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Tencent Board Game's success is sign of things to come for Chinese sailing

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Chinese sailing
Chinese sailing

Success or victory can be measured in a number of ways. There are the ten teams that won their respective divisions at this year’s China Cup International Regatta, but there are also the victories within those fleets.


For example the all-Chinese crew who raced Tencent Board Game to seventh overall in the Beneteau 40.7 fleet, which numbered some very experienced international crews in the entry list, not least on board fourth-placed Yiihua & Pocket Team New Zealand. It’s another sign of ongoing progress in Chinese yacht racing, as this big nation with only a very brief history of competitive sailing gets to grips with the many demands and skills needed for success at the top level in this complex sport.

Among Shen Sheng’s crew on Tencent Board Game were members of the Dongfeng Race Team who defied predictions to finish third overall in the Volvo Ocean Race last year. On the last day of this year’s China Cup, Peina Chen showed up for a sail on board another Beneteau 40.7 My Side. Chen is China’s latest Olympic hero after winning silver at Rio 2016 in the women’s windsurfing event. 

Chen’s presence in Daya Bay was an acknowledgement of the part that the China Cup has played in helping foster the growth of competitive sailing. This was the 10th edition and it attracted 138 entries from 38 different nations and regions around the world. The event brings together first-time racers with some of the very best in professional sailing, including that strong crew from Emirates Team New Zealand, a group led by Guy Pilkington with some young Kiwi sailors looking to gain international experience alongside America’s Cup legends such as Kelvin Harrap on tactics, Laurie Jury on the mainsheet, Craig Monk on trim, Chris Ward in the pit and Joey Allen on the bow.

The Kiwis, helmed by young match racing talent Chris Steele, were expected to give the defending champions Wanhang Longcheer a good run for their money, having taken the contest to a final-day match race in 2015. But Steve McConaghy’s crew were so sharp at the starts, always hitting the line on the B of ‘Bang!’ and even managing to port tack the fleet on one occasion. Even if Seve Jarvin hadn’t steered a boat for a year, the multiple 18ft skiff World Champion got right back into the groove and made easy work of the week, winning the regatta with a scoreline of 2,1,1,1. Such was their level of dominance, the Australian/Chinese team were able to sit out the final race and go back to the marina for an early Tsingtao beer. 

It hadn’t been a classic week for good breeze, with the previous week’s Typhoon Haima upsetting the usual weather systems and making this a predominantly light airs regatta. But day three was windy and wavy, and Longcheer made short work of whatever came their way. They were unstoppable. McConaghy was humble in victory despite the seemingly straightforward win. “This is definitely the highest calibre of fleet I’ve seen at this regatta,” said the Australian professional who has won four of the eight China Cups in which he has participated. “The 40.7s are really level in performance now, there aren’t any clear boatspeed differences. The thing that gave us the advantage was getting off the start line really well. Also, we had three really focused days of training before the regatta so that our Chinese sailors knew exactly what their roles were on board, and when to execute.”

When there’s a language barrier among the crew, the key is simple, one-word commands that are clearly understood. McConaghy explains: “When we wanted the crew to hike really hard off the side with their arms out at full stretch, we just say ‘Superman!’ and everybody gets it.”

Behind Wanhang Longcheer the battle for the other podium positions raged until the final race. The conditions were very light for the final day, but Ellian Perch’s South African crew sailed My Side brilliantly to score 2,1 on the final day, lifting them to second overall ahead of Tim Davis and Beijing Sailing Center. Both of these teams are former China Cup winners, with Beijing Sailing Center edging Yiihua & Pocket Team New Zealand off the podium by a single point. Pilkington admitted this was not the result that he and his fellow Kiwis had planned for or expected, but he said he’d be back again for another assault on the 40.7 division. “This is a great event for marketing Emirates Team New Zealand to an important and emerging market place, and it’s also a high-quality fleet for getting some of our younger team members racing alongside some of the really experienced guys. But yes, we’re disappointed with how it’s gone this week. The important thing when you make a mistake is to learn the lesson, so we’ll come back stronger next time.”

For others in the charter fleet of 40.7s, the China Cup has become an annual must-do event, such as for Mike Evans from Canada who was back for his third consecutive year. “We’ve not sailed that great this week, but that’s partly because the standard keeps on going up each year too and we don’t get much practice before we get here. But the racing is incredible and the charter boats are very evenly matched for speed. Everyone got a new jib to race with this year which really helps level the playing field in terms of boatspeed. I can’t think where else you could get such high-quality racing that’s this affordable, which is probably why people like me keep on coming back.”

Jo Aleh was back for her second visit to the China Cup having recently added a silver medal from Rio 2016 to the 470 gold she won four years earlier at London 2012. Last time she was racing in the 40.7s but this time she was running the strategy and navigation on board Black Baza, an IRC custom 42ft Ker design skippered by Anthony Root from the USA. “I’m taking a couple of years out of Olympic campaigning and building up my experience on big boats as much as possible,” said Aleh, whose next big goal is to be racing in the Volvo Ocean Race which starts less than a year from now. “It’s been a tricky week picking the breeze in the light airs but it’s been a good learning curve.” Aleh and her tactician, another former 470 World Champion Simon Cooke, picked a great route to the right-hand side of the course for the Hong Kong to Shenzhen Passage Race on day one, giving the 42-footer line honours ahead of a number of bigger boats that were left stranded in almost zero wind closer to the China coastline. 

Black Baza won the final race of the week, which was good enough for third overall in IRC A, but not close enough to challenge the top two boats. Tiffany Koo’s Hero Racing from Malaysia finished tied on points with Ernesto Echauz’s TP52 Standard Insurance Centennial Racing from the Philippines. But Koo defended her title from 2015 due to her three first places finishes compared with Echauz’s two wins.

In IRC B, perennial winner, Shawn Kang’s Lighthorse picked up yet another China Cup trophy, but there was a new winner in IRC C as Sanya Yomovo Sailing Team beat defending champions Whiskey Jack.

In other divisions there were boats that achieved perfect scores across the regatta. In the J/80 one-design class, Jim Johnstone steered J/Boats Racing Team to easy victory with a string of bullets. It was a feat matched by 2Kilo Sailing Team who won all their races in the Bavaria 37 fleet, the first time the Bavarias have raced at the China Cup.

Planning is already underway for the 11th edition of the China Cup International Regatta which will take place in October 2017. 

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