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Rolex China Sea Race

‘What more do you want as a father?’ – Hong Kong lads and dads take on the Rolex China Sea Race

Trip takes competitors from Royal Hong Kong Yacht Club to Subic Bay in the Philippines

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 17 March, 2018, 12:42pm
UPDATED : Monday, 19 March, 2018, 1:16pm

Father and son moments are hard to come by in the concrete jungle of Hong Kong. The classic all-day fishing, ‘man-to-man’ experiences don’t really work here, but sailors Peter Cremers and Dan Tullberg have found a way for their respective sons to join them on board for what will be their off-shore debut.

“I promised my son Enzo years ago that when he turned 16 he could join an ocean race with me,” said Cremers, owner and skipper of Shahtoosh, one of the few cruiser boats racing at the biennial Rolex China Sea Race starting on March 28. “It will be his 16th birthday on the second day of the race so he will join us.”

The 565-nautical mile offshore race – run by the Royal Hong Kong Yacht Club – takes competitors from Hong Kong to Subic Bay in the Philippines.

“What more do you want as a father? Your son has the same interest as you and joins you for an off-shore race, working together as a team of 12 towards the same goal. It’s a dream for me,” said Belgian Cremers, who has competed numerous regional regattas and CSRs.

Enzo Cremers and Oskar Tullberg started racing dinghy together as kids and have finally reached the minimal age to go offshore. With barrels of experience in the Hong Kong Optimist and Laser 4.7 national team, Enzo approaches the Race with open arms.

“I’ve heard so much about the race ... I feel excited, not really nervous, because I know I’m in good hands and I’ve been racing for so long,” said the Chinese International School student. “My dad sails the boat with safety as the priority so I feel very safe on board. He also treats me like I’m a crew member and not his son.

For Hong Kong-based Swede Tullberg, the race is a chance for 16-year-old son Oskar to experience the thrills and spills of being on the water.

“It’s that old cliche: it builds character,” said Tullberg, who will team up with Cremers in the off-shore event for the fourth time. “There’s nothing like getting away from everything and focusing on keeping the boat going. Three days of hanging out without any access to Snapchat and YouTube. It’s magical.

“Racing is a slightly different proposition because there’s no letting up with you and the other crew mates. I always walk away having learned a hell of a lot from each race – I’m sure it’ll be the same for Oskar. Plus he gets a couple of days off school!”

Oskar has been sailing since he was a toddler. Winner of the Hong Kong 4.7 National Championship 2016 and having had previous experience in Asian championships, the Hong Kong Academy student cannot believe his luck.

“I’ve been looking forward to this since I started racing when I was about 10 or 11,” he said. “When my dad is on board, it makes it a lot easier for me to confirm what I’ve done – for example packing the spinnaker – is correct. There isn’t a lot of talking because we are working as a team, but it’s enjoyable nonetheless.

“I’m still relatively new to yacht racing but I’m confident in my skills as a sailor ... which is good since sails on that boat cost several thousand dollars.”

The snazzy 75-foot Shahtoosh, which was built with both racing and leisure in mind, will race in the performance cruising race class. And cruise they will as the boat is equipped with an espresso machine, air conditioning, showers and more.

“Shahtoosh is my favourite past time. She does well despite being fully fitted out as a cruiser,” said Cremers. “We’ve spent quite a lot of holidays on her as a family, but once or twice a year she transforms into a racing boat.

“Racing a boat that is also your holiday home is walking a fine between pushing her to the extreme and not causing undue damage to her outfitting, inside and out. Hence having a crew with the right mindset to achieve this balance is critical,” said Cremers.

Son Enzo has seen his father flip the switch plenty of times before.

“Cruising dad is very different – he’s the same dad that I have everywhere. Racing dad is more professional and precise - more like a boss, which is a good thing for the crew members.”

“The stability of the boat allows us to focus more on where we are going .. I definitely won’t say no to having a comfortable bed and warm dinner, either!”

Young Oskar concedes his dream off-shore debut would have been a little more rough and rugged.

“With it’s automatic winches, fridge, champagne, beds and showers...it will be enjoyable but part of me wants to race on a proper race boat as well,” he said.

And while there may seem to be an added layer of pressure in keeping her in good shape, Shahtoosh has proved time and time again to be a fighter at sea, regardless of how luxurious she is.

“Our number one rule is safety first,” said Tullberg. “We push her pretty hard but she can handle it.”

“With a race like this one, it’s all about covering each other,” said Cremers. “We have different skills and everyone has to get their piece of the action.

“Over the years we have formed a loyal team that makes it work. I’m also just very happy that I can get young people into the sport, whether it’s my son or somebody else’s,” added the skipper, who predicts a first or second place finish in his category.