HK poised to host World Series

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 23 October, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 23 October, 2011, 12:00am

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Hong Kong could host a leg of the America's Cup World Series in Victoria Harbour next year if preliminary negotiations bear fruit, said China Team chief executive Thierry Barot.

Barot, who is spearheading the campaign for China Team who have taken part in two of the six legs in the 2011 America's Cup World Series calendar, said officials were looking at the possibility of Hong Kong hosting one of two legs in Asia next year.

'The America's Cup is looking at Hong Kong, Singapore, South Korea and China as possible stopovers for the World Series in 2012,' said Hong Kong-based Frenchman Barot (pictured). 'Hong Kong would be a fantastic venue for there are not many cities in the world where you can sail in the middle of the city.'

Senior officials from the America's Cup Event Authority, under whose auspices the World Series is held, were in Hong Kong a few months ago to sound out the mood for a top-class regatta in Victoria Harbour, said Barot, a four-time America's Cup veteran, thrice with the French team and on the last occasion, in 2007, when China Team made their debut.

The World Series is a string of races for countries involved in the America's Cup challenger series. It is geared to provide teams with valuable experience and to sort out their team personnel in the run-up to the iconic race, the next of which is to be held in San Francisco in 2013.

'We have heard about it, but it is still early days,' said Koko Mueller, communications manager for the Royal Hong Kong Yacht Club. 'All we can say right now is that we are very supportive of plans to have it [a leg of the World Series] in Hong Kong.'

Hong Kong came close to holding a major regatta when the Louis Vuitton Trophy, using America's Cup boats, was scheduled to be held in January this year in Victoria Harbour. But the event was scuppered as the teams were focusing their resources and preparations for the 34th America's Cup next year, when the new wing-sailed 72-foot catamarans would be used. The Hong Kong event, which was to feature the older mono-hulled boats, was backed by the government's Mega Events Fund, which was estimated to have given HK$10 million. 'We are now using 45-foot multi-hulls in the World Series, and this is what all the teams will use up to the America's Cup when we switch to the bigger 72-foot boats. But this World Series gives all of us the chance to prepare on a similar boat,' said Barot.

The America's Cup Event Authority was looking at two Asian stopovers next year in a six- or seven-leg 2012-13 calendar before the challenger series take place, said Barot. It is believed that countries which have a boat in the America's Cup might have a slight advantage in hosting a leg. Team South Korea and the China Team are the two Asian boats in the nine-team World Series this season.

Although China has put forward two cities, as yet unnamed, as possible venues, Hong Kong might still prove attractive, Barot said.

'The cost of hosting a leg will be around Euro5 million (HK$53.7 million). Hong Kong in October or November next year would be an ideal stop. You want the racing to be as close to the public as possible and racing in Victoria Harbour would be a spectacle.

'Each race takes about 20 minutes and just imagine having races during lunch time in Central or Tsim Sha Tsui - people could come to the shoreline, grab a sandwich, watch the races and be back in the office during a two-hour break,' Barot said.

The China Team - crew only and not the boat - will take part in this week's China Cup International Regatta. It will begin with a dash from Hong Kong to Shenzhen on Friday, with more than 80 boats expected to take part.

'Our aim over the next couple of weeks is to recruit more Chinese sailors as we build up to the America's Cup,' Barot said.