game, set, match

china match 3The 10th China Club Challenge Match finals, China’s oldest annual sailing regatta, and the only fully umpired match race event in China took place over the three days of 7-9th November on the waters off Xiamen, China.

The top 8 teams from the fleet racing qualifier held a few weeks earlier were invited back and seeded according to their positions in the fleet racing.

To put the previous month’s event in perspective, there were 28 teams in provided boats (a local version of the Flying Tiger 7.5) and some of those teams had come through a regional qualifier to be in the qualifier with a 10 race series determining the results. These races were run under ISAF RRS Addendum Q enabling on the water decisions with reduced risk ‘Room Time’ and DSQs.

The racing in both parts of the event, qualifiers and finals, was under the watchful eyes of two Nw Zealand International Umpires, John Rountree and Wayne Boberg assisted by Alistair Skinner & Belle Xing, a local Optimist coach.

Days one and three of the finals were held in the confines of the Wu Wuan Bay, and almost land-locked area of water with spectator areas all round and a small but noticeable swirl of a current  with the start line a little over 100m off the steeply shelving beach giving spectators a good view of the racing. So close in fact that one of the competitors wandered a little too far from the pre-start area and ended needing a tow off the putty – luckily he was not in a sequence at the time.

Day one saw 16 matches across 8 flights as the quarter finals halved the competitor numbers ready for day two. Efficient race management, a couple of score-lines “to love” and a breeze that largely stayed steady in strength and direction meant all were off the water nice and early, ready for the semis to follow on day two when the remaining teams were likely to take the tempo up a notch.

While flags were frequently up in the air on day one, Yankees from the boats and primarily greens from the umpires, the racing was often tight but always in good spirits with competitors taking their ‘medicine’ without argument.

This set the tone for the whole event and in the evening the umpires held a teach-in and debrief, which one or two non-attendees were to rue not attending during the following day’s racing. The focus of the teach-in being the two seemingly simple – but fundamental – definitions of ‘Room” and ‘Keep Clear’ and many of the following days green flags were to be a result of these two basic concepts.

china match 2The weather gods were not in such a smiley mood on day two and after being able to run a couple of flights within the bay the pressure gradually diminished forcing a switch out into the main channel where initially there was more breeze but, being the time of the month, a strong tide (2-3 days after springs) meant the race management team were ultimately defeated in their attempts to complete the program with one match ending further below the bottom mark than the top mark was above it.

This potentially  led to pressure on the organisers on the last day and on arriving at the dock to limp flags and glassy water it looked like, for the first time, the Club Cup as it is sometimes known might have trouble completing its scheduled races.

Patience favours the brave however and as the day progressed so did the wind AND it steadied up too requiring few delays between racing for course resetting. The first to three finals went to the full five races with Beijing China Yachting sponsored by the leading Chinese sailing magazine winning the right to challenge the holders and defenders, Xiamen Blue Sea, a team made up largely of Xiamen University students.

Sadly for the defenders, they had no answer to the Beijing team’s now match prepared sharpness and their ‘wild aggression’, as one spectator described it, seemed to get them into more trouble than it got them out of. The ‘Y’ flag was much in evidence, mostly with a green response from Chief Umpire Rountree and after the umpires prematurely stating ‘we haven’t seen a single black flag in the whole event’, a delay in taking a second penalty by the Xiamen students resulted in two blues and a black fluttering above the umpire boat for the only time in the regatta.

china match 1That said, all umpire decisions were met with good spirit (a few top match racers might take a lesson from that) and the 3-0 victory by the challengers was a convincing victory for the Beijing team which completed a four year journey for their skipper, Shen Sheng who first competed in the China Club Challenge Match in 2010.

The prizegiving was held on the main stage of the Xiamen Boat Show, and then on to the after regatta party and Xiamen IronRock Sailing Club should be congratulated for growing this event over the years from a 2 club head to head in old J-24s to what is recognized as one of the ‘must do’ events for keen racing sailors in China.

These events don’t happen overnight and the 2015 event is already in the calendar, the post mortem of what was good and what could be better is in progress and with this attitude, this regatta can only continue to grow in its size and stature.

One foreigner asked “Are there enough sailors in China for an event like this? – You better believe it!

Shanghai Sailor