San Fernando Race veteran eyes his own record

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 05 April, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 05 April, 2007, 12:00am

When racing to the finishing line, it helps to know where it is.

In Sam Chan's first yacht race, in Victoria Harbour, he was unaware he and his partner had triumphed, because he didn't know what the finishing line looked like. It was the buoy with the flag behind them.

These days, Mr Chan, a Royal Hong Kong Yacht Club member, is the owner of several fast yachts and a winner of local and international races, including the two-yearly San Fernando Race, which this year celebrates its 30th anniversary. The race, from Hong Kong to the Philippines, starts today.

'I've been racing for 30 years,' says Mr Chan, who works in textiles.

This year's race features 17 competitors, including Mr Chan's Ffree Fire 52.

San Fernando is about 160km north of Manila, and sailors and supporters are raising money for the town's Full Gospel Faith Orphanage.

'On the short two-hour races in the harbour, it's fun,' he says. 'On the long offshore two- to three-day races, you start off with, of course, excitement, but you'll be tense right up until the finish because you are racing against time.

'On the open sea you can see for a maximum of 10km, so you don't see anyone. But on the San Fernando Race you see plenty of wildlife, including dolphins.'

Mr Chan and his crew will be attempting to beat his - and the race - record set in 2001 of 49 hours, 12 minutes and 12 seconds on his previous yacht, the Ffree Fire 70. The race always takes place on the Easter break and crosses 480 nautical miles.

Mr Chan can take only 12 crew members because of the weight restrictions of his boat. And although it sounds like a day in the sun, the racing is tense and arduous. 'I always take a very experienced crew, who know what they are doing.'

The worst part of sailing for Mr Chan is not the dangerous winds or waves, but the boredom and frustration if that wind dies.

'I might as well have a Gameboy or a PlayStation; it's always very frustrating on the San Fernando Race. Normally on the first day it's a good wind and then as soon as you are near the Philippines, the wind dies.

'I've been in races where the yachts have stopped and started. When there's no wind everyone stops, no matter how fast you normally are.

'Two years ago when I did the race there was a very big wind upwind. Every year it's different.'