HK harbour perfect venue for racing

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 20 September, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 20 September, 2009, 12:00am

Big screens at the race village in Central to view the action and the chance to get 'up close and personal' with big names in sailing such as New Zealanders Sir Russell Coutts, Dean Barker and Gavin Brady are just part of what the world series could bring to Hong Kong as the city becomes the backdrop for the match-racing spectacular.

Match racing is a rapidly growing style of yachting competition, increasing in popularity throughout the region with the Korea Match Cup and the Monsoon Cup in Malaysia.

A match race is a head-to-head showdown between two boats and differs from fleet racing in rules and in tactics. With a fleet, the winning boat is generally the one that finds the fastest way around the course. In contrast, match racers will concentrate on just crossing the line before their opponent.

Most match racing is between one-design boats, which should perform identically on all points of sail. Any differences in performance come down to crew work.

For the world series, crews will be taken from the race village to the harbour course and given a different boat each day.

'Every day, crews will be assigned a different boat, so the racing is fair,' said yacht club commodore Warwick Downes. 'The boats were used at the last America's Cup. Two are Team New Zealand boats and two are BMW Oracle boats. All four boats have been equalised to make the sailing more even. There will be between four to six races a day.

'We've pitched for the November 2010 leg of the series, as this is when the north-easterly monsoons blow right down the harbour. We know the harbour is best then for breeze. The buildings on Hong Kong's skyline are not an issue for 'bad air'. It's an open race track that will take the boats out as far as Lei Yei Mun.'

Gavin Brady, who has sailed in Hong Kong during the past 15 years, said the harbour venue provided one of the best race courses in the world, with good wind and waves and a medium amount of tide.

'This provides a dynamic race course with passing lanes which is the key element for world-class racing,' said Brady, who is hoping to take part in the event, hopefully on a Hong Kong-entered boat.

'How do we get a Hong Kong team together? I would like to race for Hong Kong.'

Hong Kong-based Frenchman Thierry Barot, who was the manager and coach of China Team in the America's Cup in Valencia in 2007, said he would love to see a local team competing.

'The organisers of this new series strongly believe it has maximum impact if each host country has its own team. The China Team still exists as an entity, operating out of the Qingdao International Yacht Club.

'If the series happens in Hong Kong, we will consider putting a team together. I, like many, would also really like to see Hong Kong put together a team.'

The organisers looked at the Ocean Terminal area for the on-shore race village, but the water is too choppy. Chai Wan was ruled out, as there is no access to the public and at the old Kai Tak site the water is not deep enough for the keels of the yachts.

'For Hong Kong to host this event, it's critical they have piers 9 and 10 available for the race village, to which the public will have free access,' said French sailor and spokesman Bruno Trouble.

'If the Hong Kong government says no to piers 9 and 10, then Hong Kong cannot host the Louis Vuitton World Series, as there is no other suitable venue for the important on-shore activities.

'The on-shore race village is as much a part of the event as the action on the harbour,' said Trouble. 'I will be very excited to see this event go ahead in Hong Kong.

'The harbour is plenty big enough for regular marine activity to occur as well as the racing. We need only a short course of 1.5 miles. It is spectacular that in Hong Kong you can race in front of the buildings in the city.

'The boats are near new,' Trouble added. 'They are beasts of 25 metres with a 37-metre mast and 800 square metres of sails. They cost Euro5-6 million [HK$57-68.5 million] each.'

The series will feature a 10-team field competing in shared yachts in a round-robin format with two finalists going head to head to determine the winner.

Apart from Hong Kong, other cities vying for a place on the calendar of four events a year include Athens, Valencia, Newport in Rhode Island, Cape Town and Abu Dhabi.