After an 11 race feet regatta for 38 teams a month previously, 10 teams plus the defender and a top ladies team were invited to return and so descended on Wu Yuan Bay in Xiamen for the Match Racing phase of the 2019 China Club Challenge Match.
A sharp Race Officer with full back up on the committee boat and an Organising Committee which although creaked a little at times however produced another top drawer event with the standard rising with each rendition of China’s oldest regatta which, in the fleet racing element, was once again Asia’s largest one design keelboat fleet of the year.
This was the 15th edition of the Club Cup as it is widely known amongst the competitors and each year with practice and experience the standard of match racing amongst the competitors rises.
The format of the event is that the 11 ‘challengers’ fight for the right to compete against the defender from the previous year for the perpetual solid silver trophy in the shape of a clam shell.
The event started with two complete round robins over three days with the defender (the 2018 Champion, Beijing Sailing Centre) part of the round robin 1 but excused from round robin 2.One has to allow the defender some match practice but not too much knowledge of who will ultimately face them.
Work it out – 2 round robins equals a total of 120 matches over 44 flights, that makes it long days on the water, not only for the sailors but also for the umpire team of John (Chief) NZL, Wayne NZL, Nev AUS and Alistair GBR with a total of 44 flights over the three days.
Conditions ranged from an almost drift off to enough breeze to light up the J-80s used for the event making the pre-start very busy at times with some skippers rather fond of the ‘Y’ Flag which, more often than not, drew a ‘Green’ response.
Not always though, with more than a smattering of blues and yellows, a few reds, one black and a redress request (denied) A few ‘contacts’ but none more than a ‘kiss’ with no hull damage reports required although one or two spinnakers required some tape assistance along the way.
A few sailors commented on their level of tiredness when they came ashore but spare a thought for the race committee or the umpires who, rather than being involved for half the flights, were on the water for ALL the races.
.Those first three days whittled the fleet down to the top 4 teams for the semi-finals which were largely ding-dong from the first entry and in some cases all the way round the two laps to the finish time with at least one boat completing their penalty round the pin mark where even claiming protection in the zone couldn’t prevent their loss by mere centimetres.
The semis were first to three, then the wind shutdown bringing a brief respite for all in the hot sun and literally cloudless sky before the heating land brought in a healthy double figures sea breeze.
That meant the first to 4 final was a humdinger. At one point when one team put in a completely unexpected manoeuvre the umpire boat had to make a swift exit at high power leaving one umpire flat on his back on the bottom of the RIB with the only evidence of his presence being a blue flag being waved above the sponson and the loud screech of a whistle signalling the penalty that caused the RIB to move.
Seawolf from Shenzhen eventually ran out the worthy winner 4 points to 2 but it was a hard (and fairly) fought victory where at times the tables could have easily been turned. A real sharpening up process for the eventual winner.
There followed a prizegiving on the dock for what would could be called the local equivalent of the Louis Vuitton or Prada as the job was only half done with all that had been won was the right to go up against the defender.
That defender, by the way, spent the whole afternoon on the spectator boat moored just off the race track observing the action with more than a little passing interest. They knew they would have to be on his mettle to defend their title.
The North against South battle in the Challenge match may appear to be one sided with Seawolf taking the title 4 -0 but they didn’t have it all their own way in the pre-start but the 24 races ‘practice’ leading up to the match had made the Shenzhen team razor sharp and their superiority in boat speed and particularly at the mark roundings gave little chance to the Beijing based team with the error count clearly higher on the northern boat.
So the Seawolf team next year will have the same challenges as defender to ensure they stay on the money against what will be a more practiced challenger.
As the Chief Umpire, John Rountree stated, the quality of the match racing across the fleet rises year on year and he should know, he has been coming to this event for six years now.
There was one final element to the event which was pioneered two editions ago, the “All Star Challenge”.
The new champion would sail in a big money match against a team brought together from the teams ranked 2nd to 5th with the best helm, the best mainsheet etc for a first to 3 winner takes all for RMB250,000, a portion of which would go to the charity of the winner’s choice.
In the past this has seen some amazing racing with, in one race, so much action it prompted one umpire to claim it was “in the top 10 matches I have even witnessed” and he has umpired at 3 America’s Cups so has seen a few.
This year Seawolf ran out 3 – 0 which, although convincing, doesn’t quite tell the whole story. In the upwind photo attached Seawolf are actually behind and mark roundings were pretty tight affairs.
5 days of intense racing, a total of 142 races – that’s NOT a typo by the way with the 2019 China Club Challenge Match once again proving why it is one of the most highly regarded regattas in the Chinese sailing calendar. Lots of smiles on sailors faces (winners and losers) which is what it should all be about – roll on next year!