drama at the death

race report

drama at the death

Oh look – some good news from China!

The 6th China Club Challenge Match was to end in the most dramatic way imaginable with an unwound penalty on one boat followed by a penalty on their opponent. It may have been opportunistic but it certainly gave the event one final twist of excitement to finish off with.

22 Competing Teams, 7 days of racing, around a dozen protests submitted and 6 heard, close to 30 races completed and 3 seminars run. I may be biased but the Committee Boat team and the Umpires of the China Club Challenge Match should be as proud of their achievements as the eventual winner of the event.

The standards rise each running of the CCCM partly due to improving standards of sailors in any event but also because the event includes 3 evening of feedback and training seminars this year run very ably by Peter Backe (SWE) and Tim Somerville (AUS) two of the umpires. Talented match racers in their own right, Peter has done a Monsoon Cup while Peter is the reigning Hong Kong Match Race Champion.

Competition was fierce at times and extremely vocal and the early briefing sessions went to pains to encourage teams to sail their own boats fast rather than try and vocalize at high volume to other teams they felt were in the wrong.

Happily for all the shouting during the fleet racing visits to the protest committee were remarkably few. The weather was also cooperative with one morning being lost to a glass-out and part of another afternoon to a thunderstorm and downpour that seemed to settle for a time over the course and flashed and banged right over Wu Yuan Bay reducing visibility to mere meters.

The fleet racing was in two flights and these 8 teams progressed to the match racing element of the event. Umpires were to be kept busy with perhaps the most unusual task being that of a fender when Xiamen Fei Peng hooked the anchor line of the committee boat and, as has happened before, Umpire Al had to stick his RIB in between a Flying Tiger and the big wooden committee boat to avoid damage to the former – useful things RIBs.

This wasn’t the only example of anchor line hooking as Qingdao Santi also performed the same trick – coincidentally in the same match leaving Fei Peng to sail the course unopposed. Santi have a propensity for anchor lines as they hooked it twice this year to add to their double hooking in the 5th CCCM.

This, the repechage semi final was certainly the most closely fought  match of the event so far and the best of 5 match went down to 5th race and had just about everything. In this first it appeared as if the blue boat may win and then the yellow might win with the final result being decided by less than a boat length as both boats crossed the finish line carrying spinnakers and still overlapped.

However this was not to prove the closest finish of the day with two local universities, one from each side of the Taiwan Straits took part in a Friendship Regatta in conjunction with the main event. Friendship was certainly a good title for their add on event as, when Taiwan became the latest victim of the anchor line, the Xiamen boat could have sailed off into the distance but instead slowed right down and actually sailed back to the start line.

The umpires and race committee in tandem decided to abandon that race and give the students another crack at it. This time all went well and the boats went round the course as if attached to each other by bungee cord. The finish was one to rival Team New Zealand and Alinghi in the final race of the 32nd America’s Cup with perhaps 2-3 seconds separating the crews as they crossed the line.

The 5th day finished with the two finalists decided and two very tired teams happy with their efforts so far – and I am talking about the Umpires and Race Officers. By this stage of the regatta they had officiated over almost 30 races, 6 protests and had raised blue, yellow and mainly green flags on uncountable occasions.

The following day the Challenger final did not disappoint with the final score line of 3-0 to Xiamen Fei Peng not being a true reflection of the distance between the teams. Santi, their opponents were far from outclassed and they sailed to a much greater challenge to the winners than the score line suggests.

The pre-starts were sometimes aggressive and also involved some running away with small errors exaggerated into a one point loss but that is the sport of match racing. With 2 easy wins to Xiamen Fei Peng over Shenzhen Sea Wolves in the first 2 races of the final by Fei Peng over Sea Wolves from Shenzhen and looked like it might just a bit anti-climactic compared to what had just gone before with easy wins for Fei Peng but whether sea Wolves just had a good night’s sleep, watched a couple of hours of America’s Cup pre-starts or simply gave themselves a good talking to it was an entirely different story on day two of the final.

In Race 3 and race 4 Sea Wolves gave as good as they got and became the first team to match Fei Peng for upwind speed and shared the points with them bringing the score to 3-1. With an early penalty against Xiamen in Race 5 and with the boats never more than 2-3 boat lengths apart in terms of distance to finish it looked like Sea Wolves were about to bring the score back to 3-2. However, on port with the spinnaker up they allowed themselves to get too close to Fei Peng as the latter spun through the tack onto starboard to unwind their penalty.

The Xiamen team then dived towards Sea Wolves who were still on port and threw up the penalty flag. All this occurred a few boat lengths from the finish line and the boats were across in 10-15 seconds.

The umpires were well positioned with Tim and Peter slightly upwind and to the right with Al and Li Li on the wing the other side of Sea Wolves and as this was the final and this incident could decide the championship an umpire conference was called.

It took some time and the decision hung on whether Xiamen Fei Peng had come below 90 degrees to the wind before hailing Sea Wolves and the umpires knew they had to be sure, It was the decision of all the umpires, shortly afterwards confirmed by video replay, that Fei Peng had correctly cleared their penalty and Sea Wolves had incurred a penalty.

The race, and therefore the Championship, was awarded to Xiamen Fei Peng. Incidentally it was the first time in its 6 year history that the victorious team had ladies on board. It is quite incredible how far this event has come in the 4 short years I have been involved in it, either covering the event or involved as an official.

In your writer’s humble opinion this is the number one event in China when it comes to helping to develop the true sport of sailing n China, the sport that is played at all levels by none professionals who do it for the sport, the spirit and the fun that is sailing and the true success of the China Club Challenge Match is many facetted.

It is the level of professionalism of the race management team both on the committee boat, the mark boats and the on the water umpiring team. It is the feedback the sailors receive in ad hoc explanations and in 3 evening seminars run by the umpires to polish and hone their skills and understanding. It is the social events that are totally inclusive and cover all levels of formality. It is the fact that the sailors know that the event is strictly policed to ensure fair pay and fair sailing across every stage.

It is THE event Chinese Corinthian sailors want to be at each year and if it used, not so much as a format but, as a model for future and for more events in China the sport in this rapidly growing country could just have some very bright prospects indeed. It should be noted that several local companies supported the event with, in particular, Hangsheng Yachts, builders of the event boats, the Flying Tiger 10, loaning 4 brand new boats to bolster the fleet and supplying two new spinnakers for use in the final

Alistair Skinner