A bit of a journey for us. A Chinese friend asked us to find him a boat to do the Race and after a bit of research presented him with a few possibilities but one recommendation. She was the Cookson 50 Pretty Fly 111, now UBox – we bought her, a crew was put together headed by Volvo Ocean Race winner (as Franck Cammas’ Watch Captain on Groupama) and a podium finish as skipper in his own right in the last ‘Volvo’, Charles Caudrelier and some of his Dongfeng boys along with the several members of the new owner’s own crew.
As for the race itself Perpetual Loyal was first out of the blocks chased by Scallywag with Wild Oats XI being a little too keen to grab the pin end in a breeze which obviously hadn’t gone as left as Mark Richards had expected. Our own boat sensibly picked the middle of the line along with some clear air and crossed the line, it appeared, actually ahead of WOXI. She had reached the spectator craft boundary very early, tacked onto port and had to take the sterns of all her 100 foot rivals but it was only the start of what is, after all, a 628 Nm race.
A strange sight on the start line was CQS looking more like a CQR parked on the start line with her keel canted the wrong way although even once she got going she appeared a bit off the pace and at one point almost looked capsized as she had to tack to avoid another boat that her canting keel didn’t keep up with, laying the boat over beyond 45 degrees.
The breeze which started in what appeared to be 12-15 knots increased slightly as the boats approached the first turning mark with Perpetual Loyal maintaining her early advantage.
Scallywag initially looked like being second out of the harbour but was pipped to the first turning mark by Beau Geste with Wold Oats crossing in an unusual (for her) 4th place.
We were fortunate to have an excellent media boat driver who ‘knew the game’ and parked us just to windward of the first turning mark giving a very clear view of the whole fleet as they sailed past us and at one point I had to apologise for an involuntary expletive as UBox approached going strongly way ahead of where I expected them to be closely followed by another Cookson 50, the former overall winner Victoire.
We watched the whole fleet flow past us all the way down to the slowest and one of the oldest boats in the fleet. At least we though that is was the case until, on the way back towards the marina one of the Russian entries sailed up past us. Unfortunately for them they had batten damage and while they were on the way back to the dock were informed they couldn’t get off the boat and get a new batten as they were of course subject to RRS 45. They have a lot of catching up to do.
As I write this the crews enter their first night at sea and although it is still relatively early days – the race record for example is still around 1 day, 8 hours away – WOXI has made up for her start line error and now comfortably leads the fleet for line honours.
On handicap, it is boats around 50 feet that are dominating the podium with last year’s winner currently holding top spot in IRC closely followed by Matt Allen’s JV52, Ichi Ban with the Cookson 50, UBox not far behind in 3rd slot.
Apologies for the partisan writing. Actually, no apologies. It’s great to be able to assist, in a small way, the efforts of the UBox team to raise the profile of our sport in China. For example today not only was the start televised on Network 7 in Australia, it was also televised live on LETV in China.
Prior warning though – if UBox ends up with a class win in the Sydney Hobart then the likelihood of an early wrap article might be greatly reduced.