Vietnam fleet is set to go

PUBLISHED : Friday, 16 February, 1996, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 16 February, 1996, 12:00am

TWO years of planning culminates this afternoon with the start of the ground-breaking Hong Kong to Vietnam yacht race, a 690 nautical-mile downwind ride to the beach resort of Nha Trang.

A quality fleet of 17 yachts will take part in the race which has the potential and mystique to become one of the leading bluewater classics in the world.

It will be the first time foreign yachts have been allowed into Vietnam waters and signals a major change in attitude by the communist authorities.

The race will feature the newest acquisition to Hong Kong's racing fleeting, Samuel Chan's 68-foot downwind flyer, Ffree Fire (formerly the Nelson-Maerk-designed Phantom VI) which was specifically bought with the race in mind.

Ffree Fire has already underlined its pedigree with a line honours-handicap double in an overnight prelude race.

Nothing in the 17-strong fleet looks capable of denying Ffree Fire a second line honours triumph in conditions which should be tailor-made for the boat.

Royal Observatory representatives yesterday predicted a 10 to 15-knot easterly for the 4 pm start which should steadily fill in over the weekend.

Organisers expect Ffree Fire to finish Monday morning if projected conditions come to fruition.

Chan said yesterday he would be 'very disappointed' if he didn't claim line honours but said the battle for victory on corrected time remained 'wide open'.

He tipped Steve Ellis and his crew on the Bashford 41, Wizard the Sequel, Neil Pryde on the Farr 40 Hi Flyer and Ellian Perch aboard his Simonus 40, Orion Express, as the main dangers.

Chairman of the organising committee Mike Sinfield and executive officer Barbara Gudgin fly to Nha Trang tomorrow to liaise with Vietnamese officials.

'Nha Trang is not an official port of entry so it is important that we have all the paperwork sorted out before the boats arrive,' Gudgin explained yesterday.

Gudgin said it was only reasonable to expect there would be some problems in administration. 'We also have to man the finish line around the clock,' she added.

The race is being run without a sponsor but Sinfield has said in the past he was uncertain whether the race would simply be a 'one-off' or become a regular fixture on the Asian yachting calendar.

'Much will depend on the reaction of the people who take part in this one and how it goes in an organisational sense with the Vietnamese,' he said.