China's offshore racing event has attracted a record-breaking 45 entries with Olympic medalists and world champions among the 372 participating sailors representing 15 countries and regions from four continents.
The fifth edition of the race is another stepping stone for the island of Hainan towards becoming China's sailing capital. Created in 2010 by the Chinese Yachting Association (CYA) and strongly backed by the government, the Round Hainan Regatta forms part of the plan to place the island on the world sailing map and develop sailing-related business.
It is one of China's major international sailing events, starting and finishing in Sanya, at the island's southernmost tip. Sanya played host to a hugely successful Volvo Ocean Race stopover in 2012 and will again repeat next February.
Now in its fifth edition, the regatta has grown to a total of 372 sailors from China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Russia, New Zealand, USA, Canada, Australia, UK, Italy, The Netherlands, Singapore, Malaysia, Germany and France will take part this year. The 45-strong fleet is divided this year into five divisions, IRC A, IRC B, Beneteau Oceanis 40, Soto 27 and for the first time ever Fareast 26. All classes will start on March 21st with two days of in-port races in Sanya, including one Pro-Am for the IRC A, IRC B and Beneteau Oceanis 40 classes that will mix sponsors and media with crews for a first-hand experience in yacht racing.
The IRC A favorites are Maibo, the Chinese JV52 skippered by Yi Wu. The IRC B class will, undoubtedly, steal the spotlight as it combines star-studded foreign entries, Chinese Volvo Ocean Race aspiring sailors as well as seasoned Chinese participants. The form guide favors Vatti, a Beneteau F40.9 from Shenzen that scored a commanding victory in last year's race. Skipper Jono Rankine has assembled a crew made up of local sailors and big-name Australians and New Zealanders such as Malcolm Page, gold medalist in the 470 class in the 2008 and 2012 Olympics.
The one-design Soto 27 and Fareast 26 fleets will conclude their participation in the fifth edition of the Round Hainan Regatta on March 23rd with their third day of in-port races in Sanya. On the same day, the IRC A's and Beneteau Oceanis 40's will embark on the 470-mile long roundthe-island race in two stages. The first one will take them from Sanya to Haikou, sailing along the island's west coast. After a lay day in Haikou and another one of in-port races in Haikou, the fleet will depart from the island's capital on March 26th and head back to Sanya, this time along the east coast.
The IRC B's will hold a long coastal race around the East and West island on Sanya bay on March 23rd and after a lay day will head on the 25th to Wanning, on the east coast of the island. After a coastal race around the islands of Zhouzai and Jiajing on the 26th, the fleet will set sail on March 27th towards Sanya where it will join the IRC A's for the cosing and prize-giving ceremony on the 28th.
Team Dongfeng, the Chinese Volvo Ocean Race entry, will also take part in the IRC B division with two boats, crewed by aspiring Chinese sailors, making this its first participation in a major sailing event on home waters.
The weather forecast calls for a couple of light-air first days, with a breeze between 5 and 10 knots, but conditions will later strengthen and the wind will reach up to 20 knots in the final days.