harder and harder

The China Club Challenge Match drew to a close last weekend with the match Racing element of the event.
Four weeks ago 37 hopeful teams cam e to Xiamen to take part in the fleet racing element of the event knowing only 8 teams would be invited back for the match racing this long weekend from  Thursday through to Sunday.
The race management team received a thorough workout over the first couple of days along with the competitors with a full round robin for 8 on the Thurday (do the maths) followed by a second round robin on the Friday along with the semi-finals.
You may wonder what the rush was but a typhoon heading for the Vietnam coast was succkin gair down the Taiwan Straits from the North threatening up to 40 knots in the Taiwan Straits according weather models.
As an aside, and sadly, when the typhoon landed in Vietnam it resulted in the sinking of two boats and sever damage to two others which had just completed the Hong Kong to Vietnam Race along with more importantly the deaths of over 20 people in Vietnam.
Back in Xiamen, although the expected high wind didn’t appear there was still enough breeze for the competitors to be instructed to put in a reef on the third day with gennikers remaining optional leading to one or two spectacular wipe outs on the downwind legs. The funny thing being that the good sailors still excelled and rose to the top.
This event continues to improve year on year and the finals produced a worthy winner in Beijing Sailing Centre who won the right, as the name of the event suggests, to challenge the holders from last year.
Call it lack of practice, a soft year last year or the raising of the general standards in the event, the defenders were no match for a rampant Beijing team who comfortably won The Challenge by 4-0, much to the surprise to most of the spectators who, anchored on a spectator boat just above the port layline of the course gave each competitor AND the umpire boat a Mexican wave as they went past.
Beijing Sailing Centre were not done there as a sponsor had put up a prize pot of RMB200,000 (over USD30,000) with a further RMB20,000 (US 3,000+)_to a youth development programme for a special match between the new champions and an “All Star Team”.
At the prizegiving dinner for the Challenge Match the skippers of of the teams placed 2nd through to 5th were invited to put egos to one side and select the best helm, tactician drawn from amongst their teams to form this ‘Dream Team’ and were given just the following morning to practice together with the special match warning signal scheduled for 1354 that afternoon.
It looked like a foregone conclusion between a team that had come though around 20 races together, and to be fair had been pretty dominant in the event against a team that had been ‘thrown together’ for the final day big money event.
Oh Boy, were people mistaken! The two teams went head to head in the pre-start of Race 1 of the challenge with dials ups, circles and every trick in the match racing book on display resulting in Beijing Sailing Centre coming off the line 1 penalty up on the ‘All Stars’. The All Stars upwind speed kept them close for 3 legs with the champions defending their lead well then in the top half of the final downwind leg they finally got past but still carrying a penalty.
Then as Beijing went for their gybe they got too close to their opponents allowing their genniker to brush what looked like the head of one of the All Star crew mid gybe – penalty equalised and advantage removed.
The drama was not over however as, coming from behind, Beijing caught the combination of a small gust and the right wave to surge forward and – from a camera angle a few metres forward of the line – past their opponents. However, remove the parallax error along with the race committee having not one, but three people sighting the line and it was indeed the All Stars that carried the race by (after review) an estimated 12 cms, having been saved from an attacking luff by getting to the pin mark zone as inside boat.
The excitement led one umpire to state this was easily in his top 20 races (and he has umpired thousands) a comment he repeated the following morning in the cold light of day.
This left Beijing’s backs to the wall and the All Stars needing just one more and the pre-start started in the same mould with Beijing taking an early penalty off the other team. However instead of banking that penalty their helm took them on for one more glanced round at his watch just as the All Stars helm threw his boat round in an improbably turn. “On You” followed by “Agreed” from the umpire boat followed by a whistle and the blue flag going up to join the yellow (with both flags then dropping) confirmed the negation of penalty along  with an advantageous position for the All Stars that they gradually extended across all 4 legs of the course.
In some ways one could say this special event turned on just two errors by Beijing but that would be unfair to the All Stars. A match race, as we all know, is from entry at 4 minutes to clearing the finish line and the combined raw speed of the All Stars along with their lower error count (remarkable as they hadn’t  sailed together before that morning) is what really carried the day.
Such has been the sporting atmosphere of the whole event that Beijing Sailing Centre’s first action as soon as they tidied away their spinnaker was to sail over to their opponents applauding with their hands in the air.
At the prizegiving on the main dock and after the presentation of prizes both teams formed up for photographs. After all, that first race would have been nowhere as exciting had the teams been so well matched. All over for another year at an event, which having just completed its 13th edition is China’s oldest and largest One Design regatta with 37 teams in identical boats on the start line during phase one of the event.
For the statisticians the match racing weekend saw 73 races over the 4 days with more flags of every colour than you could imagine along with, from the fleet racing qualifiers, a further 11 races completed. The 14th China Club Challenge Match is now only 360 days away and already several teams have announced they will be back to an event that seems to get harder and harder to win each year.