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170 years of racing in Hong Kong's Victoria Harbour

by Guy Nowell, Asia Editor 6 Sep 2019 10:59 BST
HKRNVR Memorial Vase © Guy Nowell / RHKYC

Hong Kong has a long sailing history and the Royal Hong Kong Yacht Club (RHKYC) has been a part of that story from the very earliest days when names were different. This weekend 7-8 September signals the start of the Club’s 2019/2020 sailing season, and also marks 170 years of sailing in Victoria Harbour with a ‘170th Anniversary Hong Kong Harbour Charity Race’ on the Saturday.

Hong Kong’s first official regatta was organised by the Royal Navy back in 1845, after which sailing took a more Corinthian direction with the founding of the Victoria Regatta Club in 1849. Sailing and rowing continued to grow in the colony, with sailing and rowing clubs developing, morphing and then amalgamating during those early days. To reflect the growing popularity and status of the sport the RHKYC was established in 1893, and obtained a royal warrant soon thereafter, whereupon the distinctive Blue Ensign was seen proudly flying in Victoria Harbour. [Sadly, no more. Ed]

Fast forward to 2019, and the RHKYC is now one of the largest sailing clubs in the world, with a strong racing history and pedigree. The first race tomorrow (Saturday) will be a unique 170-minute pursuit race, starting and finishing in the harbour, to mark the 170th Anniversary. All participating yachts are encouraged to raise money for the RHKYC Charity Foundation, and a prize will be presented to the yacht that has raised the most money before the start of the first race. Also on Saturday, the Club will also host a family-friendly Plastic Free Seas interactive talk for children aged 8-12 years.

Sunday’s racing schedule for Races 2 and 3 follows the usual ‘around the cans’ format in the harbour. More than 90 boats, including IRC cruisers and One Design classes (Etchells, Dragons, J/80s, Pandoras, Ruffians, Impalas, Flying 15s and Sportsboats) all competing for the silverware. With over 500 sailors out on the water, the event will continue to enhance Hong Kong reputation as Asia’s sailing centre, and create a visual spectacle for all to see!

And speaking of Flying 15s, there are three Hong Kong FFs competing in the 2019 FF Worlds in Dun Loaghaire – just. They missed out on the pre-Worlds event because the boats, shipped from Hong Kong, were locked up in Dublin Customs for lack of a ’carnet’ when the intrepid sailors thought the boats came under “travellers’ personal effects and goods imported for sports purposes.” Have you anything to declare, Sorr? Em, just a couple of boats in me back pocket, your honour… We have read the relevant legalese, and can’t help wondering why someone didn’t take a peep inside the container and say, “Boats, eh? Worlds, eh? And you’re taking them home again afterwards? OK, off you go lads, and the best of Irish.” But that would be too easy. All good wishes to the only Asian entries in the FF Worlds 2019!

So Greta Thunberg did an Atlantic crossing on an IMOCA 60. I wish. Sorry to be the man with the cold water (in a manner or speaking) but this was not a well-thought-out PR stunt. Modern sailing boats are really only environmentally friendly when they actually do go sailing – before that, construction is a process reeking of solvents and petrochemical resins. Miss Thunberg saved one air ticket by sailing across the Atlantic, fair enough, but how is she getting back? And we hear that five crew are flying in to take the boat home… This just doesn’t add up to any sort of a benefit to the planet. How about staying at home and appearing by video link instead? No, you’re right, that doesn’t grab headlines.

Congratulations to the Kiwis and ETNZ on the launch of their AC75, Te Aihe. In a carefully understated comment, ETNZ CEO Grant Dalton told Sail-World that “the boat is quite extreme - because this is the one to try the extremities. You can always back up from that [for the second boat]," he said. Te Aihe looks more like Queen Amidala’s spaceship than a sailing boat, and Peter Burling has spent goodness knows how many hours learning to sail it – on a simulator. Now we’re all gagging to see what happens when it actually sails. Do not adjust your set.

The long running soap opera that is the Hong Kong International Cruise and Yacht Festival continues. Last year it was in a really (really!) daft place, and nobody came – not exhibitors, not visitors. Earlier this year HKICYF signed an MOU (ie an entirely non-binding and therefore meaningless piece of paper) with Verventia, organisers of the Singapore and Thailand Yacht Shows. With two months to go to the proposed Hong Kong event, we have just been reminded that we have heard nothing. There are some ungrammatical and badly-spelled words on the HKICYA website, but it is practically impossible to ascertain anything concrete. Good luck, fellas, for a full scale boat show in November. Everyone else – don’t hold your breath.

Rather more positively, the Taiwan Boat Show (every other year, even numbers) ran a press tour recently. Taiwan has been building perfectly good boats for a long time now. From motor superyachts to cruising sailing boats to tinnies. But Taiwan looks almost exclusively in the direction of the USA, and seems to ignore any market this side of the Pacific (although Australia has popped up on the radar recently). There’s no home market worth speaking of because kids are brought up being told, “Don’t go near the water, it’s dangerous” - this is a quote from one of the press tour organisers! They’ve got the engineering, and all that’s needed is some up-to-date designs that will sell. There’s potential here.

Fingers crossed for good sailing weather in Hong Kong this weekend.

Standing by on 72.

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