Fleet transforms harbour into a sea of colour

PUBLISHED : Friday, 14 April, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 14 April, 2006, 12:00am

The China Sea Race got off to a clean start in light winds yesterday, with most of the fleet some 40 to 50 nautical miles offshore by dinnertime.

Yachts put up their spinnakers as they pulled away from the start line, adding a dash of colour to a smoggy Victoria harbour.

Crews gybed their boats around the busy harbour traffic, weaving between coastal ships and tugs as they jostled for an early advantage.

A handful of media and spectator boats and a helicopter overhead added to the excitement of the start. With breezes at the start barely strong enough to keep the sails full, we were grateful for the favourable tide that swept us past Quarry Bay and Shek O rock before taking us out into the open China Sea. Only 26 yachts made it to the start line, with Sam Chan forced to withdraw his Ffree Fire at the last minute due to gear failure.

That leaves Frank Pong's nearly identical two racers, Jelik and Boracay, to compete for top honours. Russian entry Carrera was still about 100 miles from Hong Kong at start time as the delivery from Vladivostok took longer than anticipated.

The winds picked up as we entered the open sea, with the larger racers quickly disappearing over the horizon while Quest powered along at eight to nine knots. With good breezes, the leading yachts could pull into Subic Bay by tomorrow afternoon, while Quest, the smallest yacht in the race, could finish on Sunday.

However, the weather forecast for off the Philippines shore caused some long faces in the skippers' briefing, as the northeastern winds are predicted to die down as we near the finish.

Quest did well at the start, and our nerves were soon settled as we focused on trimming the sails and keeping the boat moving as fast as possible.

We settled into our regular watch cycle soon after the start. I led the first full four-hour watch, with second watch commander Yann Delga taking over in the evening.

Cameron Dueck is a South China Morning Post business reporter who is racing on Quest. Follow his and the rest of the fleet's progress at www.chinasearace.com as they race to the Philippines.