Ray Roberts gets better every day and has now manoeuvred BoomEgg – JoyOurs Team to just two points off the lead in the hotly contested Beneteau 40.7 at the China Cup International Regatta in Shenzhen. The Australian veteran of many Rolex Sydney Hobart Races scored 2,1 in some beautiful, windy, wavy conditions in Daya Bay, and now sits just two points behind the leader, Wanhang Longcheer. The Longcheer crew notched up the reverse numbers today, a 1,2 for the crew helmed by another Australian veteran, Steve McConaghy.
It’s a fascinating scenario for these two teams, with both Aussie skippers having won the China Cup in the past. Roberts won the very first China Cup 11 years ago and then took a few years out. McConaghy has won the event multiple times including a run of four victories from 2013 to 2016, before just missing out a year ago to Yiihua-Pocket Emirates Team New Zealand.
The Kiwis aren’t quite so close to the front of the action this year, perhaps due to not having the kind of America’s Cup-winning experience they had on board for 2017, the year the actual trophy also visited the China Cup Race Village. The New Zealand crew sits in fifth place overall but still with a realistic shot at the podium on the final day on Monday.
Competing at his fifth China Cup, former America’s Cup navigator and 49er World Champion Ed Smyth is sailing alongside Roberts. “We’ve clawed our way back and as long as we’ve got some wind we’ve got a chance to win this thing. Over the years I’ve been here, the standard has improved a lot, not just in the 40.7 fleet but you look around the dock and you can see the standard of sailing has gone up generally. I think Dongfeng’s win in the Volvo Ocean Race was a huge boost for the sport here.”
Sitting in third and fourth overall are two teams who cannot afford any slip-ups. The South African crew PerDormire sit in fourth but with a heavy discard after scoring OCS earlier in the regatta for starting too soon on a U-flag start. In third is Cheung Kong Sailing Club Team who sailed a blinder of a round-the-island race yesterday but were later disqualified after a successful protest by Longcheer. Even so, Jono Rankine’s crew are only four points off the lead and could yet steal Aussie thunder on the final day.
Italian trimmer on board Cheung Kong, Michele Valenti was philosophical about their disqualification on Saturday. “Some people take the racing very seriously. Some don’t even sleep at night, they think so much about it. For a few of the sailors here, this is business, so they will do what it takes to win. They are passionate about competition and they love to win. So do we, and we will do our best to try to win tomorrow.”
Further down the fleet in 21st place is Wendy Tuck, the Australian skipper of Team The Way who won the Clipper Round the World Race earlier this year. Sailing with an all-female crew, many of them new to sailing and speaking only Chinese, Tuck faces many challenges, particularly when the wind is up like today. “As the wind increases, it gets a bit tough for us because we’ve got 12 female crew probably averaging 50kg each, so we’re giving away a lot of leverage compared with the other teams. We’re not as fast upwind but we’ve maybe got a small advantage being lighter downwind.”
Despite the challenges she’s still having fun in Shenzhen. “It’s beautiful out there, a bit of windward-leeward, some round-the-island racing, amazing conditions. And ashore the show they put on is amazing. It’s been a great first experience at the China Cup.”
In IRC A, Shawn Kang’s Lighthorse Alpha+ has started to find her winning ways and has now drawn level on points with Standard Insurance Centennial Sailing Team from the Philippines. The final day could see a match race between these two, although Ark323 Noahs Sailing Club is still in the hunt just three points back in third place.
It’s a similar story in IRC A2, where the Soto40 Seamo Racing skippered by Guo Ji Lan is level pegging with Tiffany Koo’s Hero Racing. Among Seamo’s crew is the 2008 49er Olympic Champion, from Denmark, Jonas Warrer, competing at his first China Cup. In IRC B, Ocean Link – Dalian Maritime University Sailing Team, a Comet 51S skippered by Mu Shijia, maintains the lead. In IRC C a string of bullets has lifted Nick Southward’s Whiskey Jack well clear of the opposition and it will be hard for anyone else to touch the J/109 tomorrow.
So far the regatta has seen two days of light airs, two days of medium winds, and the final day beckons with light westerly breeze.
– Andy Rice