The China Cup proved a very enjoyable experience for Kevin Green, along with many other Australians.
Thanks to a readily available charter fleet of thirty First 40.7s and two smaller fleets of J/80s and Far East 26s, the China Cup is turning into a big drawcard for international crews who simply fly in, jump aboard and get stuck in to some hot one-design racing. Skippering one of the new Far East 26’s with an all Chinese crew amid an 87 boat fleet certainly proved a challenging and enjoyable experience, but more about that later.
China is a fast-emerging sailing nation with a recent yachting history that includes the Qingdao Olympics, America’s Cup participation and a Volvo entrant.
Founded by the Chinese government in 2007, the China Cup is the pre-eminent keelboat event in the country. Initiated to foster competitive sailing, the participation of local Chinese has increased steadily from only five local teams in the 50 boat inaugural fleet, increasing dramatically to 37 among this year’s fleet of 87 that includes more than 20 different nationalities.
The four day event is an interesting mix, kicking-off with a day passage race from Hong Kong northwards to the main regatta venue at Daya Bay in Shenzhen province. Here the gleaming new Shenzhen Maritime Sports venue adjoins the Longcheer Yacht Club which has its own members’ marina overlooking the busy shipping lanes from the South China Sea. The gleaming new venue hosted the last World University Games so is geared up for large numbers.
Major sponsors have steadily come on board - from the inception when Beneteau supplied the initial 10 boats, followed by another 20 a year later, to create one of the largest charter OD race fleets internationally. Chartering a 40.7 costs a very reasonable $US7,760 for one week usage, delivered to Hong Kong three days before the regatta for your pre-race training. Other major sponsors to come aboard as the event has grown include Audi and local company Vatti, along with a raft of others.
Celebrities have also followed - I bumped into Jessica Watson on her second visit to the event as the ambassador for the China Cup. The diminutive Jessica said she planned to return next year with her young crew who were at the time training for the Hobart.
With many of the boats based in Hong Kong - including the Beneteau 40.7’s, much of the IRC fleet and other larger boats - the 32 mile passage race from Royal Hong Kong Yacht Club north to Daya Bay is a good shakedown for crews – most of whom will have flown into the Hong Kong airport. The route takes them past various headlands, Basalt Island (Fo Shek Chau) and the Tuoning Liedao Islands before they reach the regatta base at Daya Bay.
Fickle winds usually make the race a bit of a lottery and this year was no different as First 40.7 crewman Alfie Rowson from yacht Beijing Sailing Centre explained.
“Not the best of days – we went from first to seventh after sailing into a hole which everyone behind us then spotted and simply sailed around,” said Rowson from the dockside reception, where ice cold bottles of Mexican Sol beer were being handed out by the army university undergraduates who had been marshalled as regatta volunteers.
Freedom of the seas is taken for granted by western sailors but this has not been the case in Chinese waters as local Hong Kong sailor Ken Read explains.
“One of the key attractions for many of us is the passage race from Hong Kong into China itself which for many my age is a very special thing with China having been ‘closed’ to the world for most of my life. This is a symbolic passage for sailors from the new world bringing sailing back to the old world where once it was a great part of Chinese culture and history,” said the expat Kiwi who is tactician aboard Thinkpad Authority, a Vanguard IOR design.
The regatta racetrack at Daya is a pleasant spot with a dramatic backdrop of surrounding mountains. West facing, so open to the prevailing winds, it is ideal for windward/leeward courses, while outlying islands reduce the swells coming in from the South China Sea.
The race committee from the Royal Hong Kong Yacht Club ensured the event went smoothly, with start lines with just enough bias to make it interesting as six divisions mingled on the generally calm waters.
Ranging in size from the 26 footers of the 10 boat Far East fleet to a mixed IRC division that included eventual winner, Frank Pong’s 75 foot Reichel Pugh Jelik 2 and even a Swan 82 Plus One, there was plenty of interesting hardware on display. This also included a brand new McConaghy MC38 on its first competitive outing.
Throughout the four day event conditions were generally light but the afternoon westerly sea breeze kicked in to liven things up, with the final day experiencing a sturdy 20 knots during the 15 mile round-the-island course.
Professionally run by the Royal Hong Kong Yacht Club, whose Scottish RO kept a firm grip on proceedings despite several general recalls for the misbehaving First 40.7 OD fleet, there were many strong contenders for the podium. Skipper Rick Pointon ran an excellent campaign on the winning 40.7 Beijing Sailing Centre with professionals Steve McConaghy calling tactics and Michael Fountain, along with talented Geelong sailors Jordie Smith and Tim Davies. Over a few beers at the Sailors Bar a happy Steve McConaghy said he was well satisfied with his efforts.
“Everything went my way this week and I seemed to pick most things on the courses,” a smiling McConaghy explained. A veteran of the SE Asia circuit with many wins aboard Ray Roberts’ boats in the region, he said the standard of racing was improving steadily, especially as more and more Australian and New Zealand sailors become involved.
Leading the charge of the three boat Australian fleet was the CYCA Team Imagination skippered by Robin Hawthorn and this three sons, Hamish, Campbell and Rohan, which crept ahead of Andrew Saies’ Two True Vicsail team from South Australia. Giving chase were Givenchy Langer and Ian Ford’s Whale Watching Team. Over a delicious meal in the grand surrounds of the glamorous Sheraton Dameisha Ford told me he was on his third China Cup visit and greatly enjoying the experience.
“It’s been some of the best one design racing I’ve ever done and there’s been some pretty intense start line action,” said the Sutherland Shire veteran sailor. This trip he said would also include a visit to some of the sights around the once famous Canton region.
View from the helm
Skippering the Far East 26 was challenging but fun with my Mandarin-speaking crew keen to learn. By the way, for chartering any of the boats a recognised sailing qualification is essential, so for me my Yachtmaster Certificate was supplied along with a sailing resume.
My personal goal was to avoid coming last – something we managed with a mid-table finish among the 10 boat fleet of mostly Chinese nationals. These new Singapore-built 26 foot cruiser-racers were fun to sail, with a relatively simple symmetrical spinnaker layout and, surprisingly, strongly challenged the established J/80 boats on most points of sail.
Unlike the J/80 these Simonis Voogd designs have substantial accommodation space including a portable head and are powered by an outboard. Quality fittings include all Harken deck gear, Selden spars and a suite of North Sails, including masthead spinnaker. Our rotational crewing policy meant the five members varied every day, a system designed to give locals racing experience, rather than muster a strictly competitive challenge. So I found myself giving instructions on trimming, tactics and even breaking in a new bowman, which proved a wee bit hairy when the wind rose.
During our three day, six race series the daily format was a simple windward/leeward circuit, followed by a 15 mile passage race around nearby Dalajia Dao island/archipelago. This gave plenty of tactical upwind challenges as boats skirted the rocky island then cracked sheets along its coast before hoisting spinnakers for a two mile sleigh ride and finally a broad reach. On the way we passed large cargo ships and military patrol boats guarding the nearby nuclear power plant that energises the insatiable Hong Kong.
By the way, these Far East 26s are coming to Australia soon as the company is in negotiation to establish a dealership. They are very keenly priced (approximately $45,000) so could make ideal club race training boats.
Onshore, the post race entertainment kicked-off with a sponsors’ dockside party and live bands to quench the thirsts of 700 sailors - who’d endured temperatures in the 30s - before a fleet of gleaming new buses shuttled them back to the Dameisha resort town. Here, a glittering prize giving and banquet took place every evening in the Sheraton’s forecourt overlooking the sea.
The luxurious standard of food, including the famed Canton noodles and locally made wines, were enjoyed to the maximum as the large stage hosted a variety of acts while glittering models strutted around in ball gowns.
Shenzhen province is a special economic zone and the resort town of Dameisha, where hotels cluster around the mountainous backdrop, is a newly built paean to luxury with the 386 bed Sheraton surrounded by mid-range hotels including the Kingsley, La Waterfront and my own accommodation at Hotel Pattya. Deemed a green zone, residents use electric vehicles, including scooters which zoom around the pavements, giving you no warning of their presence.
The actual regatta headquarters is an hour’s bus ride up the coast, at Shenzhen Maritime Sports Centre. China Cup courtesy buses and rental cars drove along newly metalled roads through rugged, mountainous country interspersed by little towns. One day my Chinese crew stopped off in a town to breakfast on the local delicacy: meat and egg pancakes freshly made from ground rice paste and washed down with hot water. On another occasion I enjoyed a tea drinking ceremony, experiencing a fascinating array of flavours, before buying a large bag of my favourite blend for 30RMB ($5).
Overall, I’d highly recommend the China Cup to keen racing sailors because it’s a well run event with plenty of quality charter boats – the First 40.7s have been maintained by Beneteau and head honcho from France, Yves Maundin, again took part in the event to ensure plain sailing for the Big Benys.
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