Rolex China Sea Race 2008
Hong Kong - Philippines

March 24, 2008 - Subic Centennial emerges as Overall IRC winner

Photos by: Rolex / Carlo Borlenghi

Last night the land-sea breeze off the Philippine coast made and lost fortunes for the potential handicap winners in this 565-nautical mile offshore Asian classic.

At the Philippines finish of the Rolex China Sea Race, the local enthusiasm and passion for sailing is evident, so it seemed fitting that the overall handicap winner was the Philippines entry, Subic Centennial, co-skippered by Judes Echauz and Vince Perez and their crew of young Filipino sailors.

Echauz and Perez won the China Sea Race in 1998 with the same boat, and ten years later decided it was time to try again. Echauz is President of the Philippines Sailing Association and head of the Philippines sailing team and was involved in the ASEAN Games in Manila. Subic Centennial, a Sydney 46 from the Manila Yacht Club, is mostly composed of young kids who are part of the Philippines Team, with Australian Jamie Wilmot as the senior coach.

Perez commented, "Judes really does a good job trying to involve young Filipinos who otherwise wouldn't enjoy the sport of sailing. He has provided scholarships in the Philippines Sailing Association, and sent them to the Southeast Asia Games, so this is a great experience for them. Some of them have never been to Hong Kong before, so it's a wonderful ocean race for them to participate in."

Once again tactics played as much a part as luck. Echauz said, "We were trying to be close to the rhumb line -- we did not want to go south, as we might have been stuck. The way we looked at it was to be on the rhumb line, or eventually trying to go north of the rhumb line, so that when we got further down (the course) and the wind conditions were northeast as forecast, on the last day it would be favouring us."

He continued, "The northeast was supposedly forecast for the last two days, but I guess in terms of weather prediction there was a big hole. Yesterday, true enough we got caught up for four hours and were not moving. It was very calm, 2 or 3 knots, up until about four in the afternoon."

Echauz added, "We've seen Rolex as a sponsor in international regattas and their being the sponsor for the Rolex China Sea Race will really give it a big boost and a lot of prestige."

Finishing during the night were Moonblue 2, Australian Maid, Jaywalker, Shahtoosh, Stella, and Dream.

Paul Bankowski's Ker 11.3 Jaywalker, won IRC Racing B division and was 2nd overall on corrected time after Subic Centennial. Jaywalker persevered where others were stymied, coming in on the northwesterly which shut off, filled in from the southeast and shut down again, before finally filling in from the northwest again to get them across the finish line at 2204 hrs.

They also persevered in that this was only the second time the boat has finished this race, after starting in four editions, having had to retire twice due to mechanical problems.

Outlining their winning game plan, crewmember Don Wilks from Hong Kong said, "We decided to go south of the rhumb line and come in from the sea side. First night we dove south quite deeply, mainly because it was a bit windy - didn't have an option. Took off south, stayed south, gybed a couple of times and came in just as we planned. Jaywalker was one of the few boats that avoided any holes, Wilks adding, "From that point of view, we were very lucky, we kept the boat moving at all times."

The crew of eight, like many in this race, was a mixed group from Australia, France, UK, and the US. Though they had never all sailed together until the race start, Jaywalker's crew were an experienced group of amateurs, many of whom race in local Hong Kong regattas.

The Ker 11.3 sportboat was a lively ride to Subic Bay, Wilks commented, "The boat just gets soaking wet. It's an out and out racing boat, just bunks, navigation station, cooker, very low freeboard, no headroom below. Every wave comes over, so we got very wet." Uncomfortable for some maybe, but exhilarating for others. Wilks said, "South side of the coast here we were doing 14-15 knots, not surfing, just 15 knots straight line."

Interestingly enough, there wasn't a clear right winning track this year to the Philippines - if there ever is -- some boats chose to go south of the rhumb line, such as Hi Fi, Jaywalker, and Dream, while others such as Subic Centennial and Fortis Mandrake headed more inshore.

In IRC Premier Cruising Division, it was Mark Thornburrow, from Hong Kong, on his Taswell 49 Dream who finished first. Dream was on a mission to emulate their performance in the 2006 race, when they finished 2nd overall (to Fortis Mandrake). The 20-year old 18-ton Dream is a full-on cruiser, including air-conditioning and hot and cold water - amenities that might seem odd for an accomplished Etchells sailor. But Thornburrow just seems to relish the chance to sail comfortably with good friends. Though, make no mistake, they were there to compete.

Up until midnight Dream was making good time, spinnaker running and averaging 10 knots when the wind collapsed 20 miles from the finish. The final nail in their potential handicap win coffin was when the breeze finally filled in, it had swung around and was dead ahead -- taking them six hours to beat to the finish.

Peter Churchouses' Moonblue 2 is renowned for being long on amenities and a fun ride to boot, with proper meals and an occasional fine wine onboard. Though shortly after sending an email that predicted a 1730 hrs finish where he added, "Fortunately we have had no breakages and our top speed has been about 12 knots without coming to a complete standstill once," Moonblue 2 ran out of luck, and wind, and would sit for some three hours before finding a breeze to take them across the finish.

Finishing during the day Monday, and enjoying a decent land breeze, were Walawala, Crystal, Challenge, Harlequin, and Xiphias,. At 1700 hrs Monday five yachts were still at sea and due in to Subic Bay by midnight. Still racing are Thea (ETA 2000 hrs), Cave Canem (ETA 2130 hrs), Harmony (ETA 2200 hrs); Larabella is motoring and due in at 2000 hrs.

Retired are Strewth (keel problems) and Cloud (accompanied Strewth), who are both in Hong Kong, and Tipsy Frenz (damaged mainsail) is currently in Subic Bay.

Rolex China Sea Race chairman Peter Cremers, who raced on board his Warwick 55, Shahtoosh, finishing second in IRC Performance Cruising, was pleased with another successful edition of this biennial race from Hong Kong. Cremers said, "The race gives a bit to everybody, the top racing machines and the cruisers like mine. If they do the race in a proper way, everybody has a chance to do well, that's the purpose. It's not just the top hot boats that find a home in this race, everyone needs to find his niche in the race."

The official prize giving ceremony will take place on April 16th 2008 at the Royal Hong Kong Yacht Club. Among the trophies, Rolex timepieces will be awarded to Hi Fi's for the Line Honours win and to Subic Centennial for winning IRC Overall.

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Rolex China Sea Race 2008

Hong Kong - Philippines

March 23, 2008 - Neil Pryde's Hi Fi takes line honours win

Photos by: Rolex / Carlo Borlenghi

An increase in wind strength off the West coast of the Philippines overnight gave the lead boats exactly what they needed to close in on the finish line off Grande Island at the entrance to Subic Bay, Philippines on Easter Sunday. Neil Pryde's Wellbourn 52 Hi Fi crossed the finish line just before noon local time with an elapsed time of 71 hrs 35mins 42 secs.

Hi Fi held off Fortis Mandrake, 20 miles behind, which had a shot at the overall corrected win. In the end, Mandrake finished at 1438hrs today, missing the win by a mere 13 minutes.

That leaves only a few suspects who could upset Hi Fi for the overall corrected win if the wind in fact holds, the first of which, Full Metal Jacket, would need to cross at 1819hrs tonight. Others include Subic Centennial, Australian Maid, and Moonblue II, which are due in by 2000hrs tonight.

Dockside at the Subic Bay Yacht Club, skipper Neil Pryde was presented with a Rolex Yacht-Master timepiece by John de Luna from Rolex Philippines for Hi Fi's line honours win.

Hi Fi completed the course with an average speed of 7.6 knots over the 565-nautical mile course from Hong Kong to the Philippines. Not a bad speed considering the boat "parked up" yesterday morning for five hours with no wind at all. A long, hot wait for a boat that could be excused for wondering then if its' game plan had gone wrong.

Pryde said, "We had planned to always go the south side of the rhumb line, we figured we'd get the shift, which we did, but we didn't plan on the big park up yesterday when Mandrake went inshore and gained about ten miles on us. We went from 30 miles ahead to only 13 miles (in one sked). Mandrake had their strategy, and we stuck to our game plan, and in the end that's what yacht racing is all about."

The Rolex China Sea Race line honours win was a first for Pryde, who has previously won the race before on overall corrected time. Hi Fi was launched in January and the crew had only competed in the Royal Langkawi and Singapore Straits regattas. This was the first offshore test, which was an impressive showing. Pryde commented, "We had a lot more time to settle down and get organized. Most of the races we had done were short, round the cans. This time we've been on the boat a long time, we had a chance to really sort things out. We had an excellent crew on the boat, some very good technicians, who were able to put the boat together."

Pryde, an internationally known sail maker whose specialty and success has been as a designer and manufacturer of windsurfers, is a natural tinkerer, known to always be tweaking his boats to make them faster. Hi Fi is a completely new boat, though it was born from the ashes of a previous boat he owned.

Pryde described the process: "We couldn't sell the boat for a realistic price, so I figured out that the residual value in hardware, equipment, electronics, and everything else, was worth more than I could get for it second-hand. We decided to take a chain saw to it, literally cut it up and salvage all the equipment out of it and start all over again."

"We got Hugh Welbourn in the UK to design the hull, fin, keel, rudder. Hugh's a non-conformist designer anyway, he pushes the edges, so when you give him a freehand to come up with a pretty radical boat, he did that. The boat is pretty radical! It's a totally new hull, keel and rudder. The front part of the deck is the old deck, but the aft end is totally new. It's a meter narrower in the middle and a lot, lot wider in the back, so it's like a wedge. So it's a very different boat from a Farr one-design.

Talking about the innovative hull shape, Pryde said, "We've got hard chines which control the water flow over the side of the boat, making it theoretically drier. It's got very big flare in the aft sections of the boat, which means you can get the crew a lot further outboard, so you can get a lot of leverage. It's actually a very efficient setup. It looks a little radical, but it's actually very practical."

Meanwhile in IRC Racing A, Chris Meads' Corby 43 Full Metal Jacket headed inshore where there was breeze as well, sailing at seven knots with 18 miles to the finish; further offshore Sam Chan's TP52 Ffreefire was making the same speed with 25 miles to finish. It remains to be seen if one tactic will trump the other and if the wind holds for anyone.

In IRC Racing B, Australian Maid improved their position overnight and leads their division with 27 miles to go and an ETA of 1900hrs. IRC Premier Cruising leader, Moonblue 2, is due in at 2000hrs and has 32nm to go. Shahtoosh and Jaywalker are another 20nm further back followed by Imagine, Dream, Imagine, Walawala and Stella.

Approximately 190nm behind the leader, in the HKPN Division, James Kong's Bavaria 39 Harmony was sailing at 6.5 knots with an ETA of midnight on Monday (March 24), followed by Guy Dickinson's Larabella. Leon Chan/James Lau's Tipsy Frenz has retired and is due to arrive in Subic Bay on Monday.

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Rolex China Sea Race 2008

Hong Kong - Philippines

March 22, 2008 - Tacticians roll the dice as frontrunners near finish; Strewth safely back in Hong Kong

Photos by: Rolex / Carlo Borlenghi

After a fast start out of Hong Kong and across the South China Sea, the frontrunners in the Rolex China Sea Race encountered a transition into lighter wind as predicted, and any hopes for a record run have slipped away for this edition.

The Philippines land-sea breeze scenario is testing all tacticians in the fleet. Earlier today, several of the lead boats in IRC Racing Division headed towards shore in an effort to find some wind, a strategy that seems to be paying off for the likes of Hi Fi and Fortis Mandrake, which at 1830 were 106 miles and 117 miles respectively at speeds of 6.8 knots and 9.1 knots and due at the finish early tomorrow morning.

Jon Wardill's Australian Maid is leading IRC B division, finally in a bit of breeze, doing 6.5 knots with 180 miles to go. In IRC Premier Cruising Moonblue II is leading, 170 miles from the finish, sailing at 4.7 knots.

Back in Hong Kong, the TP52 Strewth, which lost its' keel in the early hours Friday, arrived this afternoon under power. The boat was hauled out at the Royal Hong Kong Yacht Club where it will be inspected and the cause attempted to be determined.

Skipper Geoff Hill was obviously relieved to be safely ashore with his crew, saying, "We were very lucky. I can't think of any other race boat that's come back without a keel after 200 miles." Describing the incident Hill said, "We had just gone past Ffreefire and Hi Fi. We were sailing a bit off the wind doing about 12 knots in 25 knots, sailing about 80 degrees off the breeze. I think we had a number four and the main up. We had most of the crew on the rail and the boat was going really, really well. We weren't pushing any harder. we're very conscious of it and you can't win races if the crew and boat don't get there."

"When the accident happened, there were two cracks and the bolts broke: the first time, the boat shivered and we thought tension or something had happened and we kept on racing. The second one, the boat actually tipped. And because of the big broad stern, it swung around rather than tipped over. Then the guys brought the boat up into the breeze and then we let the sails off so that there wasn't any pressure."

"We did a Sea Safety instruction course before the start of the race so we had a buddy system and everybody had their harness and gear on, and so we had them all on deck within a couple of minutes. We had the sails down, we assessed the situation and got the life raft out and then we started to balance the boat, we put water in down below."

"Then we started to marshal our resources because we realized that we were 200 miles from anywhere. And it was closer to go back to Hong Kong than it was to go to the Philippines. And so we elected -- even though it seemed like a long way to go without a keel -- that we would try. Very stressful night, everyone was on deck awake. Next morning, just before the "sched", we spoke to the race office again and they had been in touch with some of the other competitors. And we saw Cloud (the Beneteau 44.7, in IRC Racing 2, skipper Olivier Decamps) on the horizon, nicest cloud we've ever seen! They came to our aid and, very unselfishly, gave up their race, and they're a very good boat, they would have done very well (in the race). They escorted us back and I think that is true seamanship. I think that's one of the spirits of racing. I've done quite a few Rolex races, mainly the Rolex Sydney Hobart, but I've done Newport Bermuda too, and I think that is real spirit of competitorship, you give up yourself to stand by, and they escorted us all the way back and that was fantastic."

Hill concluded, "(ISAF) Category 1 safety is very important, crew training is important, and we would not have survived if we had not had that experience. I had just gone and done my course. I had done the course before but I didn't renew it, and the last thing the guy told me was, 'If you are out there long enough, it'll happen to you'. But I didn't think it was going to be that quickly!"

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Rolex China Sea Race 2008

Hong Kong - Philippines

March 21, 2008 - Rolex China Sea fleet halfway to Philippines; TP52 Strewth loses keel

Photos by: Rolex / Carlo Borlenghi

Enjoying a favourable breeze, the Rolex China Sea Fleet was a little more than halfway along the racecourse today. The first night was not without its' drama though - at 0400 this morning, the TP52 Strewth reported via satellite phone to race officials that they had lost the keel and bulb. All crew onboard are safe. The boat remained upright and watertight, and the crew have moved all heavy equipment down as low as possible in the bilge, and have filled their tanks with sea water to add stability. They have also unshipped the boom and stowed it below.

Strewth was 170 nautical miles east-southeast from Hong Kong and is now motoring back to Hong Kong at 3.5 knots. The Beneteau 44.7 Cloud diverted to Strewth's position and has been standing by to offer assistance.

Meanwhile, in IRC Racing Division, the frontrunners - Ffreefire, Hi Fi, Fortis Mandrake, and Full Metal Jacket are all within 30 miles of each other in about 12 knots of wind, with Ffreefire leading, currently making nine knots. With approximately 270 miles to go, the boats are due to the finish in Subic Bay on Saturday (March 22nd) early evening.

In the Cruising Division, Peter Churchouse's Moonblue II leads their division overall in front of Shatoosh, though the IRC Performance Cruising Division is also closely grouped.

The updated weather forecast has easterly winds, force 4 (11-16 knots) in area C, west of the Philippine coast.

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Rolex China Sea Race 2008

Hong Kong - Philippines

March 20, 2008 - Wind arrives for start of Rolex China Sea Race

Photos by: Rolex / Carlo Borlenghi

There can't be a more exciting location to start a race than Hong Kong's Victoria Harbour: with local sampans, ferry boats, cruise ships, and steady stream of tug and barges to contend with in the narrow channel, it's not for the timid. The weather gods cooperated today, providing an easterly breeze of 15 -18 knots at the race start. The 24-boat fleet beat fairly quickly out the harbour, in front of the downtown skyscrapers, past the fishing village at Lei Yue Mun and the shoreside shrines, across Junk Bay, and out past the Po Toi islands into the South China Sea.

In the Racing Division, Neil Pryde's newly modified Hi Fi (HKG), with it's distinctive flared deck aft, was early at the pin end of the start line, but gybed around to restart and was quickly back at the head of the fleet with the other 50-footers. In fact, out through Junk Bay, the 2006 race winner Fortis Mandrake (HKG) and the TP52s, Geoff Hill's Strewth (AUS), and Sam Chan's Ffreefire (HKG), were closely grouped together, crossing tacks.

Dockside before the start, Australian skipper Geoff Hill of Strewth said, "Conditions look like it will be slow. These boats go well in 15-20 knots, which I think we'll get the first day. 'Clouds' [Roger Badham], the Australian [weather] forecaster is calling for a transition from the two fronts coming through, so light conditions days three and four could get down to a stop. So we've catered until Sunday lunchtime and then the guys will be eating their toenails. I'd like to think we can get there Saturday afternoon, but that depends on what happens days two and three."

As far as it being the usual scenario for the Rolex China Sea Race, Hill continued, "It's pretty typical conditions except this time the two weather models -- the European model and the US model -- are showing differently. The EU model saying it's going to be really light, and the American model is showing we'll get breeze all the way. If that's the case, then we'll have a fast race."

The Cruising Division (IRC Premier Cruising and HKPN) started at 1220 and enjoyed a similar fast trip up the channel. Both fleets encountered a drop in the breeze through Junk Bay, but outside the last of the islands and heading offshore the wind was still fresh and the boats reveled in the chance to click off some miles.

Gordon Blaauw, crew onboard Mark Thornburrow's Taswell 49 Dream (IRC Premier Cruising) has done 17 China Sea Races. He was looking forward to another one saying, "We did it two years ago (2006) with Mark and basically the same crew. We were second overall, only Mandrake beat us. We're trying to emulate that again."

Describing Dream, Blaauw said "It's a cruising boat: we've got air-conditioning, hot and cold water, desalinization and all the rest of it. So if we beat the racing machines with that, we'll let them know about it!" Outlining their strategy he continued, "We'll probably end up a bit south of the rhumb line most of the way and then harden up as the wind swings north, which is what the expectation is. Our ETA is 90 hours (Monday morning), if we do it in that, we'll have done pretty well.

The updated weather forecast has the easterly breeze force 5-6 (17-27 knots) through tomorrow morning, then dropping to force 4 (11-16 knots) though Friday.

As of 1800 local time, Fortis Mandrake was leading the fleet, sailing at 9.7 knots in 19 knots of wind, with 500 miles to the finish.

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Rolex China Sea Race 2008
Hong Kong - Philippines

March 19, 2008 - Forecast bodes well for Rolex China Sea Race start

Photos by: Rolex / Carlo Borlenghi

The Skippers Briefing at the Royal Hong Kong Yacht Club, Rolex China Sea Race Chairman Peter Cremers and race officials updated the fleet on the latest weather forecast for the 565-nautical mile race, which starts tomorrow at 1200.

A monsoon crossing the area will produce an east-northeasterly breeze at race start of Force 5 (17-21 knots), and possibly higher. This should continue through Friday, before dropping to around Force 3-4 (7-16 knots) and going more easterly as the fleet reaches the Philippine coast. This bodes well for a harbour start just off the Royal Hong Kong Yacht Club in Victoria Harbour, Hong Kong.

For the 2006 Race winner Fred Kinmouth, on the Mills 51 Fortis Mandrake, the forecast sounds promising, "I think it could be quite good for us. We'll probably have (Force) 4-5 out of harbour and most of the first day, but then it'll tail off. Our boat is really perfectly suited for light breeze, 10-11 knots, and also it will be easterly, which is ahead of the beam, which also suits our boat. We're racing against three boats of similar length but they are lighter then us, so if it's windy and the wind is behind, they get up on a plane and disappear and we lose. But if they're not planing and the wind is ahead of the beam - even though our boat is older, we're still quite competitive."

As optimistic as Kinmouth was, he quickly noted, "The thing about the China Sea Race is it's a lottery, you go sailing out of here (Hong Kong), then you go right down and depending on what time you arrive (off the Philippine coast), you can be becalmed for eight hours and it's that last bit that actually works out who's going to win."

Given the weather forecast, there are several contenders in IRC Racing for the overall Rolex China Sea Race handicap win, which in addition to Mandrake,, includes Neil Pryde's newly-refit Welbourne 52 Hi Fi, and two TP52's, Sam Chan's Ffreefire 52 and Geoff Hill's new Strewth. All are expected to stage a good fight for line honours as well. Also in the mix is Chris Meads on his Corby 43 Full Metal Jacket sailing in his first Rolex China Sea Race. Ma. Fidel/Ernesto Echauz' Sydney 46 Subic Centennial has had a good showing in past races and Jon Wardill's Cassidy 55 Australian Maid should never be counted out.

With the propensity of the wind to shut down and cause, in effect, a restart off the Philippine coast, the smaller boats in IRC Racing B, such as Roland Buser's Sydney 38 Stella, Paul Bankowski's Kerr 11.3 Jaywalker, and three Beneteau First 44.7's Cloud, Crystal and Walawala, could also be contenders for both silverware and the Rolex Yachtmaster timepiece. All will be chasing the race record set by Karl Kwok on the Whitbread 60 Beau Geste in 2000 of 47h 43m 07s.

There will be two starts for the four divisions: IRC Racing A and B will start at 1210 and IRC Premier Cruising and HPKN Cruising will start at 1220. This will be the 24th edition of the biennial Rolex China Sea Race, organised by the Royal Hong Kong (RHKYC) with the Manila Yacht Club and run under the auspices of the Royal Ocean Racing Club. The race will finish at Subic Bay, northwest of Manila in the Philippines.

The Rolex China Sea Race is truly an international race with a mix of crew coming from Hong Kong, Philippines, UK, New Zealand, Australia, Netherlands, US, Germany, France, Switzerland, and Belgium.

Chris Meads, an expatriate Kiwi who has lived in Hong Kong for 15 years, is entering the race for the first time, on his Corby 43 Full Metal Jacket. Meads and crew sailed in last year's San Fernando Race, and he said, "In the intervening 12 months we've made a big step up in terms of both crew and boat selection: we've got a new boat, top technology onboard, and top crew. I think with this race it's pretty straightforward, we're trying to get over there (the Philippines) as fast as we can and then it's sort of a lottery as we get towards the coast. Tactics will be determined by conditions we see on the water."

Full Metal Jacket was a fairly stiff boat, so Meads had one ton of lead taken off the keel in January, between the Phuket King's Cup Regatta and the Royal Langkawi International Regatta. They saw immediate results in the performance and are hoping the boat will be optimized for the lighter airs of the race. Full Metal Jacket has a talented and experienced crew, many of whom have been on Whitbread and Volvo round-the world races, and numerous Rolex Sydney Hobarts and Rolex Fastnets, yet none of them have done this race.

In IRC Premier Cruising, Leon Chan and James Lau on Tipsy Frenz said, "We are a little bit different from the very experienced skippers. We are amateur sailors and have participated in the China Sea Race since the early 1980's This is the 3rd boat owned by the Tipsy syndicate, it's a cruiser/racer, not a high performance boat."

This is the maiden ocean race for Tipsy Frenz, which they've owned since November 2007. Chan continued, "We have a crew of 12 local sailors and we've done quite some training - day and night sailing in the past few weeks, and we dare say, we are quite prepared. We firmly believe that ocean racing is a game of fewer mistakes, so we are trying to just make fewer mistakes."

This Asian blue-water classic has become part of Rolex's distinguished portfolio of international offshore races under a long-term partnership between Rolex and the RHKYC that commenced in 2007. The Rolex China Sea Race joins other prestigious Rolex-sponsored 2008 events including the Maxi Yacht Rolex Cup, Rolex Swan Cup, Rolex Middle Sea Race, and the Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race.

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