Game and set for Hi Fi
Neil Pryde’s Welbourn 52 Hi Fi was a familiar sight leading the fleet again and taking the line honours victory, crossing the finish line off Subic Bay, Philippines at 07:36:11 local time. Hi Fi’s elapsed time of 67hrs, 26mins shaved close to four hours off their previous record, set in the 2008 race. This is a new benchmark for the Rolex China Sea Race harbour start, a change in 2008 to allow for the start off the Royal Hong Kong Yacht Club in Victoria Harbour. Hi Fi also won the IRC Racing A division overall on corrected time.
At a dockside presentation at the Subic Bay Yacht Club, owner/skipper Neil Pryde was presented with a Rolex Yacht-Master timepiece for his line honours win. He was the Line Honours winner in the 2008 edition as well.
Pryde recounted Hi Fi’s race: “We had a game plan which we stuck to pretty well and that’s the way it played out. We put the boat in the right place, at the right time, and got the right wind angles and that was it.
“We were always concerned about Evolution Racing, the TP 52, as the boat to beat and we got a big gap on them the first night. We just split apart and we lost them. We sailed a lot lower course out of Hong Kong, and we got into clear air and they sailed high. Later in the night, he sailed away from us in a very divergent course and we weren’t sure what he was up to, and we lost him, and after that we were on our own.
“We’ve got to pay tribute to Will Oxley, who’s our navigator. He nailed it right on, he had every wind angle spot on, it was just perfect.
“We were a bit nervous last night, we got down to 2-3 knots of boat speed, but we never actually stopped. As it started to die, and the new breeze filled in off the land, we were away again.
“We never had more than 20-22 knots, it was never really windy, but we were fully pressured up because of the angles we were sailing…the boat was really trucking.
Pryde is ever the experimenter – he essentially rebuilt Hi Fi in 2007 by cutting the deck off and building a totally new Welbourn-designed hull, keel, and rudder on his boat. Since then it seems he can’t help himself and he’s been at it again. As Pryde explained: “We have a new keel, new rudder, new rig, new cabin top. I get a kick out of that actually. If I could sell it, I would sell it and start all over again with another one. That’s part of the fun of it all.”
Hi Fi’s navigator, Will Oxley is a veteran of the 2008/9 Volvo Ocean Race as back-up navigator for Puma Sailing. It was his first time competing in the Rolex China Sea Race, but he was not unfamiliar with the area, having done a lot a research on the course for the Volvo race. However, he didn’t have all of the electronic amenities that many Volvo and offshore sailors take for granted now.
Oxley said, “We only had an Iridium phone, so afraid I’m used to being spoiled and having access to a whole lot of information. This time the GRIBs were okay for the first little while. I could get the GRIB to be correct if I added 140% of the wind, made it three hours earlier and rotated it 40% - so I didn’t pay much attention to them! But, using the general understanding of what the weather was doing, we just tried to position ourselves, particularly with this large landmass, to anticipate the breeze shifting in the afternoon as it typically does and then the land breeze filling in. Luckily, we managed to get that correct and so that made a big difference in terms of being able to position ourselves.”
Rolex China Sea Races are won and lost as boats approach the Philippine coastline, and that was not lost on board Hi Fi. As Oxley explained: “As we came to the coast, the breeze came into the north and it was about 12 knots, and as it got dark the thermal breeze goes, so it rotated back into the northeast and we, without gybing or anything, just rotated around and changed down through the sails. We thought we could afford to go further in(shore), since we thought it was going to go into the east a bit further, but then we got a position report for Evolution, and they were outside of us and so the only thing that could go wrong was that we could get caught inshore with no wind. So we bore away a bit, even though we realized that probably meant we were going to be on the wind to finish, but it protected us; that’s the way it panned out, so we were very pleased.
“We knew if we could get in before like 10:00, then we had a good chance of finishing in the land breeze rather than ending up in the sea breeze transition. That’s going to be quite tricky this afternoon. And hopefully we’ve managed to get our time on boats like Subic and Ambush. Apart from being able to come in(shore) a little closer last night, which might have given us an extra half hour, we didn’t lose any time on the race track, so that was great."
Oxley was quick to praise the crew and owner Neil Pryde: “The crew work is exemplary, so it made it easy - and Kos did a great job of calling the tactics. It was just fantastic to see how passionate Neil is and he was up all night and drove all night. Once he could smell the finish line, there was nothing to stop him, and he’s a fantastic driver. It’s really nice to see someone so passionate about their sailing and so actively involved and enjoying it.”
Next to finish were the TP52s: Ray Roberts’ Evolution Racing, crossing the line four hours behind Hi Fi at 9:39:48, followed by Strewth at 12:40:33; Ffreefire 52 is due at 16:30. The rest of the fleet is expected in through the night and tomorrow. Monday night, there will be an informal dockside presentation for the first to third place finishers, in each division. The official Rolex China Sea Race prizegiving will be held on Wednesday, April 14th at the Royal Hong Kong Yacht Club branch at Kellet Island, Hong Kong.