I have just had the great pleasure of being invited to join Ant Day and crew on his lovely Xc-50 “Explorer” for the 480 mile San Fernando Race, from Hong Kong to the Philippines. I’ve done the race several times before, however always on serious race boats, and this was a great chance to join some old friends on a boat with a little more comfort, including air-con, proper beds with pillows and a menu big enough that I have gained weight for the first time ever during any offshore race; a face I took great pleasure in reminding the boys on my usual ride for this race, the exceptionally well campaigned A-35 Red Kite 2.
Red Kite 2, the two time defending champion, was lining up to try & become the first boat ever to win the race three times in a row. Meanwhile perennial race favourites Neil Pryde’s Hi Fi and Sam Chan’s Ffree Fire were both missing this year, with the latter losing her rig during the Manila – Boracay race earlier this year.
However there were plenty of other boats who fancied their chances of knocking RK-2 off her perch, including the Santa Cruz 7 Antipodes, TP-52 Standard Insurance Centennial and Jamie McWilliam’s Ker 40 Peninsula Signal . This race often turns out to be a long 2-sail reach, so the bigger boats in Premier Cruising also stood a chance of doing well, including Peter Churchouse’s ubiquitous Warwick 65 “Moonblue 2” and Peter Cremer’s stunning new Warwick 75 “Shatoosh”, making her offshore debut.
The race started on Wednesday, right out in front of the RHKYC in Victoria Harbour – a stunning backdrop, albeit with very little wind! Fortunately the tide was running out, so we made a slow & fairly painful journey out of the harbour, with PS8 and Standard Insurance making the early running out through the Lei Yue Mun gap.
On board the good ship “Explorer”, reactions verged on hysterical when our navigator popped his head out of the (air-conditioned) hatch and gleefully declared that, at this rate, the 480 mile race would take us 10 days, 1 hour…
Fortunately, the breeze eventually filled in, and we started an enjoyable first night, 2-sail reaching between 8 – 9 knots of boat speed. Day two saw the breeze drop a bit – not a bad thing at all for the Explorer; fishing speeds are important. We dropped a lure over the side and our first sashimi guest jumped on – a delicious little Dorado (mahi) – perfect for some soy sauce and wasabi accompaniment to our afternoon sundowners.
You can take the boy out of a racing boat, but some old habits die hard, and some fairly lively debate ensued over whether we should tack or not – “We should tack now, head towards the new pressure and gain on the shift” vs. “The breeze will lift us again, so there’s no point” & “I’ve never tacked in a San Fernando Race before…”
Eventually common sense prevailed, and we tacked late in the afternoon and sailed on Starboard for a few hours until the new breeze eventually filled in from the North and we flipped back onto Port, heading straight for the finish. Unfortunately, the day and a half of spectacular, if uneventful reaching was far too fast for fishing, though none of our hard work swapping between jib and code zero went unrewarded; plenty of great food was still on hand; days were hot with nice breeze and nights, cloudless with a full moon.
Sure enough, life comes around to bite you on the arse, and on the morning of the fourth day we started slowing down and eventually ended up drifting around in circles off the coast of the Philippines, within sight of land. Anyone who has sailed in these parts will know exactly what I’m talking about.
While we could hide in the air-conditioned comfort down below, life on deck was hot. Damned hot. Fortunately, this meant a nice sea breeze eventually filled in, and we finally knocked off the last 20 miles late on Saturday afternoon, to enjoy several refreshing San Miguel’s on the beach as the sun set.
As far as the results are concerned, “Antipodes” sailed very well to record the double of Line Honours & IRC overall, however they just missed out on breaking Ffree Fire’s 2001 race record by a couple of hours. The race was something of a big boat benefit, so Red Kite 2 missed out on her goal of another overall win, however she did manage to win her IRC 2 division.
In our “Premier Cruising” division, Shatoosh stretched her legs to narrowly beat Moonblue 2 over the line, with the latter taking the IRC honours. We were very happy to end up with 3rd on line & handicap in division.
For me it was a very pleasant change to do a race like this on a boat with a few more creature comforts than usual, with some very good old friends. It was the most fun I’ve had offshore for a very long time, and something this 40yr old body could well get used to…
Finally, I’d just like to point out that as much fun as the race is, with a beautiful destination at the end; the best thing about the race is the support they offer to the Home of Loving Faithfulness Youth Shelter in San Fernando. The race has supported this charity for over 20 years, and a visit to the kids at the shelter after the race is humbling, to say the least. From me at least, I give them an unconditional thanks & respect to those who generously offer their time & money to support the shelter.