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premier?

A soccer match is often described as a ‘game of two halves. Well the inaugural ‘Premier Yacht Race’ from Shenzhen to Lingshui on Hainan Island was more like a game of three chapters.

With entry parameters of over 50 feet or IRC Rating of over 1.2, the start line was set in a position to the east of Shenzhen with one entry traveling over 70 miles just to get to the starting area.

With just 6 entries it would be discount this as small beer but yacht racing in China is still in its relative infancy and it shouldn’t be forgotten that the first Sydney Hobart only had 9 entries and wouldn’t even have been a race if Captain Illingworth hadn’t stated he was only interested in making the trip if the planned ’cruise in company’ was actually a race. As a further point of reference the original Fastnet had only 7 boats.

It was also a rare race for myself in that I wasn’t an official or just writing about it as I had been invited to be part of the afterguard for the Swan 82, UBOX. We also had a relatively early start with the start line being a 3 hour motor from Longcheer Yacht Club where the boat is based.

Chapter one saw us about 30 seconds late for the start with problems unfurling the Code 0 and light sloppy conditions in the shadow of the nearby coastal mountains with, on a couple of occasions, our own seemingly private wind-hole showing a boats speed of 0.00 – not a good look.

They say that you cannot usually win a race in the first few hours but you can lose it and that is probably what happened to us -where was the 18-25 knots that ‘Windy’ had predicted? It was usually so reliable.

Chapter two started when the actual wind started to match Windy’s estimates and the boat began to come alive. The A2 went up and the speedo crept up towards the middle teens where it stayed for hour after hour as the day became night. Although not far north, it is still winter so the days are short with the nights long.

Away from the land’s influence the failing light didn’t bring a failing wind and we were able to continue pushing, and pushing hard – we had time to make up after all. First casualty was the A2 which as we surfed down a sea it wrapped itself around and between the forestay and the furled 0.

And quite a wrap  which meant by the time it was dropped to the deck it needed a serious visit to a sailmaker. That one was down to handling!

If that was the low point of the first night, then one of the high points was that the clouds cleared and as the half moon started to disappear below the western horizon the night sky with the low humidity was ablaze with a clarity that no landsman can ever witness. Clear enough to see the low orbit satellites speeding across the sky. Remarkable though how many flights could be seen – virtually none – in fact on the second night we were obviously well clear of any normal flight paths. But I am getting ahead of myself.

Still pressing, our next victim was nearly our skipper. As we hit the wave in front after one long surf there was an almighty bang as the dyneema strop connecting the carbon checkstay to the block below decided to let go and the block whistled past his head. On boats this big at these sorts of speeds the loads are quite extraordinary.

The pushing however did not diminish, neither did the wind as we sped through the darkness under what was now the A4 with the B&G recording a maximum boat speed of 21.7 knots (not bad for a 40 ton+ cruiser) and the highest wind gust of a little over 30 knots although I should say we were running with one reef in the main most of the time.

The next bang was more like a Jenifer Grey “Whump” as the head of the A4 decided it had had enough and it was all hands to the foredeck to drag the sail back on board. Thankfully though that as it had gone at the head it had to be dragged back on board across the surface of the water rather than be retrieved like a fishing net. 

Still the pace didn’t slow. Out came the Code 0 which, although not the ideal sail for the wind angle still kept out speed up in the teens until it became ’clew-less’ not far short of the final virtual turning mark.

Had the various sail failures cost us? Time would tell!

And so to chapter three. The Sydney Hobart has its Derwent River and this race had its Lingshui Bay which we had been warned had its fish farms, nets and boats. Remarkable though that if you actually put a crew member on the bow in the direction of travel it is remarkably easy to weave your way without hitting anything but in the dark it does rather slow progress.  

We crossed the finish line as the first fingers of light were appearing in the eastern sky with an elapsed time 1 day 16 hours 45.03 minutes which, for a sailed distance of around 450-470 Nm, was a good effort, or at least one we were pleased with. Then became the long wait with the calculations of a target time to beat us.

We would have to wait a whole day to see if the boat second on the water, a Dufour 500 would correct out faster – but they did. We don’t think we could have pushed much harder so they either took a better line or sailed the  boat to within an inch of its life as they corrected out around 35.5 minutes ahead of us, leaving us with the line honours as consolation.

So we established a reference time of 40 hours 45 minutes which perhaps not unbeatable will not be that easy to surpass. I am always loath to consider a first time as a record, as so many seem to like to do, as we have not actually beaten anything.

However taking away nothing from their hard fought victory – they were the boat that motored 70 miles to get to the start by the way, so more power to them.

So victory to Tong Ran, the boat that had sailed all the way down the Pearl River and through Hong Kong waters just to get to the start, and extra half days effort, so well deserved.

Only 362 days to the start of the next ‘Premier Yacht Race’ (it is a leap year) – I can hardly wait. Meanwhile, what was that sail loft’s address?

-SS