April 3, 2010

Fred Kinmonth's EFG MANDRAKE , Photo credit: Rolex / Daniel Forster The Rolex China Sea Race fleet has been making the most of a strong northeast breeze, force 6-7 (21-30 kts), ticking off the miles as they make their way toward the Philippine coast. At 5:00 pm local time, Strewth (AUS) was 70 nautical miles due west of Santiago Island, making 11+ knots on a southeastly heading, with 135nm to the finish. Both Hi Fi (HKG) and Evolution Racing (AUS) have been leading Strewth; however, neither boat has been tracking. Based on an earlier estimated position, Hi Fi is expected to finish around midnight tonight.

Local weather conditions are the tricky bit for navigators and tacticians; once the boats approach the coast, the southeasterly sea breeze dominates. But where that transition zone is and how long the breeze sustains into the evening, is the big question. Many a boat has come storming down the race track, only to sail into a hole and sit while another boat finds a lane with breeze to get past them.

EVOLUTION RACING at the start of the 2010 Rolex China Sea Race, Photo credit: Rolex / Daniel Forster Ray Robert’s on Evolution Racing is a frequent competitor at the Rolex Sydney Hobart Race on his Cookson 50, of the same name. And while he is a successful competitor on the Asian Yachting Grand Prix Circuit as well, this Rolex China Sea Race is only the second for Roberts, who previously sailed with Frank Pong on his Jelik.

Prior to the race, Roberts said, “This boat is now one year, and I’m just starting to get it up to its’ potential. We had a first at the Singapore Straights and at Royal Langkawi (International Regatta), so those last two races got the boat up to speed, so I’m hoping to continue that process. But this one will be a little more tricky because of the wind and tidal influence. The breeze will be quite hard to read; for those who are a little bit aggressive and read the wind right, they’ll come out in front.”

Ernesto T. Echauz' SUBIC CENTENNIAL, Photo credit: Rolex / Daniel Forster When asked about Evolution’s competitors, Roberts said, “Hi Fi, Strewth, and the local boys on Mandrake- a lot of experience on that boat, a lot of talent. And then of course, if the breeze shuts down, it could become a 40-footer race. The Achambaults (Avant Garde, Red Kite II), the Mills 41 (Ambush). Bit of a roll of the dice when you get weather conditions like this.

“When I say ‘roll of the dice’ that’s only part of the element, you’ve got to sail well, you’ve got to make the calls on the weather, and get them right. There’s a luck element there, you have to look at all of the factors and if you get it right, you come out looking good.”

As of the 8:00 am position reports, the leader in IRC Racing A on corrected time, Sir Robin Knox-Johnston’s Ffreefire 70 was leading EFG Mandrake (HKG). In IRC Racing B, Ernesto Echauz’ Subic Centennial (PHI) was leading Ambush (HKG); IRC Racing C saw Simon Powell’s Sell Side Dream (HKG) ahead.

In IRC Premier Cruising, it was Jon Wardill’s Australian Maid (AUS) leading his division. This is the fourth Rolex China Sea Race for Wardill, who before the start said about this year’s race, “I’m looking forward to it. It suits my boat. It’s a very old, wooden boat and we’re still competitive. Long-distance passage racing is where she traditionally does her best. Hopefully we’ll get enough wind to get us down there.”

Wardill, along with some of his crew, hail from Darwin, Australia, and he has two Dutchman onboard as well. Wardill said, “We’re a very experienced crew, so we should do pretty well. We usually do the King’s Cup, and every second year we come up and do the China Sea Race, the Commodore’s Cup, and after that we’ll go to Thailand. It’s a pretty big program and it’s a long way. I keep the boat up in Asia rather than in Darwin these days…it’s a long way to come.”

In IRC Cruising, it was CP Wong’s Tipsy Frenz (HKG), ahead in his division. Wong, who’s competed in the race 11 times, sails with an all-Chinese crew, most of whom are doctors. They’ve had a syndicate for over 20 years, campaigning several “Tipsy’s”.