Two years ago, Mr. He and Frank Lin of Liuzhou had the idea of starting a club. They pushed the local government for access to get things started. With docks completed in October of 2011 they hosted their first national Masters Cup Regatta with 14 new club-owned International J/80 one-designs. Not really knowing what they were up against, they were smart to bring in some help to organize and run the event. In the spring of 2012 they hosted another Masters Cup Regatta. They invited sailors from around China, Hong Kong and Singapore; as a result most of the Asian sailing world began to understand where Liuzhou was located and its promise for opportunity. But, this did little for local sailing. As we all know, local sailing is the key to growth.
In the Summer of 2012, Jim Johnstone started working with Liuzhou to help them train the instructors to establish the sailing program and help them create some local teams to compete in other events around China. As of June 2012 there were a handful of instructors that had sailed before this program started.
With many days on the water practicing and several local companies taking instruction from the club, the first base of sailors was generated and the instructors continued to improve their skills. Liuzhou won the China Club Match Challenge and was also 5th out of the 28 team fleet. Recently, Liuzhou sailors were 4th in the China Cup and 1st in the Round Hainan Regatta in Sanya (the "Hawaii" of China, its southernmost island resort where the 2012 Volvo Ocean Race stop-over was hosted). The Liuzhou sailing team then went on to compete in Qingdao where they placed 1st in 8 out of the 9 races. With many more events scheduled for 2013, Liuzhou is a city that other teams are worried about competing against! That's a remarkable transformation for what many thought were "farmers" in the outback of China!
What was still missing was local racing going into 2013. With 14 boats available the club went out to the students that had taken lessons and pushed for each of the sailors that had some background to sign up for a boat and bring friends that didn't have any knowledge but wanted to learn. An 8 week Sunday series was born with all 14 boats signed up. Sailing was simple windward-leeward courses with spinnakers and a goal of 5 races per afternoon between 1pm and 3:30pm. Prior to racing there was a 30 minutes instructional class that would cover whatever topic the fleet seemed to need the most from the previous weekend (spinnaker handling tips, rules lessons, basic tactics, sportsmanship etc).
One important rule was that a club member had to be on each boat. However, the club has two memberships. An associate membership that allowed limited use of club boats and access to the docks or the full membership that would allow full access including the club house that is not completed yet. Membership is important not only for showing growth but to cover the people under the club insurance policy.
Each Sunday, the Riviera Yacht Club gets 70 to 90 new sailors showing up to compete in these races. None of the trained instructors were allowed to sail in any of the boats and coaching was provided on the water with two inflatable crash boats. However, instruction was limited to the following: a) coaching the last two place boats if they fall behind the fleet and b) on-the-water judging to help people with the rules and keep the damage to a minimum.
The race committee was also keeping things simple: Postponement flag, individual recall flag and general recall flags along with a race committee flag were all that were used. Three minute dinghy starts were used so no sailors needed a stop watch. 2 minutes after the last boat finishes the next start would sound. Only windward leeward courses, but depending on the wind, the distance would change. The race committee had the ability to limit sails in conditions of higher winds. No spinnakers, even no jibs were used at different times to make sure that the overall group was capable of managing the boats around the course and keep it fun.
Whether you are racing Cowes Race Week, Yachting Cup, Key West Race Week, China Cup or any of the other events around the world it is very difficult to imagine so many inexperienced people out racing at one time. If you are in Newport or Hong Kong you may have several new boats to a fleet but most of the boats have a veteran or experienced sailor as part of the crew. They may not be good, but there is someone on the boat with experience. The J/80 being a very forgiving sailing platform, the protected river environment allow Liuzhou to pull this off more then some of the other exposed sailing areas.
Thanks to the foresight of the Riviera Yacht Club owners for getting this program started and we look forward to seeing this success spread in developing sailing areas around the world. If anyone wants more information or advice about these types of sailing development programs worldwide, please contact J/Boats- firstname.lastname@example.org or ph. +1-401-846-8410.