Rolex China Sea Race returns with strong fleet
The famous 565nm bluewater race resumes with a competitive fleet bound from Hong Kong to Subic Bay in the Philippines.
Peter Churchouse’s Moonblue 2 is a regular IRC Premier entrant; Photo: Rolex / Daniel Forster
The Rolex China Sea Race starting on April 5 is the first edition for five years, and organisers say they are delighted with the turnout so soon after Covid rules were relaxed on the China Coast.
Race Chairman Cameron Ferguson told Yacht Style: “As the last Rolex China Sea Race was run in 2018, this has been very much a rebuilding exercise to put the event back on the map after the Covid hiatus. It is especially pleasing to see the return of some overseas yachts. It is more than we could have imagined, even just a few months ago.
“We are very appreciative of the loyalty Rolex has shown Royal Hong Kong Yacht Club in continuing to sponsor our premier RORC-endorsed yacht race. This is particularly important as we rebuild the brand, and reach out for more overseas participants to join this classic Category 1 offshore race.”
Unlike the Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race or Rolex Fastnet Race, which largely hug shorelines and channels, the Rolex China Sea Race sees contestants 150-200nm from the nearest land when midway across the South China Sea.
Noel Chan’s Rampage 88 is among TP52 entries; Photo: RHKYC / Guy Nowell
“It has been quite a commitment to get the yachts ready for a Category 1 race. All the liferafts were past their service dates, and a good deal of the electronic and other safety equipment had expired. Then there is crew training, where most certificates were no longer valid. We require half the crew to have completed the World Sailing Offshore Personal Safety Course, and a third the First Aid Course,” Ferguson said.
“It is an expensive and time-consuming process. The new World Sailing requirements for keel and rudder checks has added yet more hurdles, but yacht owners have risen to the challenge.”
The Rolex China Sea Race is by no means the only yachting event devastated by Covid. Sir Robin Knox-Johnston’s latest round-the-world Clipper Race fleet had to hole up at Subic Bay Yacht Club for the best part of two years, due to closed ports elsewhere, and only resumed their passage last year.
At the 2018 Rolex China Sea Race, IRC overall was won by the Sydney GTS 42 Mandrake III owned by the indomitable duo Fred Kinmonth and Nick Burns, followed by the Ker 42 Custom Seawolf campaigned by YY Yan and YF Liu, and Standard Insurance Centennial with Emerson Villena at the helm.
Philippine entries include Standard Insurance Centennial 3; Photo: Rolex / Daniel Forster
Villena is back in the fray this year with Standard Insurance Centennial 3, while Noel Chan’s Rampage 88 and Mark Nie’s Happy Go are other TP52s in the line-up.
Meanwhile, a long-time doyen of Philippines yachting, Ernesto ‘Judes’ Echauz, has entered his new Reichel Pugh 75 Standard Insurance Centennial 5. Echauz is best known as Chairman of the Standard Insurance Group, and won the Rolex China Sea Race in 1998 and 2008.
Multihulls competed in 2018 under an assigned HKPN performance handicap, which saw Karl Kwok’s Mod 70 trimaran Beau Geste finish ahead of Raphael Blot’s Banuls 60 catamaran Mach 2, setting a record time of 38h 30m 07s.
That is being challenged this year by Lee Seng Huang and Meitatsu Fukumoto with their ORMA 60 SHK Scallywag Fuku, which won the 2019 Hong Kong to Vietnam Race, a 675nm downhill romp, in 30h 09m 27s, so she can beat Beau Geste’s mark given the right conditions.
Lee Seng Huang and Meitatsu Fukumoto’s ORMA 60 SHK Scallywag Fuku; Photo: RHKYC / Guy Nowell
Lee is a senior executive of both financial conglomerate Sun Hung Kai in Hong Kong and Mulpha in Malaysia. He went to university in Australia and is also head of Mulpha Australia, which owns Sanctuary Cove and Hayman Island Resorts. He competes in Rolex Sydney Hobart races in his 100ft super maxi SHK Scallywag, and sponsors both youth sailing and ocean clean-up campaigns.
IRC Premier Class includes Shenton Drew’s Swan 53 Athena, Thomas Attenborough’s Swan 56 Parnassus, Peter Churchouse’s Warwick Custom Moonblue 2, and Peter Cremers’ Warwick 75 Shatoosh. Ryan Mann’s Taswell 56 Daybreak is sailing double-handed. For updated news, see the website link at the bottom of the article.
ROLEX’S ONGOING SUPPORT
Rolex continues to be title sponsor of the China Sea Race through 2027 as the change to odd-numbered years caused by Covid stays in place. The event was first held in 1962 and then biennially to 2018.
The Hong Kong to San Fernando Race has now been replaced by Hong Kong to Puerto Galera Yacht Race in even-numbered years, and the Hong Kong to Vietnam Race remains in October 2023 and so on. A new marina has recently opened in Nha Trang, making this event yet more popular.
The Rolex Sydney Hobart and Rolex Fastnet are the premier Swiss watchmaker’s leading offshore events. Hong Kong yachtsmen have long taken part in them, twice placing third in very strong Admiral’s Cup fleets, a five-race, three-yacht team series that concluded with the Fastnet. Hong Kong’s Bill Turnbull and Karl Kwok have won the Rolex Sydney Hobart, Kwok in 1997.
Rolex itself has been “the crown in sailing” for 65 years. Today it partners some 15 major international yacht races and regattas around the world. These include the Rolex TP52 World Championship and the SailGP multi-venue series in 50ft foilers, for which a new 10-year agreement has recently been announced.
Former Hong Kong and Singapore yachtsman Lord Irvine Laidlaw won Maxi Class of the Maxi Yacht Rolex Cup last year in Highland Fling XI; Photo: Rolex / Luca Butto
Rolex Director of Communications and Image Arnaud Boetsch said of the deal: “The unrelenting pursuit of excellence, together with the marriage of human achievement and technical development, as well as the fierce team spirit required to succeed, make Rolex a natural partner of SailGP.”
Apart from branding on jibs, “Rolex will become title sponsor for the Season 4 opening event in Chicago,” which apparently replaces Bermuda, where SailGP started last year.
Other elite events include the Maxi Yacht Rolex Cup in Sardinia, Rolex Swan Cup and Rolex Giraglia. Former Hong Kong and Singapore resident Lord Irvine Laidlaw, later founder of Monaco Yacht Show, won the Maxi Class of the Maxi Yacht Rolex Cup a few months ago with the farewell appearance of his Reichel Pugh 25m Highland Fling XI. He is taking delivery of an 80ft racing catamaran.
Andy Soriano from the Philippines, a former owner of San Miguel Brewery, has also been a frequent entrant in these events.
Partnerships with New York Yacht Club, Royal Yacht Squadron and Yacht Club Costa Smeralda allow Rolex to “reflect the finest spirit of sailing, and the best traditions and elegance of the sport”, says a spokesman.
Other agreements span the Rolex Middle Sea Race, Les Voiles de Saint-Tropez, Rolex China Sea Race, Rolex New York Yacht Club Invitational Cup, Rolex Big Boat Series in San Francisco, and the Rolex Circuito Atlántico Sur from Buenos Aires to Punta del Este in Uruguay.
Note: The original article appeared in YACHT STYLE Issue 70