round and round

The 10th Round Hainan Regatta kicked off on the 16th March in Haikou with opening ceremony followed by two round the cans races in boisterous but not crazy conditions.

I was fortunate enough to sail in the round the cans races with SailingIn on their chartered Dubois 50 which took two bullets giving the team a useful position going into the first leg of the offshore elements starting the next day. Most made it round the race course with few issues but the big Hanse ‘Shanghai’ didn’t look where they were going before tacking onto the track of another competitor –  thankfully another well built cruiser and hit her square on. Now before people start saying ‘only in China’ this was very similar to an incident down in New Zealand only a matter of weeks ago.

Sadly this regatta has an unfair reputation amongst some of the less well informed of being the “Motor Round Hainan” after some brick bats were thrown at some competitors many years ago – from outside China it has to be said.

Totally unjustified these days (if it ever was) as the competitors even have seals placed on their propeller shafts which have to be photographed and time stamped. We don’t have to do that elsewhere I hear you say but when someone unfairly makes an accusation one sometimes has to go to unusual lengths to prove innocence.

This year saw 57 competing yachts with some keener to win than others with one boat even removing their pipe-cots before heading out on the distance race. Pretty sure IRC states “accommodation” should be left place when racing. (IRC Rule 17.1)

One of the favourites for line honours on the 200+ mile first leg, anti-clockwise round Hainan Island from Haikou to Sanya suffered a severe loss of speed early in the night, the cause not being discovered until daylight revealed a chunk of fishing net with rope edges as thick as a finger wrapped round the keel – the perils of a torpedo keel. This allowed the TP52 Ark 323 to slip across the line after almost a day and a half of racing to record a line honours win.

As I shut down the computer at the end of that day (around 0100) only 10 of the crews were safely docked and heading for showers and bed – or already there – leaving 25 boats still at sea in the fading or faded breeze and a night illuminated by a ¾ moon with the ETA of some not expected until the following afternoon and a couple languishing in windless holes that may even be lucky to cross the line in daylight.

A brief update on what would normally be considered a ‘lay-day’. It is currently 1530 with a technical briefing coming at 1730 with two teams still on the race course, the second of which is currently showing a VMG of 4.5 with 7.5 Nm to go. With luck they will just make the briefing, the prizegiving, a shower and sound sleep only to get up early tomorrow morning to head back to Haikou up the East coast. Good to see they haven’t given up though.

I sat this leg out as an uncontrolled mainsheet in race 1 just about took me out leaving me with a stiff shoulder but my replacement brought the team home, once again in first place in class – a clean sweep on the cards.

In between the two legs I was approached to see if I wanted to guest on the Cookson 50, UBOX in what was her first regatta with several new crew members. The report from the return leg is therefore a personal account of this leg.

We came off the start line clean and in good shape but made the error of chasing the TP52, Noah Sailing, upwind matching her course but of course nothing points like a ‘TP’ and we bled yards from her until we re-moded and initially started to reel her in and, in the fading wind sail through her about a mile to leeward. Then the wind started to die and it was a case of jumping from wind patch to wind patch – it was starting to look ‘not good’.

And so it was to prove so with the wind fading wit the light to a glass out which was to lead to 5 hours of 0.00 showing on the B&G with the GPS speed of 1 knot being entirely from the tidal current taking us up the coast.

Meanwhile, while this was happening the aging Santa Cruz 70, Freefire, had headed way out to sea very early and it doesn’t matter whether this was through luck or judgement she just sailed round, not only we two but the whole damn fleet, never stopped and  took line honours by a very healthy margin – and I am talking hours.

When our wind returned it wasn’t with much enthusiasm, but we made what was best of it and when the light also returned we could have been alone on the entire ocean – not a boat in sight.

Standing well out to sea, at times in excess of 20 miles finally found us some breeze, breeze which gradually built along with the right direction which led to a downwind sleighride which lasted for as many hours as the wind hole had the previous night.

The speed built 13, 14 and on up until we were charging along with 18 knots plus for minutes at a time with the two helms of Black & Kong trying to outdo each other with apart from one 2 minute interlude didn’t drop below 13 knots for approaching 5 hours.

That interlude came when we sailed within 50m of a pole bearing 2 flags, a pole connected to a rope as thick as your finger. It is quite disconcerting to see something like that shooting towards you like a torpedo, disappearing under the boat only to rocket round the keel and the for the boat to shoot forward once again. One of the unexpected advantages of a canted keel was that it shot out the back well clear of the rudder allowing normal progress to be resumed without serious damage in that department.

The Soto 40 ‘Seamo’ appeared on the other gybe in the distance which gave the guys a target. Peak speed was 20.4 knots as the Cookson reveled in what she was built for but then she tripped off a wave, rounded up with the main and vang not dumped quickly enough and the spinnaker was in 4 pieces,  the chase over. It didn’t take long for a new sail to be hoisted and we crossed the line in third place with what might have been.

It was a race that had everything, upwind in breeze, a wind hole producing a restart, tactical decisions and a good going blast to finish off with.

From a corrected time point of view it was disappointing but this was the first regatta for a team re-formed with a long term view and hey – that’s yacht racing, if the breeze had arrived earlier it may have been entirely different, but, it wasn’t.

Further back down the fleet, SailingIn, in the Dubois 50 class was buried, a contrast to their 1,1,1 score-line this far but still managed to protect their position in class.

We proved to be the last boat to break the finish line in daylight and felt genuinely sorry for those facing a further night at sea.

However with 4 hours motoring in the dark from finish line to marina our challenges weren’t over with multiple fish pens either side of the channel, a few patches of shallows and over-falls it wasn’t time to relax.

We were very well ‘torched up’ with 2 and sometime 3 guys on the bow scanning for wayward fishing buoys – and we found some which required a sudden burst astern to avoid getting wrapped up in (and they were connected with ½ inch warps). Seamo fell in astern with us in VHF comms with each other – a mini convoy.

One boat, we learned later, ‘found’ a fishing net just after finishing around 2000. They were not in any danger so decided to just wait it out until first light before “upping anchor” and continuing to the marina in daylight, unconventional perhaps but it worked.

The whole thing wrapped up with a typical Chinese regatta prizegiving lots of razzamatazz, prizes galore even a set of dancing girls (and boys). Now to get some sleep.