Activity at the Royal Hong Kong Yacht Club is gearing up for Asia’s premier Category 1 Offshore race, set to begin tomorrow, April 4th, with 26 competitors on the start line. The diverse fleet ranges from the sole participating Maxi, Geoff Hill’s Genuine Risk, to the many 50 and 40-footers competing for the China Sea Race Trophy on corrected time, including Defending Champion Neil Pryde and his team on Hi Fi.
Genuine Risk, a Dubois 90 Maxi owned by Geoff Hill, is seen as the pre-race favourite for the line honours finish. Hill is no stranger to the Rolex China Sea Race, having raced since 2004, and whilst he has enjoyed every race so far, he admits “perhaps less so in 2008 when we lost the keel on Strewth.” Genuine Risk is a step up for Hill as she is nearly double the size of Strewth, a TP52. With a canting keel, a 16-foot draft, huge sails and enormous power, Hill and his crew will be dealing with a very different machine this time around.
“There are 24 people that are going to be on this boat,” explained Hill, “that’s double what I would have taken to Hobart this year [for the Rolex Sydney Hobart]. For us, the biggest challenge is definitely getting the boat up to its full potential in a one-week period. Preparation is really important and the sea is unforgiving, so we have to make sure we do it right.”
When asked about his predicted line honours win, Hill said, “We may be favourites for line honours, but you can’t underestimate Neil Pryde; he’s a very good sailor, he’s competitive, he’s got a very good crew and he has optimized his boat, so I would think that he is the favourite for handicap. But that is what is interesting about this race: you just never know who it will be. The weather will actually determine who wins on handicap, because there are just so many variable patterns.”
Race veteran Neil Pryde has participated in nearly every edition of the Rolex China Sea Race since 1968 and his Welbourn 52 Hi Fi has been extremely successful offshore, counting line honours for the 2008 and 2010 editions of the Rolex China Sea Race, and overall winner in 2010, among her achievements. Pryde admits that, “the challenging conditions developing as the race crosses the South China Sea make the smaller boats in the fleet tough to beat.” Pryde sees the TP52s as his toughest competition, including Sam Chan’s FreeFire (Hong Kong) and Jelik V, which will be crewed by a visiting all-Filipino team headed up by Ernesto “Judes” Echauz. Echauz won the 2010 Rolex China Sea Race IRC Racing Division B with his boat, Subic Centennial.
Weather forecasts announced at today’s skipper’s briefing look promising for a sparkling start in Victoria Harbour, with Easterly winds predicted between 15- 25 knots. “The breeze can typically be strong leaving Hong Kong but, once the yachts head south-easterly across the sea, it’s a question of staying in the breeze – which can often go light approaching the Philippine coast and finish,” explained Race Chairman Richard Strompf. “The results will be heavily influenced by which boat selects the best tactics and course as they reach the Philippine coast.”