Overall IRC winner
At the Philippines finish of the Rolex China Sea Race, the local enthusiasm and passion for sailing is evident, so it seemed fitting that the overall handicap winner was the Philippines entry, Subic Centennial, co-skippered by Judes Echauz and Vince Perez and their crew of young Filipino sailors.
Echauz and Perez won the China Sea Race in 1998 with the same boat, and ten years later decided it was time to try again. Echauz is President of the Philippines Sailing Association and head of the Philippines sailing team and was involved in the ASEAN Games in Manila. Subic Centennial, a Sydney 46 from the Manila Yacht Club, is mostly composed of young kids who are part of the Philippines Team, with Australian Jamie Wilmot as the senior coach.
Perez commented: "Judes really does a good job trying to involve young Filipinos who otherwise wouldn't enjoy the sport of sailing. He has provided scholarships in the Philippines Sailing Association, and sent them to the Southeast Asia Games, so this is a great experience for them. Some of them have never been to Hong Kong before, so it's a wonderful ocean race for them to participate in."
Once again tactics played as much a part as luck. Echauz said: "We were trying to be close to the rhumb line - we did not want to go south, as we might have been stuck. The way we looked at it was to be on the rhumb line, or eventually trying to go north of the rhumb line, so that when we got further down (the course) and the wind conditions were northeast as forecast, on the last day it would be favouring us."
He continued: "The northeast was supposedly forecast for the last two days, but I guess in terms of weather prediction there was a big hole. Yesterday, true enough we got caught up for four hours and were not moving. It was very calm, 2 or 3 knots, up until about four in the afternoon."
Echauz added, "We've seen Rolex as a sponsor in international regattas and their being the sponsor for the Rolex China Sea Race will really give it a big boost and a lot of prestige."
Finishing during the night were Moonblue 2, Australian Maid, Jaywalker, Shahtoosh, Stella, and Dream.
Paul Bankowski's Ker 11.3 Jaywalker, won IRC Racing B division and was 2nd overall on corrected time after Subic Centennial. Jaywalker persevered where others were stymied, coming in on the northwesterly which shut off, filled in from the southeast and shut down again, before finally filling in from the northwest again to get them across the finish line at 2204 hrs.
They also persevered in that this was only the second time the boat has finished this race, after starting in four editions, having had to retire twice due to mechanical problems.
Outlining their winning game plan, crewmember Don Wilks from Hong Kong said: "We decided to go south of the rhumb line and come in from the sea side. First night we dove south quite deeply, mainly because it was a bit windy - didn't have an option. Took off south, stayed south, gybed a couple of times and came in just as we planned. Jaywalker was one of the few boats that avoided any holes, Wilks adding, "From that point of view, we were very lucky, we kept the boat moving at all times."
The crew of eight, like many in this race, was a mixed group from Australia, France, UK, and the US. Though they had never all sailed together until the race start, Jaywalker's crew were an experienced group of amateurs, many of whom race in local Hong Kong regattas.
The Ker 11.3 sportboat was a lively ride to Subic Bay, Wilks commented, "The boat just gets soaking wet. It's an out and out racing boat, just bunks, navigation station, cooker, very low freeboard, no headroom below. Every wave comes over, so we got very wet." Uncomfortable for some maybe, but exhilarating for others. Wilks said, "South side of the coast here we were doing 14-15 knots, not surfing, just 15 knots straight line."
Interestingly enough, there wasn't a clear right winning track this year to the Philippines - if there ever is - some boats chose to go south of the rhumb line, such as Hi Fi, Jaywalker, and Dream, while others such as Subic Centennial and Fortis Mandrake headed more inshore.
In IRC Premier Cruising Division, it was Mark Thornburrow, from Hong Kong, on his Taswell 49 Dream who finished first. Dream was on a mission to emulate their performance in the 2006 race, when they finished 2nd overall (to Fortis Mandrake). The 20-year old 18-ton Dream is a full-on cruiser, including air-conditioning and hot and cold water - amenities that might seem odd for an accomplished Etchells sailor. But Thornburrow just seems to relish the chance to sail comfortably with good friends. Though, make no mistake, they were there to compete.
Up until midnight Dream was making good time, spinnaker running and averaging 10 knots when the wind collapsed 20 miles from the finish. The final nail in their potential handicap win coffin was when the breeze finally filled in, it had swung around and was dead ahead -- taking them six hours to beat to the finish.
Peter Churchouses' Moonblue 2 is renowned for being long on amenities and a fun ride to boot, with proper meals and an occasional fine wine onboard. Though shortly after sending an email that predicted a 1730 hrs finish where he added: "Fortunately we have had no breakages and our top speed has been about 12 knots without coming to a complete standstill once," Moonblue 2 ran out of luck, and wind, and would sit for some three hours before finding a breeze to take them across the finish.
Finishing during the day Monday, and enjoying a decent land breeze, were Walawala, Crystal, Challenge, Harlequin, and Xiphias,. At 1700 hrs Monday five yachts were still at sea and due in to Subic Bay by midnight. Still racing are Thea (ETA 2000 hrs), Cave Canem (ETA 2130 hrs), Harmony (ETA 2200 hrs); Larabella is motoring and due in at 2000 hrs.
Retired are Strewth (keel problems) and Cloud (accompanied Strewth), who are both in Hong Kong, and Tipsy Frenz (damaged mainsail) is currently in Subic Bay.
Rolex China Sea Race chairman Peter Cremers, who raced on board his Warwick 55, Shahtoosh, finishing second in IRC Performance Cruising, was pleased with another successful edition of this biennial race from Hong Kong. Cremers said: "The race gives a bit to everybody, the top racing machines and the cruisers like mine. If they do the race in a proper way, everybody has a chance to do well, that's the purpose. It's not just the top hot boats that find a home in this race, everyone needs to find his niche in the race."
The official prize giving ceremony will take place on April 16th 2008 at the Royal Hong Kong Yacht Club. Among the trophies, Rolex timepieces will be awarded to Hi Fi's for the Line Honours win and to Subic Centennial for winning IRC Overall.
This Asian blue-water classic has become part of Rolex's distinguished portfolio of international offshore races under a long-term partnership between Rolex and the RHKYC that commenced in 2007. The Rolex China Sea Race joins other prestigious Rolex-sponsored 2008 events including the Maxi Yacht Rolex Cup, Rolex Swan Cup, Rolex Middle Sea Race, and the Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race.