Rolex China Sea Race - Spirit and determination know no bounds

by KPMS 
Rolex China Sea Race 2012
The Rolex China Sea Race is an offshore racing classic that in 2012, will mark its 50th Anniversary race and 'fifty years is a significant milestone for any sailing event,' explains Royal Hong Kong Yacht Club (RHKYC) Commodore Ambrose Lo.

'The Royal Hong Kong Yacht Club is proud that in that time, the 565-nautical mile course from Hong Kong to the Philippines has grown to become, not only the club’s flagship sailing event, but an event that is widely recognised as Asia’s premier offshore race.'

Over and above its significance in the constellation of yacht racing, the Rolex China Sea Race is also recognised for exemplifying two important cornerstones in the sport of offshore yachting: team spirit and determination. The impressive history of the Rolex China Sea Race reinforces its position as a truly international challenge.

As far back as 1972 the race was endorsed by the Royal Ocean Racing Club (RORC), a world leader in offshore race management and the organisers of the Rolex Fastnet Race, one of the three other offshore classics supported by Rolex. Geoff Hill, owner of the Maxi Genuine Risk, the first boat to finish this year’s Rolex China Sea Race, confirmed the importance of this recognition; 'the Royal Ocean Racing Club clearly understands the challenge, quality and complexity of this race for it to appear in their calendar and to be run under their auspices. This race is world-class.'

As a team sport, yacht-racing crews competing offshore must work together towards the common goal of completing the race. This shared motivation is a key attribute that must be in place from the very outset to the end of any campaign, from the preparation of the boat and personnel ahead of the start, to the management of equipment and the crew’s well-being during the race.

The Rolex China Sea Race demonstrates too how team spirit even unites people separated by cultural boundaries and national borders, as Lindsay Lyons, in charge of RHKYC Race and Regatta Promotions, confirms: 'one of the things that you see in a team sport like sailing is that the sport itself actually transcends any cultural backgrounds the participants might have. More than 18 nationalities are represented amongst the crews competing this year. We have competitors from China, America, Canada, Belgium, the United Kingdom, Australia, France etcetera… the sailing is so much more important than where they come from. Their nationality is not an issue.'

As one of the oldest yacht clubs in Asia, and certainly the oldest sailing and rowing club in Hong Kong, the Royal Hong Kong Yacht Club is a prime mover in encouraging team spirit across cultural divides. According to Lyons, as the sport of sailing grows in Asia its internationalism penetrates the club and its activities.

'At present, the club membership comprises approximately half Hong Kong or Chinese and the remaining half from some 40 other nationalities,' she explains. Lyons really enjoys being part of something in which so many countries are interested and to have people of different nations competing together in same event, meeting people that they might not otherwise encounter. 'Like any great sporting occasion, at the Rolex China Sea Race cultural differences are put aside while people play the sport because the sport is more important than anything else.'

Rolex China Sea Race 2012 - Hi Fi

Hong Kong’s location far from the traditional seats of offshore yacht racing in Europe, the United States and Australasia make the logistical issues of attracting international crews a significant challenge. Yet, for every event a number of foreign teams meet that challenge head on. 'The fact that it’s a great race that has been running for 50 years ensures that teams from outside Hong Kong make the effort to compete,' explains Lyons.

For Jonathon Mahoney, owner of Zanzibar and based in Singapore some 1,500 nm by sea from Hong Kong, the determination to take part paid off. The reward for his significant effort was the greatest possible: finishing the 2012 Rolex China Sea Race with the best corrected-time, Zanzibar took home the Overall title and a Rolex Yacht-Master as its prize. 'It’s great that they did so well,' says Lyons. 'They have gone away feeling happy with their performance and they will tell others it is a tough race, very tactical, very competitive, but worth making the effort to do.'

Geoff Hill and Genuine Risk are another example of the worthwhile nature of overcoming obstacles, that perseverance and resolve are admirable traits. Hill only recently acquired the 90-foot Genuine Risk and with the yacht arriving in Hong Kong just a few weeks ahead of the start, time was his biggest challenge in preparing for the Rolex China Sea Race. Before the race, Hill summed up his tasks just to get to the start line: 'we will only have limited time to commission the boat and tune her up. The other challenge will of course be putting together an experienced crew and moulding them into a team.'

Hill, though, is no stranger to facing up to the challenges surrounding offshore racing. In the 2008 Rolex China Sea Race, during the first night at sea, Hill’s then yacht, the 52-foot Strewth, lost its keel 200-nautical miles from the nearest land. Her crew faced a real fight to keep the boat from capsizing in the choppy China Sea. Instead of panicking and abandoning their yacht, they resolved to turn around and return to Hong Kong. A perilous task, given the distance and sea conditions.

They were not alone in their ambitious venture for long. Help came in the form of fellow racer Olivier Decamps, skipper on Cloud, who had spotted a distress signal set off by Strewth. 'The whole crew decided, and very quickly, that there was no other decision to take,' said Decamps, on discovering what had happened. 'We put ourselves in the position of Strewth - what if we had had the same problem and needed help? We couldn't leave those guys out there on their own. This is basic seamanship. There was nothing else around.'

Cloud selflessly accompanied Strewth all the way back to Hong Kong displaying an aspect of team spirit and determination that went beyond individual teams competing against one another. Yacht racing is littered with similar examples of competitors coming to the aid of another in time of crisis. It is essential element within the sport of offshore sailing. Each team feels a responsibility to the safety of not just their fellow crew, but also their fellow competitors.

In 2012, Hill armed with knowledge and experience of race and its potential pitfalls, embraced the challenges, properly preparing his new yacht and forming a cohesive, motivated team by taking the nucleus of his crew from previous Rolex China Sea Race campaigns and successfully blending other sailors from Hong Kong, the Philippines, Australia and America into the mix. Like Mahoney, Hill was rewarded for his endeavour. As the first yacht home on the water, he secured the Line Honours trophy and a Rolex Yacht-Master.