(Liuzhou, Guangxi, China)- What a fabulous weekend racing in Liuzhou for the 2013 Liuzhou China Rivers Regatta. 26 teams competed over 4 days of racing in the Liu River in Liuzhou, Guangxi Province, China. We had competitors from Japan, India, Australia, Singapore, Hong Kong, Taiwan and of course China competing. The conditions could not have been better with a challenging shifty winds ranging with an average breeze of about 10 knots most of the weekend.
People ask why we like sailing so much. When you look at the field of racers we had the women drivers, men drivers, rich and poor, and the oldest sailor was 84 years old and the youngest was only 18. What other sport can this diverse group compete on an equal playing field? There are very few. That is why sailing is such an awesome sport.
With 14 J/80's and 26 teams we split the teams into two equal fleets of 13 per fleet. For two days and 6 races per fleet the teams raced qualifying races to then be split into a Gold and Silver fleet.
One year ago Jim Johnstone came to Liuzhou to help strengthen the sailing skills in Liuzhou. After training several racing teams two of the teams were driven by Liuzhou drivers. Last year there were no local racers in Liuzhou. One of the drivers was driving for the Sanya team and he had competed in two other events as a driver in his life. The other, this was his first time driving in an event. Both managed to qualify for the Gold fleet after the qualifying rounds against a strong fleet which was pretty amazing with such little experience racing. In just this one year we have gone from 5 sailors in Liuzhou to over 200 actively interested in bettering their skills on a weekly bases in this beautiful river.
22 year old Ayesha Lobo from India surprised many with a very strong start by the Indian team who came to China for the first time to compete in this event. The India team had just received the first two J/80's in India this past summer and the team has had some practice in the boat. They were also smart to come a few days early to spend some time on the water practicing in the river. Ocean sailing and river sailing can be very different. The biggest difference is the ocean has big waves and steady breeze where as the rivers have challenging changing winds and small waves. Boat speed and boat handling can make a very big difference. It was obvious that the practice paid off for the India team as they finished the qualifying races in first place in their fleet.
Martin Hingst from Holland racing the Gaastra Sails Team was also very strong in the other fleet. You don't always have to win the races but being consistently in the top part of the fleet and sailing smart were be advantages for Martin.
Other Notable teams in the Qualifying Round were the Singapore Team who had won this event in 2012 and the China Team who is involved with the Americas Cup for China and competes in many of the different Keel boat events in China and abroad.
Sailing is a lifestyle, many come for different reasons, it could be the competition to see who is better or it could be the fun of meeting people from other cities and countries that love the same sport. It was very obvious that this group liked to have fun and have fun together. With the fleet split into A fleet and B fleet with A sailing in the mornings and B sailing in the afternoons it was fun seeing both A and B out having fun in the evenings. A little harder to get up in the morning for the A group but not one complaint since the nights activities brought lots of laughs and new friends together.
As we moved into the final two days of competition, the top half of the A and B fleets were 12 boats. Out of those twelve in this fleet any one of them could have potentially won this event. It all came down to thinking smart, going fast and staying out of trouble with the other boats. Unfortunately for the India team trouble found them in the second race and with the DSQ (disqualification) it made things challenging for them to be in the top three. Singapore got off to a nice start with two wins out of the three races and the China Team were also very strong.
The Liuzhou regatta offers something that is very unique to many of the racers. On the final day the Gold fleet sails a 35 km race that is actually split into two races. This races under several bridges, past 100 meter vertical rock cliffs and through some very scenic country.
The first race was about 18 km up wind. Normally these sailors are use to sailing 1 to 3 km's up wind when we race around buoys but 18 km's requires a long time to concentrate on the changing wind conditions. As you watch the competitors you see many lead changes but the China Team was dominate in this race from early on and finished about 5 minutes ahead of the next team. With a small break for lunch and a short 3 km sail around a bend in the river race two started.
Race 2 was very different. Rather then being all upwind the race started with a short upwind leg and then mostly sailing with the spinnaker. There were several sections of the river where the wind was moving across the river. This was very challenging for the sailors. With wind shifts up to 90 degrees and large areas where there might be no wind at all do to a wind shadow from land the lead changed positions many times. Chine Team looked very strong in the beginning but soon the entire fleet sailed right around them on either side when the seem to have found an area with no wind. Then the Japanese team looked very strong and again they got sucked up by the entire fleet. I can best compare this to long distance bicycle racing. When the pack catches the lead riders. This happened 5 or six times until a group of 5 did manage to break away from the rest of the fleet.
The surprise was the Liuzhou Sailing coach driving in his third regatta ever, maybe more comfortable in the shifty river conditions then most just sailed away from everyone. Finishing more then 20 minutes ahead of the second place Martin Hingst from Holland. The China Team, India Team and Guangzhou Team who all showed such promise in the race earlier fond themselves limping in at the back of the pack.
The final results show some boats being consistent but the interesting part is that on the water they were far from consistent. This event challenged each and every crew to keep their cool, keep in the wind and figure out how to stay ahead of the back. Great job to the winning team from Singapore followed by the China Team, Martin Hingst from Holland, India Team and then Guangzhou Team in the top five positions.
Sailing is so interesting to those that are new to it and those that have been doing it for years. There are no time outs, no substitutes, no boundaries. You sail in light air, heavy air, shifty wind conditions, little waves and big, strong and week current and every day is different. Experience and training help the good sailors stay in the front of the pack and competing in these events allows the newer sailors to gain tons of helpful experience. Thanks to the support of the local government in Liuzhou and the sponsorships that help make these events possible and a big thanks to the Riviera Yacht Club for providing the 14 J/80's and support boat that were prepared for this event. We look forward to more great events in Liuzhou.