Rolex China Sea Race sails off from Hong Kong

Gerry Carpio - The Philippine Star

HONG KONG – The old men of the sea begin their voyage across the hostile high seas spanning a 565 nautical mile route from Hong Kong to Subic Bay in their quest for Asia’s ultimate prize in the 26th chapter of the biennial Rolex China Sea Race.

The cast includes veteran yachtsmen from Hong Kong, led by Asia’s sailing godfather Frank Pong, who has raced here since 1972 and won thrice, two-time winner Neil Pryde of New Zealand, and Filipino Jude Echauz, whose boat Subic Centennial has won twice on corrected time under the handicap race category.

The cannon booms at 12 noon today at the Royal Hong Kong Yacht Club to start the race that will take the 33 big and small yachts, 26 of them from Hong Kong and seven from places as far as Russia, to the South China Sea on Holy Thursday and Good Friday, with the fastest ones, the maxis, expected to arrive early Holy Saturday morning off the coast of Subic.

“The goal of every boat is to reach the finish line, but how to get there is the challenge,” said race chairman Simon Powell.

Yachtsmen who have retraced the course time and time again for most part of the 54-year history of the race, agreed that the weather will play a key factor this year, as climate change has not yet ended the cold months of Hong Kong.

Slight drizzle dropped Hong Kong temperature to 18 degrees Celsius by yesterday afternoon, but the big concerns will be the mist that will hamper visibility and the high winds that will batter the smaller boats in the high seas and more violently so as they approach Philippine territory.

“The uncomfortable part is on the Hong Kong side, but the most challenging part is the Philippine side because of the huge impact of the weather,” said Powell.

Powell, a banker from Europe, who has raced since 2008, joins over 600 sailors, from China, Japan, Russia, Australia and Hong Kong, all determined to join in the excitement of finishing the race.

“It’s the burden of a true gentlemen to live an interesting life, and racing is just part of that,” he said.

Pong, 65, said he will always come back for as long as he is physically able, even if he keeps losing.

“I taste the sweetness (of victory) for two weeks but when I lose, it nags me for the rest of the year and it nags me to come back again,” he said.

Pong said the China Sea Race, the longest race in Asia, is drawing more and more great sailors from around the world and the safety factor has improved during the years.

In the beginning the CSR was held in September and it had its ups and downs until Rolex came in and provided the highlights,” said Pong.

“The sponsorship is not only about the money but the prestige Rolex is putting into the tournament,” he added.

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