Thursday, October 5, 2017

J/80 China Club Challenge Match Report

J/80s sailing off China (Shenzen, China)- Thirty-seven teams stepped up to the plate for the 13th China Club Challenge Match. Maybe not as many as the organizers had made allowances for but for an event which is only in its 13th year in a nation where sailing is not much older, it is an impressive figure, easily making it the largest one design keelboat regatta in China sailed on a fleet of J/80’s.

There were three days of mainly champagne sailing on the waters off Xiamen. An overused expression perhaps, but in this case, it truly was the real deal.  Eleven races scheduled and eleven races sailed over the three days with sailors from the top to the bottom of the fleet giving it their all, but with the huge majority with the right attitude. In fact, the boat that was last in (I think) every race could always be seen with big smiles on their faces and a wave for every support boat that passed close by whether media, umpire or mark boa – that’s what our game should be all about.

J/80s sailing China Club Challenge CupThe event was overseen by an excellent PRO who set fair windward-leeward courses up and down the sometimes-fierce Equinox tidal current. In fact, when the tide started to go slack on a couple of days the huge number of OCS prompted general recalls with the black flag in evidence.  On the final day the BFG threat was enough to pull all the competitors into line for a clean start after their first attempt was more than a little eager, meaning it would have been easier for the race officers to count the legal starters than the OCS boats!!

The racing was kept ‘honest’ by Addendum Q- on-the-water judging provided by a team of sharp eyed umpires, two of whom, John & Wayne were up from New Zealand with Cathy from Hong Kong (also a Kiwi) and Al from China making up the foursome. Although briefed and warned about early bowsprit deployment, the early races saw multiple penalties for over eager use of the prods.  But, by the final day the lesson had, it seemed, finally sunk in with only 2-3 red flags for this ‘over eagerness’.

The racing was effectively policed, but with 2 umpire boats for a fleet of 37, many of whom seemed to have an almost magnetic attraction for each other, the on the water hearings were still busy with protests up into double figures at the end of day 2. Strangely, perhaps with the realization that a protestor wasn’t guaranteed a result, or worse still with a reverse decision, many protests were withdrawn. The spirit, however, was an example to sailors everywhere with the losers smiling, willingly shaking hands and the two skippers heading off together to the free beer.

Nowhere was this spirit of sportsmanship better displayed than at the prize-giving dinner at the end of the event. All teams who sailed with at least one female crew member received a point “discount” on their score.

One of the prize-winners realized that this meant that they had received a prize– and that prize was to come back for the match race finals and a nice silver trophy (plus, some Ronstan and Sunrise Marine goodies).  Yet, although they had entered with a female crew member, they actually sailed with an all male crew.

When they realized what had happened they immediately informed the committee and handed over the lot to the crew below them. That was almost as cool as the actual team that won the event!

In response to this, Alan, the owner of Sunrise Marine deemed they should keep his contribution to the prizes and awarded an additional set to the replacement winners.

The main trophy remained on its plinth, as in reality the event has just reached its midway stage with 8 teams invited back in around 5 weeks time for the head-to-head match racing element to determine the 2017 champion.

This is an event that is not ‘padded out’ by multiple teams of foreigners engaging in a bit of regatta tourism; every team was from within China. This a country where, 15 years ago, sailing outside vocational provincial teams of Olympic hopefuls was unheard of.

This was an event of sailors trying hard to win for the honor. No big cash prizes, so why is the event proving to be successful, growing in numbers, stature and reputation year-on-year?

Speaking to many competitors, the answers received are not quite unique, but follow a similar vein all the way through. This is a fun event with the balance between the quality of the racing, the competition, the race management, the ‘apr├Ęs-sail’ activities, the adherence to the rules, the camaraderie. Also interesting, were the comments that the competitors felt it was great to leave the race course knowing where they came was where they came with the majority of disputes settled on the water, instead of having to wait for a sometimes long drawn out process in the ‘protest room’. Perhaps, other events in more established areas might learn from this!

It is interesting to note that a well-run event, designed entirely for the benefit of the competitors– call them the “customers” if you like– is growing in this manner, whilst in other, sometimes much more established sailing nations, the concern is about falling rather than rising numbers.  Could it be that in some cases the organizers believe it is THEIR event rather than the sailors?  The China Club Challenge Match most certainly belongs to the customer.  Thanks for the report from “Shanghai Sailor” on Add to Flipboard Magazine.