50th anniversary Rolex China Sea Race

Neil Pryde looking to defend title on 4 April

Thursday March 8th 2012, Author: Giles Pearman, Location: Hong Kong

Fifty years have passed since the inaugural Rolex China Sea Race - Asia’s leading blue-water classic. This anniversary merits celebration and with the 2012 edition now only one month away, event organisers the Royal Hong Kong Yacht Club, in cooperation with the Manila Yacht Club and the Subic Bay Yacht Club, are anticipating a memorable chapter in the history of this biennial meet.

Ahead of the golden anniversary of one of the RHKYC’s best loved events, RHKYC Commodore Ambrose Lo remarked: “Fifty years is a significant milestone for any sailing event, and the Royal Hong Kong Yacht Club is proud that, in that time, the 565-nautical mile course from Hong Kong to the Philippines has become Asia’s premier offshore race. Incidentally, this year is also the Year of the Water Dragon, which symbolises strength and success, so I look forward to making this a brilliant year for everyone involved with the Rolex China Sea Race.”

The 2012 Rolex China Sea Race begins on Wednesday 4 April in Hong Kong Harbour (warning signal 12:10 local time), and finishes in Subic Bay, the Philippines. Open to monohull and multihull yachts over ten metres in length, the competition is renowned for its unique and eye-catching start. Modern skyscrapers provide a domineering backdrop as the competing yachts negotiate their way out of the colourful harbour, bustling with traditional sampans and larger, modern commercial boats. Around thirty yachts are already on the entry list for the 26th edition of the race, with as many as forty expected to take part, including an array of overseas crews.

Neil Pryde’s Welbourne 52 Hi-Fi claimed both line honours and overall victory ahead of a 30-strong fleet last time the Rolex China Sea Race took place in April 2010. It was the eighth time a crew has sealed the prestigious double. Edition 25 was also marked by the presence of legendary British yachtsman and 1994 ISAF Rolex World Sailor of the Year, Sir Robin Knox-Johnston, who skippered Ffreefire.

Weather-wise the race is frequently divided into two distinct sections. Conditions are often most uncomfortable the first day and night of the race, with lumpy seas and forceful headwinds typical. As the fleet approaches the Philippine coastline, the elements often become extremely fickle and the search for breeze is notoriously arduous for tacticians and navigators.

The inaugural race in 1962 saw the fleet head towards Corregidor Island, some 50km south of the current finish line in Subic Bay. Chris von Sydow’s Reverie was first to finish in a time of 107 hours, 29 minutes and 57 seconds. The five-strong fleet comprised three local crews, one from Manila and another from Japan. The current race record has stood for over a decade, set by local yachtsman Karl Kwok’s Farr 80 Beau Geste in a time of 47 hours, 43 minutes and seven seconds. Beau Geste (1996, 2000) is one of three yachts to have won the event twice, sharing the honour with West Wind II (1964, 1966) and more recently, Subic Centennial (1998, 2008)

Throughout its proud history, the event has drawn the yachting fraternity to Hong Kong and Southeast Asia. While sailing is a developing sport in the Far East, both a maritime influence and nautical pursuits have long infiltrated life in Hong Kong and the RHKYC has presided over local racing since the mid-19th century.

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