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Rolex China Sea Race 2023 Preview - Asia's classic offshore race

by Vivian Ngan 18 Mar 2023 16:07 PDT 5 April 2023

The Rolex China Sea Race will start on 5 April 2023 in Hong Kong's iconic Victoria Harbour and take competitors 565-nautical miles (1,046 kilometres) across the South China Sea to Subic Bay in the Philippines.

Rolex has enjoyed a longstanding relationship with yachting dating back to the late 1950s. Close support of pre-eminent yacht clubs and first-class events has been the cornerstone of this partnership.

The Rolex China Sea Race and its organisers the Royal Hong Kong Yacht Club (RHKYC); one of the oldest and most prestigious clubs in Hong Kong, have been supported by Rolex since 2008, when Rolex became the title sponsor of this biennial race. The 565nm Category 1 Offshore Race is run under the auspices of Royal Ocean Racing Club (RORC).

First held in 1962, this year marks the 61st anniversary of this offshore classic, the oldest blue water race in Asia; and after five years of absence, the Rolex China Sea Race celebrates its 30th edition. Many of the world's best-known sailors and yachts have tried to master the race and the 565-nm offshore course is considered a real test of sailing skill.

While the majority of the fleet are Asian-based, sailors from around the world have been drawn to participate by the race's elevated standing as well as the stringent examination of skill and endeavor it presents, its underlying Corinthian spirit and traditions.

Lucy Sutro, the RHKYC Commodore, recognizes the characteristics that make the race so significant: "We are honoured that this Asian blue-water classic is part of Rolex's distinguished portfolio of international offshore races. After five years of absence, we are delighted to see both local and international entries coming back to this iconic race.

For several decades Rolex has cultivated close associations with the best-known yacht clubs and organisers of major events in the world of sailing. We are proud that this Race was the first Asian sailing event sponsored by Rolex and that, with their support, the Race continues to arouse attention within the international yachting fraternity."

Over the years, overall winning yachts have represented Hong Kong, The Philippines, Singapore, Japan as well as Australia, the United Kingdom and France.

There are two main prizes at the Rolex China Sea Race. The most coveted accolade is the Rolex China Sea Race Trophy for the overall winner under IRC time correction (handicap). The first boat to cross the finish line on real time (Line Honours) receives the Sunday Telegraph Trophy. A Rolex timepiece will be awarded to the first boat under IRC Overall handicap and first Monohull Line Honours.

The multihull race record of 38 hours, 30 minutes, 7 seconds was set in 2018 by Karl Kwok's trimaran MOD Beau Geste. The monohull race record 47 hours, 31 minutes, 8 seconds was set two years earlier by Philip Turner and Duncan Hine's Alive. Alive would later go on to win the Rolex Sydney to Hobart Yacht Race in 2018.

One of the most significant moments is the start from Victoria Harbour, set against the backdrop of one of the world's distinct skylines, competing yachts navigate through both traditional and modern sea traffic before embarking on the long passage through the South China Sea to Subic Bay. This open water segment frequently presents tough conditions with punishing seas and fierce winds. By contrast, the final approach to the Philippines is more often sailed in light winds, demanding a different set of skills and considerable patience. Yachts are met with the infamous 'Luzon hole' often causing the fleet to compress and effectively restart as they near the coast of the Philippines. The net result is that many boats have a chance of lifting the Rolex China Sea Race Trophy under IRC - it all depends on how they play their approach to the Philippines.

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