Around the Island race hardly a breeze for sailors

Over 200 boats tackle tough course in a race that has been held for more than 100 years

PUBLISHED : Monday, 12 November, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 12 November, 2012, 4:49am

The Etchell crew that won the trophy for the women's handicap in the Tommy Bahama Around the Island Race yesterday were not sure they would even be able to start after an equipment accident on the eve of the race.

"We broke the fitting that attaches the boom to the mast in another race and only fixed it on Saturday night," said Jenny Cooper.

Despite winning the Godiva trophy, the race itself was also not without it challenges for Cooper and her three fellow-crew. "In some ways this is a very frustrating race," she said. "It was like [being becalmed in] a parking lot off Stanley Peninsula, but we got the breeze first and we led all the way to the finish."

Yesterday's 26-nautical mile circumnavigation of Hong Kong Island saw over 200 vessels ducking and weaving through commercial traffic.

Line honours were taken by Jelik, Frank Pong's Reichel Pugh 72-footer, in three hours and 43 minutes. The provisional handicap winner was Noisy Forefather 2, Sam Chan's Flying Fifteen, which sailed the course in six hours and 43 minutes.

In the double rowing sculls, Kai Ramming and Daniel Makowski trimmed about 10 minutes off the record, finishing in 4:04:34.

Peter Churchouse on Moonblue 2, a veteran of about 20 Around the Island races, said the circumnavigation provided a taste of challenges faced in much longer voyages.

"In this race, you encounter all of the challenges you do in a 100- or 200-mile race and you have to adapt to conditions that change literally every five minutes," he said. "You have strong wind in the harbour and off Shek O, light breezes around Cyberport and the course involves sailing around obstructions."

There were the inevitable broaches with keels out of the water off Cape D'Aguilar near Shek O. Gusts are common there, spinnakers can be obliterated and tempers on board can become frayed. "The timing of putting your spinnaker up here is critical," Churchouse said.

The event - which has been sailed for over 100 years - attracts a variety of contestants. The oldest sailor yesterday was 88-year-old F.H. Li, while the youngest was around 12. There is strong rivalry among the classes, as well as between sailors and paddlers. The Royal Hong Kong Yacht Club's Lindsay Lyons said: "Outriggers and coastal rowing boats can beat sailing yachts on elapsed time as they did last year. It's an incredible feat when you consider they are relying on human strength and not wind power to get boat speed."

Commodore of the Royal Hong Kong Yacht Club Joachim Isler was enthusiastic about yesterday's event. "There are not many sporting events in Hong Kong which have over 1,000 people participating," he said. "If there was ever a day to take photos of the harbour and of Hong Kong's wave-lashed coastline this would be it because it looks spectacular."