The gods were shining on the Rolex China Sea Race fleet today, sending them off in a light southeasterly breeze and a fair tide towards the finish off Subic Bay, Philippines, 565-miles distant. Earlier in the day, conditions were not so promising, but the breeze eventually filled in and the fog burned off to produce a colourful start just off the Royal Hong Kong Yacht Club in Victoria Harbour. The 30-boat fleet started in a 6-8 knot breeze, which increased as the bigger boats approached Shek-O rock. This year, all divisions went off in one start, providing a spectacle with Hong Kong’s towering buildings providing a dramatic backdrop.
Racing and cruising division boats were equally aggressive at the start, and with the current pushing boats towards the line, several boats were caught out. Australian Maid misjudged the current, was over the line early, and had to circle back to restart. Once clear of the start line, the fleet had the usual medley of harbour borne Hong Kong traffic to contend with: barges steamed by, business as usual, sampans chugged along laden with cargo, the Star ferry plied its usual route, and local fishing skiffs were anchored with lines in the water. After the start, most of the IRC racing division boats split to opposite sides of the harbour with contrary tactics of where the current and breeze were.
Out of the harbour, the fleet sailed down the Tathong Channel in front of the shoreside temples and through the Po Toi Islands. By 1504 local time, Geoff Hill’s TP52 Strewth (AUS) was leading the fleet, making nine knots, just clear of Hong Kong’s outer islands, and heading into the South China Sea. Close behind were the Sir Robin Knox-Johnston skippered Ffreefire 70 (HKG), Ernesto Echauz’ Subic Centennial (PHI), and Ray Roberts’ Evolution Racing (AUS).
Earlier in the day, the RHKYC boatyard and docks were buzzing with activity as crews loaded provisions and gear. Only two hours before the starting time, Joachim Isler and Andrew Taylor’s Mills 41 Ambush was in the travel lift waiting for high tide in order to relaunch the boat. Earlier in the week, the boat suffered rudder damage in a shoreside accident. A replacement rudder was fast tracked at Australian boatbuilder McConaghy's yard in Zhuhai, China, and was delivered and installed in the early hours of today.
Ambush was built and delivered in April 2008, too late for the last edition of the Rolex China Sea Race. Isler and Mills were keen to make it to the start line this year, especially given the forecast that could potentially favour their boat.
Isler said, “We’ve done quite well in local regattas, but we haven’t done that much offshore yet. The boat has been going well in anything between 8 to 12 knots, it sails extremely well to its’ handicap. That’s what it was designed for, the wind range we have in the area.
“We’re looking quite happy at the weather we think we’ll be facing – a light to moderate race, with the breeze coming from behind. We’re looking forward to catching up with the bigger boats by the end of the race. So let’s see, it should be an interesting race for us.” That said, Isler wouldn’t commit to being the dark horse, “There are 30 boats and I think each and every one, in this funny weather, has a chance.”
Forecast for the next 24 hours is south to southeast, force 4-5 (11-21 kts).