Dismastings at the China Cup
Many teams would have wished for a day like Sea Wolf’s, whose two race wins have maintained a perfect score of straight victories for Yan Yuye’s Archambault 40 in IRC division 3. But some other highly fancied teams came unstuck in one way or another.
In the most competitive division, the 30-boat Beneteau 40.7 fleet, Jono Rankine’s Vatti Sailing is expected to do well, with Olympic medallists and world champions packing out the back of the boat. But moments before the start of the Audi Round Island Race the mainsail halyard broke, forcing helmsman Simon Cooke to do the best job he could manage with just a jib up. The crew worked hard to get the halyard fixed and three minutes later were rehoisting the mainsail, but by now almost last in the fleet.
Gradually they chipped away, taking their opportunities where they could. The biggest moment came at one corner of the island where the leading pack, led by Beijing Sailing Center, were rounding up as early as they felt they could. But a gap opened up for the middle of the pack – including two of the top teams, Vatti and Courrier Team – to steal an inside line. Gery Trentesaux’s Courrier Team took it closest to the island, but paid the price when they ran aground at some speed. Simon Cooke knew what had happened without looking up. “I saw two boats hit the same spot last year,” said Vatti’s helmsman. “I was surprised the French were going in there, and they must have hit it at some speed, maybe 7 knots or so,” he said. “It was pretty spectacular, I saw pretty much the whole rudder out of the water.”
Despite the hard grounding, Courrier still finished that race in sixth place, and hold third overall. Vatti overcame the broken halyard to win that race along with the windward-leeward race earlier in the day. Maybe a brief visit by Lijia Xu, the recently crowned Laser Radial Olympic Champion, brought some extra luck to an already highly accomplished team. Lijia was in Shenzhen to receive a special award the previous evening at the Knighting Ceremony, where ten Chinese high achievers from various backgrounds such as music, law, showbiz and sport were honoured for their achievements over the past 12 months.
So in the Beneteaus, Rankine’s team are lying in 1st overall ahead of Rick Pointon’s Beijing Sailing Center. The round-the-world legend Michel Desjoyeaux moves into fourth overall, thanks in part to winning a request for redress from the opening Passage Race on Friday. Helming Beneteau China – TBS, Desjoyeaux had been leading the race with just two or three miles to the finish when there was a change of finish line coordinates announced on the VHF radio. Being the furthest advanced, Desjoyeaux needed to make the biggest change of course and dropped to 8th. So while he wasn’t given back 1st place, the jury did at least award him average points of no worse than fourth place.
Sailing such a boat with a team that is half professional and half amateur is a refreshing change of pace for the two-time Vendée Globe winner. “Life is very short, but each day of life is so much better when you try to do the best you can,” he said. “It is really nice sailing with some people who are still quite new to the sport and helping them to improve. That doesn’t mean shouting at them, because shouting never works. But it’s about encouragement and making sure they understand those moments in the race when you need them to give 100%.”
Another top Beneteau 40.7, the Turkish-crewed Team Tezmarin, was fortunate to keep its rig in the air as it was running downwind with spinnaker on starboard gybe when a boat from another fleet, Surfdude, was coming upwind on port tack. The rigs clipped each other, Tezmarin got dragged off course and into the wind, but Surfdude ended up snapping its rig. The 30ft Ten keelboat, Yomovo, also lost its rig after the failure of a D1 sidestay, bringing the Dutch/Chinese team’s regatta to an early conclusion.
With 91 boats of such varying sizes and speeds racing around the same course, there have been a few collisions and many protests in the evening. Although some teams are fairly new to the sport, head of the International Jury, Bernard Bonneau, says they have to apply the Racing Rules of Sailing the same way in all instances, regardless of the experience of the sailors involved. For some, this is a harsh learning experience in the protest room, but it is all part of an event that has grown from nowhere to a significant international regatta in just five years.
For all the dramas of today, the majority of competitors enjoyed stunning sailing conditions. Frank Pong’s 75ft Jelik hit a peak speed of 22 knots in 20 knots of wind, and the crew were grinning from ear to ear as they came ashore for a beer. But it was their chief rivals in IRC1, Jamie McWilliam’s Ker 40 Peninsula Signal 8, that scored the better day with a 2,1, and they are now just a point behind Jelik in the overall standings.
For the concluding racing on Monday, the 91 boats compete in one windward/leeward heat and an Audi Round the Island Race, with the Final Prizegiving and Closing Ceremony in the evening.