BT snatched victory by just 14 seconds in the annual Around the Island Race in Hong Kong this morning, following a 27 nautical mile marathon. The six Extreme 40s battled their way around the Island with every boat taking the lead at some point during the race. It was an amazing day for not only the sailors, but also the VIP guests onboard, who raced in the coveted 'fifth man' spot, including the Queen's Grandson, Peter Phillips, onboard The Wave, Muscat.
“We are totally pumped,” said BT Skipper Nick Moloney (AUS) just after they crossed the finish line just ahead of the home nation Extreme 40, China Team. “It all came down to the last 200 metres. We could see the new wind coming through and we knew that whoever gets the wind first will win. We thought China Team might catch it first, so we did panic a bit, but we edged into first place with the breeze and crossed the line first,” he grinned.
For Khamis Al Busaidi the bowman onboard Oman Sail's Masirah, the Around the Island Race here in Hong Kong had particular resonance as he was onboard Masirah when they won Line Honours in the 'other' Round the Island Race around the Isle of Wight in the United Kingdom. Speaking before they set off he spoke of his determination to top the podium. “I really want to win a second Around the Island title, it would be a great honour. The team is very strong and I know we have the knowledge and experience to do well, but it will all come down to the wind.”
Unfortunately for Khamis and the crew onboard Masirah, it wasn't to be a double first for them. Despite leading practically the whole way around the Island of Hong Kong, they ground to a halt in the final leg up the Lamma Channel. Skipper Pete Cumming explained, “This race was so similar to the Round the Island Race in Cowes back in June. Plenty of wind at the start, with it dropping right off over the south side of the island. We had such a fantastic start and round the East side of the Island we did a horizon job, hammer down, 26 knots and off we flew. But the tough thing about being the lead boat is that you act as a weather station of the other Extreme 40s in the fleet. At one point we had a lead of over a mile and we thought we were home and dry, but we sailed into a hole and all the other boats saw where we were and kept away! Red Bull came down one side and Team China and BT the other and we knew that one or other team was going to take the lead from us and we couldn't do anything. It was great to be involved, and always something amazing to look at on the shore. The guys on BT did well, but it doesn't make it any the less frustrating!”
The Extreme 40 fleet left the start line in Victoria Harbour at 0940, the last of a fleet of over 200 boats to depart as they headed on the clockwise course around Hong Kong Island. The Extreme 40s passed within inches of their compettitors, squeezing through the smallest gaps to charge to the front of the fleet and lead the race. After leaving the Lei Yue Mun Gap, the 40 foot catamarans stretch their legs and flew hulls in the 16 knot breeze and glorious sunshine. But as the boats turned into the Southern leg, the wind dropped right off and they crawled past Stanley, often grinding to a halt as the winds dipped.
As the boats sailed into the final leg up Kowloon Harbour, they had to zigzag through the junks, traditional fishing boats and ferries heading to Macau, making the gusty breeze and choppy sea even harder to navigate as they approached the finish line.
Tan Wearn Haw, helmsman onboard China Team said, “This was a real showcase for the Series and sailing itself here in Hong Kong and I think we are starting to build on the momentum and we are getting a lot of people watching the racing and seeing the power and the speed of these boats. It's opened up the eyes of the people and the sponsors which is really interesting for everyone.
“It's great to race around the Island. Of course we are really disapointed that we didn't win in the final stages, but it would be great to be back next year and not only win, but break the record!”
Racing onboard the Extreme 40s with the four professional crews were two 'fifth men', VIP guests sailing as part of the core crews.
The Queen's eldest grandson, Peter Phillips, Head of Group Sponsorship Asia Pacific for RBS said, “That was a fantastic opportunity to get on board an Extreme 40. It was an awesome experience and great fun. Paul and his crew were superb and gave me one hell of a ride on The Wave. Its incredible to feel the speed over the water and when you're flying along with one hull out of the water it's exhilarating!”
Johnny Hodgson, who was onboard the winning boat BT agreed. “That was fantastic, I'm really happy to have had the chance to race here. It's great to have the Extreme 40s here in Hong Kong – we need to get them back next year!”
The six Extreme 40s will be back to their shorter courses tomorrow, Monday 21 November in Victoria Harbour, racing from 2 – 5pm.
Provisional Results in the Around the Island Race 22 November 2009:
Boat, Finish Time
China Team, 13:05:26
Oman Sail Masirah, 13:06:38
Rumbo Almeria, 13:07:50
Red Bull, 13:13:46
Muscat, The Wave, 13:16:06