop of Bluff Head, and the spinnaker reach continued all the way to Cyberport in vary amounts of breeze. Anything that was a Really Big Boat cruised this stretch – clearly there was wind higher off the water. Peter Cremers’ majestic Shahtoosh cruised the stretch without stopping, picking off one boat after the other, and sailing effortlessly out the front of the pack without even pausing for refill the G&Ts.

There was a pause and a reset at Cyberport. Those that missed it were away and gone. Those that didn’t had a brief and anxious hiatus before joining the procession towards Green Island and the entrance to the harbour.

After the extended start sequence in the morning, the RO visited the Green Island mark. “There were no more than 3kts available, so we continued to the Cyberport Gate, where it was much the same. It was looking like a Cyberport finish, but then a pattern filled in from the east, and by the time we were back at the Green Island mark we had a solid 10kts across the deck.” And so it was. It just wouldn’t be an Around the Island Race without a hole somewhere, and Pok Fu Lam is the place to expect it. Negotiate that, and you could be free and clear.

Dexter 2 (A35) and Admiralty Harbour Whiskey Jack (J/109) were dicing it as they went past Aberdeen, and then Dexter did a runner. “They were just there, and then ‘poof!’ as if fairy dust had been sprinkled, they disappeared over the horizon” reported one of the Jack tars. Away and gone, Dexter claimed Overall victory in the 2021 edition of Hong Kong’s biggest sailing extravaganza of all.

Contrary tide in the harbour made life more difficult as the day progressed: a classic case of “first in, best dressed.” First to finish was the Isler/Taylor combo Ambush at 13.41 having been racing for a mere 3h 41m. Dexter started 20 min earlier, finished 25 min later, and took the corrected time win by just 82 seconds. It was a close race all the way down the list: first Sportsboat (Pat Pender, VX One) was less than two minutes behind for third overall. “The boat is so new we’ve hardly got it going yet,” said Pender. “It’s going to get a lot faster yet. Watch this space.”

The final numbers count was 138 entries, 130 starters, and 128 finishes. There are not many events, anywhere in the world, that boasts those numbers. Heck, it’s bigger than the Sydney-Hobart Race (but a bit shorter)! The real point is that with some great organisation and race management from the Royal Hong Kong Yacht Club, and the assistance of a small army of volunteers manning safety boats, gate boats, the radio net and shore control, this is what club sailing is all about, and there is absolutely nothing else that comes close in Asia. Congratulations to the winners, and congratulations and thanks to all those that helped to make it possible.


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