Sydney to Hobart: Chinese sailors put tragedy aside as they get ready to make history in bluewater yacht race

Ark323 and Shuguang Haiyang will make their debuts in Australia's greatest sailing event on Boxing Day

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 23 December, 2015, 6:16pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 24 December, 2015, 12:28am

Two months after experiencing tragedy in the seas, Chinese entrant Ark323 is ready to make history in the Sydney to Hobart race, which sets sail on Boxing Day.

The Shanghai-based Noahs Sailing Club has moved on after losing one of its crew members, 23-year-old navigator Sai Jun, who was swept overboard off the coast of Vietnam in October.

Everybody knows that sailing is really high risk and challenging
Zhao Chuanbao

Ark323 is one of two Chinese crews who have entered the gruelling 628-nautical mile blue water classic.

The other Chinese entrant is Shenzhen-based Shuguang Haiyang but Ark323’s buildup to one of the world’s most famous races, which starts from Sydney Harbour, through the treacherous Bass Strait to Tasmania’s Hobart, began with a lot of soul-searching after they had to overcome the tragedy of losing their beloved crew member.

“Everybody knows that sailing is really high risk and challenging,” said Ark323 team leader Zhao Chuanbao. “But everybody here [crew] has a passion for sailing. So that’s why we had to stay calm and carry on [doing what we love to do],” he said.

“We are really not here to make history, but rather to complete the race safe and sound. This is our main goal,” he said.

The tragedy in late October hit the crew hard. Given a two-week break after the incident, three sailors quit the team, knowing the Sydney to Hobart race, which has claimed lives in the past, would be too treacherous, with the memory of losing their friend still fresh on their minds.

Their coach, New Zealander Robert Hielkema, also quit in the wake of the tragedy. But according to a Ark323 statement, the 12-member crew has been training in “relevant waters”.

“The biggest goal is to finish this race safely, happily and smoothly, that’s all I want,” said Zhou Kewen, chief executive of Noahs Sailing Club speaking to Xinhua.

“We have survived a lot. We have a lot of difficulties and challenges but I’m confident to say that we’re ready.”

Ark323, a Transpac 52, and 42-foot Shuguang Haiyang are the first entrants from the mainland to take part in the 71-year history of the famous race.