Mead crowned the best in town after jazzed-up final

PUBLISHED : Monday, 11 June, 2001, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 11 June, 2001, 12:00am

The jazz band played on as Laurence Mead defeated Mark Thornburrow 4-1 to be crowned champion match-racer of Hong Kong at Joss House Bay yesterday. The blues was wafting over the waters off the Clearwater Bay Marina - the band was on a junk - as Mead sailed away with the title of best sailor in town.

'I couldn't hear what they were playing. All I could hear was my competitors screaming,' laughed Mead after winning the Hong Kong Match Racing Sailing Association competition.

And the iced champagne tasted better afterwards for Hong Kong's small but growing band of match-racers when during the prize presentation it was revealed that insurance company Standard Life Asia would pump in $500,000 next season.

Mead had held off a determined challenge from Colin Dutton in the semi-final, winning 3-2, before blitzing Thornburrow, who had booked his Grand Final berth by beating Mark Findlay by a similar margin.

'We were in a bad situation in the semi-final against Colin, trailing 2-0. He won both the opening races as we were struggling in the light winds. We were starting better, but Colin kept overtaking us in the light conditions. Thankfully for us the winds got a bit stronger as it went on and we managed to hold on to our lead for the last three races,' said Mead.

In the other semi-final, Thornburrow jumped to a 2-0 lead before Findlay got his act together to stage a comeback and take the next two races to level the score. With the challenge limited to 75 minutes - on Saturday the quarter-finals were on a best-of-three races format because of poor conditions - the fifth race had to be called off as the time limit had expired, giving Thornburrow victory.

'Mark Thornburrow was declared the winner as he was leading at the last mark. It was a very good battle and it was close, although Mark won comfortably in the end,' Mead said.

The final was all Mead. He had the result decided when he won the first three races. The fourth race was also going his way when the judges handed him a penalty when his Sonata collided with Thornburrow's.

'I thought I had the right of way and I hit him to prove a point. But I was penalised and had to do a penalty turn,' Mead said. The blemish did not put him, or crew members Adam and Gideon Mowser off, as they kept their cool to win the fifth race and finish with a clear 4-1 lead. Yesterday's racing brought to an end the season started last November after Mead and a few others decided to revive match-racing, which had its heyday in the early 1990s.

The entry of Standard Life Asia next season is a huge boost for the sport as well as Mead, who had spent $50,000 of his own money to buy two Sonatas, and have them identically re-fitted for racing this season. 'Yes, the presence of our sponsors will be a huge boost. We will be buying two new boats, Beneteau 25s, in October and using them next season,' said Mead.

The decision to go for the slightly bigger Beneteau is for Hong Kong to conform with the rest of Asia as the long-term goal is to set up an Asian Championship.

In September, a Hong Kong representative, likely to be Mead, will take on Thailand's champion in Phuket. And then in March next year, the champions from Thailand, the Philippines and Singapore will travel here to race against Hong Kong's best.

'Our goal is to build up a sort of an Asian Match Racing Championship. This is the start,' Mead said.

Yesterday was the first step. And the sailing and the sax were as good as it got.