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200 Skipper's Tips by Tom Cunliffe
200 Skipper's Tips by Tom Cunliffe

Not the Rolex China Sea Race 2020

by Guy Nowell, Sail-World Asia 8 Apr 04:40 BST
Ambush. Rolex China Sea Race 2018. © photo RHKYC / Guy Nowell

Today we should be reporting from the start of the 30th Rolex China Sea Race. We should be angling for a good camera position at the outer end of the line, with the RHKYC at the other end, and having a small wager with Daniel Forster as to which boat will be first "out of the heads" at Lei Yue Mun. Sadly this won't be happening.

Since 1960 the China Sea Race has started in the week before Easter, in the even-numbered years. Once upon a time the start line was in Junk Bay, to the south of Cape Collinson, and once upon a time the finish was to seaward of Corregidor Island, but race courses change over time. Today's start is where it should be - slap bang in the middle of Hong Kong's wonderful Victoria Harbour, and right in front of the Royal Hong Yacht Club. Over the years the finish has moved from the breakwater at the Manila Yacht Club to Punta Fuego and eventually to Subic Bay.

Right now, of course, the race is on hold and all bets are off. The global hoo-ha over novel coronavirus, or Covid-19, aka The WuFlu, has closed down the world and sailors are reduced to sailing 'virtual races' on their computers. However, this in itself is a very good thing for those who aspire to be a shore-based weather router - sleeping on a camp bed in a darkened basement, next to an alarm clock set to repeat every 20 minutes. Armchair sailors with attitude.

Over the last 58 years, the China Sea Race has acquired the patina that is the stuff of legend. Like all the big races - Fastnet, Bermuda, Transpac - it looks pretty simple on paper, but each one has its meteorological quirks that give it character. It has foxed the best of the best: in 2014 Adrienne Cahalan was navigator on board Bryan Ehrhart's TP52, Lucky. "I've been looking at the weather for the past couple of weeks, and I'm really not sure that I can read the patterns," said Cahalan. Neil Pryde won the race overall in 2014, 2010 and 1988, and reckons that "you need a measure of luck. You know what the pattern of the race is going to be, and you can prep the boat to perfection - but the China Sea Race always throws out something that you weren't expecting, and couldn't prepare for."

First there's getting out of the harbour. It can be straightforward, or it can be a right puzzle, and for sure some local knowledge helps. The first night out of Hong Kong is traditionally grey, blowy and bumpy, tracking in a straight line towards the finish. Out past the 50-fathom line the seas become 'proper ocean', and the weather starts to warm up. This is the mid-section of the race: hello sunshine! And then there is the approach to the coast, where arriving at the right time of day is everything. The Luzon Hole. The Death Zone. Call it what you will. It might be 0kts at 0700 and 20kts at 1200 as the sea breeze kicks in and then penetrates all the way into Subic Bay. Or it might be a ghosting drifter from 50nm out. The approach to finish isabout positioning and timing; know when to seize the moment, and knowing what to do with it, that's how you win the China Sea Race and why it has become recognised as a blue water classic over the years.

Rolex came on board as sponsors in 2008, adding the China Sea Race to an already impressive portfolio that includes the Rolex Sydney-Hobart Race and the Rolex Middle Sea Race. The roll call

We are very sorry not to be bringing you images of the start of the 30th Rolex China Sea Race today, so here are some glory moments from recent past years. Nick Southward, Race Chairman, hopes that "a 12-month postponement will result in an even bigger fleet on the start line in 2021. At the moment there are 18 entries on the card, from five countries (Hong Kong, Australia, the Philippines, Russia and Japan). If you are reading this in lockdown somewhere, and wondering what you are going to do when you are allowed out, the answer is - sign up for the Rolex China Sea Race 2021!"

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