Hong Kong-Macau windsurfer hopes more take up water sports

Australian sailor Nick Moloney has set the record for the route across the Pearl River estuary, and he is challenging the sailing fraternity in Hong Kong to up their game

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 29 December, 2015, 8:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 04 November, 2016, 11:02am

At the age of eight, Australian sailor Nick Moloney used to help the owner of a small sail shop on the Barwon River in Victoria state pack away the sails every day in exchange for time in a boat.

Moloney grew up about 500 metres from the waters of the Bass Strait and it would be from the Barwon River that, as a grown-up, he would set off to windsurf from the Australian mainland to Tasmania. Twenty-two hours and 230 kilometres later he had set a record for the crossing; he is still the only person to have done it unassisted.

Moloney has achieved more in a boat that most: he was part of the team that won the Jules Verne Trophy in 2002, breaking the record for the fastest circumnavigation of the world by over a week; he’s also the current holder of the Cariad Trophy for the fastest circumnavigation of Hong Kong Island, which he set in 2013. His latest adventure? A reprise of his Bass Strait exploit, albeit on a slightly smaller scale.

SEE ALSO: Five ways to get launched with sailing in Hong Kong

Moloney set off from the southeast corner of Lamma Island on a windsurfing board and landed five hours later at a waypoint off Macau’s southeast coast, launching the St Regis Macao Cup and setting the time to beat in the process. Given his former exploits, a five-hour jaunt to Macau seems almost leisurely.

“Aside from the time, the Bass Strait was very different to Macau. When the wind is at 90 degrees to the board it is actually quite easy,” he says. “Of course, 22 hours of doing that takes its toll. But the Macau record was very technical because it was downwind and so I had to zigzag my whole way there, which meant I ended up sailing double the distance, plus there are also a lot of boats to dodge.”

Sailing downwind presents specific challenges. “Your body is contorted all the time and your legs are continually acting as shock absorbers. I knew about two and a half hours in I was in trouble with the physical aspect of it,” he says.

World champion windsurfer and Olympian Allison Shreeve attempted to beat Moloney’s Bass Strait record by sailing downwind in 2009 but retired after nine hours with severe cramp. Just as Moloney was beginning to suffer, the weather changed and he got a bit of a breather. It was that psychological boost that helped him finish, he says.

A sailor at heart, Moloney decided to windsurf to Macau partly to encourage others to take his record on and to get involved with the sport. “The basics of windsurfing are the basics of sailing,” he says. “Anyone can get involved, it’s cheap in comparison to sailing, you don’t need a yacht club membership and there is a great fraternity in Hong Kong, particularly in Stanley and Sai Kung.”

Windsurfing is relatively popular in Hong Kong already, inspired in part perhaps by Lee Lai-shan’s gold medal victory in the Atlanta Games in 1996 in the women’s mistral boardsailing class. Hong Kong also has two spots guaranteed for the Rio Olympics (with the competitors to be decided later), which may give the sport another boost, particularly if either of the competitors win medals.

The problem, Moloney says, is that while windsurfing can act as a great stepping stone to sailing, there doesn’t seem to be a pathway in Hong Kong yet. There are of course other reasons that people don’t get involved, among them the perception that sailing is an elitist sport. “There are some aspects of sailing that warrant that tag,” Moloney says, “things like guards on gates at the yacht club and Ferraris in the car park, and of course yachts are expensive and costly to maintain.”

Moloney would like to help open up access to sailing in Hong Kong as he has done in other places. He also thinks there is great potential here. “Hong Kong is an amazing sailing place. You can simulate lots of different conditions in this area and you can train all year round because it’s not cold,” he says. “There is no reason why this place cannot be churning out Olympic athletes.” But, he adds, “unless the facilities are there, Hong Kong’s next Olympic medal winning sailors might end up playing basketball or some other sport. It’s all about giving people the opportunity to fall in love with sailing.”

There is no question he will attempt to break his own record again. “I’ll give it a little bit of time, but if no one steps up then I’ll go again. If I can get a suitable hydrofoiling platform, I think I can do it in an hour and a half to two hours.”

Watch this space.