Summer sun and sails full of wind

SOME might prefer the luxury of shag-pile carpets and white leather seats on ''gin palaces'' with their powerful engines, but, besides that, Hongkong has a lot to offer in terms of sailing.

When compared with the turquoise waters and stunning scenery of other sailing locations in the region, such as Phuket or Palawan, the territory leaves something to be desired.

But on a sunny summer afternoon on a schooner under full sail, passing small, rocky islands, it does not seem like Hongkong at all - except for the occasional plastic bag floating past.

For the more committed, the attractions are hanging off a trapeze as the spray flies, struggling with an unruly spinnaker, or straining the biceps and sweating on the end of a winch handle.

The racing scene in Hongkong is, like other facets of life, keenly competitive.

Teams regularly compete in world championships, major ocean races and regional events.

Regular race series are held throughout the year in Hongkong waters for all classes of boat from the antique L to hi-tech 15-metre.

The standard ranges from beginners to Olympic and world championship contenders.

Not all of the races are serious. The racing season is the winter. In summer, lack of wind makes for somewhat less exciting sailing.

Typhoon Series races off Port Shelter and Hebe Haven are often spent drifting on a windless, blisteringly sunny afternoon with the most important thing being the after-race activities: tying up alongside other boats for cold beers, a leisurely lunch and swimming.

In Victoria Harbour, during the Sunset Series, a Wednesday evening event, boats often drift backwards as the tide proves stronger than the wind.

But the general attitude is that it is better to be on the water than in the office.

The major race out of Hongkong has, traditionally, been the China Sea race to Manila, held at Easter on alternate years. Next on the list is the slightly less serious San Fernando race.

At Easter, there is often a lack of wind.

This year, sees the inauguration of Hongkong's own regatta, the China Coast cup.

It is to be held in the last week of October to take advantage of the onset of the northeast monsoon.

Apart from the big races, a particularly memorable Hongkong event is the Macau race, which takes place three times a year: at Chinese New Year; in November to coincide with the Grand Prix; and on the Queen's birthday bank holiday in June.

The Macau authorities put on lavish parties for the many yachtsmen who compete.

So much for racing. When it comes to cruising, other places in the region are so idyllic that the murky waters of Hongkong cannot compete.

But for weekend breaks and general pottering, there are a surprising number of options.

For a peaceful getaway, Double Haven, tucked away in the recesses of Mirs Bay, is wonderfully secluded, although the only time most yachties go there is for the annual Mirs Bay race and to party when it becomes far from peaceful.

Meanwhile, sailing to Po Toi or High Island, in Sai Kung, for lunch is a welcome change from the usual junk trip to Lamma.