Anthony Root and Red Kite II will set sail today hoping to make history as they bid to become the first boat to win the San Fernando Race three times in a row, with the only other boat that could also accomplish the feat, FfreeFire, not among the 25-strong fleet for the deepwater challenge.
Root, 59, skippered Red Kite II, an Archambault 35, to victory in 2009 and 2011. He now hopes to accomplish a feat which has never been achieved in the past 18 editions of the biennial 480 nautical mile Category 1 offshore race from Hong Kong to the Philipines, but is ruing the fact that one of his main rivals is missing.
"FfreeFire broke its mast some time ago and will not be taking part. It is too bad as it would have added something extra to the race," said Root, who in 2009 was also awarded the "First Time Skipper" prize.
"FfreeFire skipper Russ Parker, who is also the vice-commodore of the Royal Hong Kong Yacht Club, told me a few months ago that our two boats were the only ones to have ever been in the position to make it three-in-a-row and that he would be doing his best to see that we didn't win it. It is a shame they are not around," smiled Root.
But despite the absence of FfreeFire, which also holds the course record of 49 hours 55 minutes and 12 seconds set in 2001, Root is well aware that plenty of other challenges await, singling out the winner of the South China Sea Race, Zanzibar, which is a Humphreys 42, Philippines raider Centennial III, a TP52, and Mandrake, the jointly-owned Mills 41, as among the leading chances.
"The biggest challenge, however, will be the wind conditions, especially off Luzon Island during the latter part of the race where the race is won or lost," Root said. "This is a tactical race and it's make-or-break in that last stretch of 75 miles or so, but we will be doing our best to get into the history books. It is an honour to be in this position."
In 2009, Red Kite II took a gamble when they set a course the rest of the fleet thought crazy. "We took a big arc to the south and we were 50 miles off the rhumb line. It seemed the decision might backfire on us, but we decided to stick to the plan and thankfully the winds picked up and we arrived hours ahead of the competition on adjusted basis," recounted Root, managing partner of Mibank Tweed, a Wall Street law firm.
The conditions during the 2011 race were as challenging. "It was a light air race, which we expect this time too, but very tactical.
"Fingers crossed, we can do it again," Root said.