Excitement is building for the Royal Hong Kong Yacht Club’s San Fernando Race. The biennial race to San Fernando, the small resort town on the Luzon coast affectionately named as ‘Fun in the Sun’ always draws enthusiastic support both locally and internationally. Several of the crews and boats were out over the weekend putting themselves through their final paces before Thursday’s midday start in Junk Bay. Unfortunately the race is not to be for the crew on Dr Ian Nicolson’s Intrigue of Stornoway which has had to withdraw due to rig damage that cannot be rectified in time for the start. Their disappointment is shared by everyone as Intrigue spent close to a year sailing back from New Zealand for the race.
Thirty three competitors will be vying for the best positions on the start line and with so many boats, techniques from skippers and reactions from crew are sure to be tested. Testing their starting skills will be the eight Times-Clipper boats who for their past eight starts have had only 7 other boats on their start line. This provides a good chance for them to experience first hand the exhilarating starts that come with big boat racing. The race is an official leg of their round the world race and Race Chairman Vic Locke feels privileged that the Clippers are competing and has wished them and all competitors alike a safe and enjoyable sail to San Fernando.
Benoit Lesaffre on the catamaran Atmosphere will no doubt be trying to lay claim to the line honours title, a title which on the past two South China Sea crossings has had him pipped, literally at the line as a dying breeze takes away his ambition. Weather conditions are not expected to create much of a chance for those challenging the race record of two days, two hours and two minutes set in 1991 by Lawrie Smith’s Rothmans. It may be a while before we see this record broken.
The all Chinese crew on Tipsy Free are keen to continue their weekend’s winning streak with similar honours in the race. Tipsy Free took line honours and first place in the IRC division in the prelude to the race, the Coastal overnight race held over the weekend. Skipper Leon Chan is hoping to continue tasting the sweet smell of success.
The Philippine entry, Maligaya, an 80’ Swan, skippered by Andres Soriano III will be keen to test her performance on their first long distance offshore race and is one of the many competitors hoping that success will be within their grasp.
Race Officer Graham Jackson
is hoping for a break in the current dismal weather so that the hundreds
of spectators expected to watch the start of the race, also have the best
skies for the photo opportunities the race start will offer. The race
starts in Junk Bay and the course takes the fleet directly out into the
South China sea where they begin their journey to San Fernando.
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Start Hong Kong to San
Fernando 2001 Yacht Race. Photo
credit to Catharine Nicol
Benoit Lesaffre's attempt to finally take line honours in a South China sea race is not only currently looking possible, but if he ca continue to sail at his current performance then the race record may also be his. Lesaffre skipper of the catamaran Atmosphere, is metaphorically flying across the South China Sea and can possibly shave several hours off the race record of two days, two hours and two minutes set in 1991 by Lawrie Smith's Round the World maxi yacht Rothmans.
Chasing Atmosphere are the two biggest competing boats, Ffree Fire, a 72' Sled skippered by Hong Kong's Sam Chan and the spectacular Maligaya an 80' Swan, the only Philippine entry skippered by Andy Sorian III. Whilst both Maligaya and Ffree Fire are separated by some 18 miles on the water, in reality - given the complexities of yacht racing - their distance to the finish has them almost neck and neck. The question at the moment however is do they have the stamina and wind to close the gap on Atmosphere?
The fleet is now well into the race and with a brisk North-East wind which is averaging 14 knots, they are all making excellent progress. As the boats sail deeper into the South China Sea, contact with them becomes limited. From now on - not only do the skippers and crew become more isolated but the reporting of the progress of the face has to rely only on the twice daily radio reports to find out just how well the boat are faring.
Behind the three leading boats there is currently a cluster of 8 or 9 boats, which include four of the Times-Clipper boats, which are taking part in the San Fernando Race for the first time as an official leg of their Round the World race. Currently Jersey Clipper leads Leeds Clipper with Gerry Daughton's HK boat Outrageous fighting it out amongst them.
Those of the Race Committee not sailing have spent two days travelling by air and land to San Fernando on the North Luzon coast to be there in time for the first boat's arrival. The finish line is now set and for those not participating in the race there is little else to do at present but to sit anxiously awaiting the first boat to appear over the horizon rounding Poro Point to cross the finish.
The overall fleet numbers have now been reduced by two due to early retirements. The husband and wife team of Cathy and Jim Hobbs on board their IMX 38 Wizard have had to join Robert Knight's Rhythm Stick in retiring, both due to damage suffered to their boats in the middle of the night which made returning to Hong Kong the safer solution. No doubt they and their crews are bitterly disappointed that their final destination has turned out to be Hong Kong rather than San Fernando.
Traditionally the winds become notoriously
fickle as the boats close on the Philippine coast so only time will tell
whether Atmosphere will be toasting their success of working out
preparations for their next assault at both line honours and the race
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PRESS RELEASE 14
Lawrie Smith's decade old record of two days, two hours and two minutes for the San Fernando race is no more. Glory now belongs to Benoit Lesaffre and his crew aboard the 50' catamaran Atmosphere who today with just ten minutes to spare, broke the record set in 1991. The new record now stands at two days, one hour & fifty two minutes.
Atmosphere had some very tense moments in the last few hours of their race best summed up by Lesaffre's comment "We sat out there all bloody night going nowhere. Seeing Sam Chan closing on us was very reminiscent of last year's China Sea Race" as they watched Sam Chan's Ffree Fire appear over the horizon and slowly eat into their lead. Ffree Fire - who also broke the old record - crossed the finish line just two and a half minutes behind Atmosphere in what has o be one of the most exciting finishes of a San Fernando Race. As soon as he crossed the finish line, Lesaffre leapt off the helm in a style normally reserved for Frankie Vittori leaping off his winning horse.
After the first 400 miles of the race, predictions were being made Friday night not on whether the record would fall but on just how much Atmosphere would break the record by, however as the wind died in the early hours of Saturday morning and Atmosphere failed to appear on the horizon, these predictions soon turned to whether or not the elusive record might elude her once again.
Atmosphere was sighted as a dot on the horizon a couple of hours after daybreak, but it was another 5 hours before she finally crossed the finish line. What must have been an interminable wait for Atmosphere was made all the more frustrating having Chan's 70' Sled rapidly closing the gap.
It was certainly an intense battle all the way to the finish line between the two boats fighting it out. After 48 hours of racing, the crew of 4 on Atmosphere and of 18 on Ffree Fire would all be tired and had to call on all their reserves to make both tactical and sailing decisions, watching the wind shifts and hoping that their wind would not die.
Ffree Fire's efforts in playing catch up cannot be underestimated. Skipper Sam Chan was quoted after the race as saying that his crew had sailed a very tactical race, staying south of the rhumb line and managing to keep a steady 15 knots of wind over their sails until the last few hours before they ran out of wind.
Maligaya, Andres Sorian's Philippine entry was sailing in view of Ffree Fire early this morning, but may possibly have gone too far north and sailed right into what sailors refer to as a hole, a place where there is literally no wind. It was not until the sun was setting Saturday evening, that the stunning 80' Swan's white & blue striped spinnaker appeared around Poro Point finally finishing at 17:53.
The evening radio schedule
has 13 boats all within a 16 miles radius, slowly closing on the finish
line, but with about 70 miles still to go. Theses boats, are led by Leon
Chan's Tipsy Free and are expected to complete the race in the early hours
of Sunday morning, however with the fickle Philippine wind, that prediction
may again catch us out. Despite the dying winds, the race has definitely
been one of the fastest and exciting San Fernando race of the past decade.
Once again, it is the fickle Philippine wind around the North Luzon Philippine coast that is slowing progress for the remaining boats competing in the San Fernando Race. It had earlier seemed that the race may be one of the fastest in recent times with both Atmosphere and Ffree Fire breaking the decade old record on Saturday.
It also seemed that the wind had followed the first three boats leaving the remainder of the fleet to spend several hours going nowhere. It was not until late Saturday night that the wind gradually picked up. Gerry Daughton's Outrageous became the fourth boat to cross the finish line early Sunday morning some 13 hours after Maligaya, the 80' Swan.
Loud cheers aboard Jersey confirmed their delight as they took first place in the Clipper Division from London. Leeds was in third with Bristol expected to cross the finish line sometime this evening having been spotted rounding Poro Point in the late afternoon.
It will now be the third
night for many still sailing across the South China Sea whilst it is celebration
time for those already arrived in the small resort town of San Fernando.
The rest of the fleet is expected to arrive Sunday night to early Monday
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LUZON MOTORING DIVISION
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by Iris Yang
Lawrie Smith's decade old record of two days, two hours and two minutes for the San Fernando race is no more. Glory now belongs to Benoit Lesaffre and his crew aboard the 50' catamaran Atmosphere who, with just ten minutes to spare, broke the record set by Smith on Rothmans in 1991. The new record now stands at two days, one hour & fifty-two minutes.
In what has been described simply as the 'best finish ever', it was an intense battle to the finish line for Atmosphere and Ffree Fire, Sam Chan's 72' Sled chasing hard on her tail, both fighting it out for line honours and the race record. After 48 hours of racing, the crew of 4 on Atmosphere and of 18 on Ffree Fire were tired and had to call on all their reserves to make correct, tactical decisions, watching the wind shifts and hoping that their wind would not die.
Lesaffre was ecstatic about finally achieving both line honours and a race record, as the last two races across the South China Sea have seen him pipped literally at the line as he attempted to drift towards it in a dying breeze. Atmosphere had some very tense moments in the last few hours of their race as they once again ran out of wind. Lesaffre himself best summed up their situation. "We sat out there all bloody night going nowhere. Seeing Sam Chan closing on us was very reminiscent of the end of last year's China Sea Race."
Ffree Fire's efforts in playing catch up cannot be underestimated. Atmosphere overtook Ffree Fire within the first couple of miles of the race and for the majority of the race, had a commanding lead over Chan who sailed a very tactical race, staying south of the rhumb line. Ffree Fire crossed the finish line just two and a half minutes behind Atmosphere. This performance was good enough for them to win not only the Racing Division, but the HKPN Overall as well.
Fun in the Sun is the theme of the San Fernando Race, and this year was no exception. Considered one of Asia's classic offshore races, the 480 nm race is now part of the Proteus Asian Yachting Circuit, which includes the Raja Muda, King's Cup and Singapore Straits Regatta. Sir Robin Knox-Johnston's Times-Clipper fleet also joined the race as one of the legs of their round-the-world race. Their eight-strong fleet of identical 60-foot yachts took off with 55 days of victuals on board (no restocking until Capetown!), and even heavily loaded, made great pace down the track.
Perfect conditions existed for the midday start in Hong Kong's Junk Bay, bright sunshine and 12 kts from the NE. Spectators commented that it was the best weather they remembered for many years and there were several wishing they were on the departing boats. The start line was long enough to prevent any mishaps, but honours really ought to go to the container ship that sailed serenely through the fleet just as the gun went off! No-one dared be over the line at the start, in deference to Race Officer, High Court Judge Graham Jackson, who commented that "the fleet was wisely timorous at the start " - well, who was going to risk being arraigned for contempt!
The fleet of 33 boats had a bracing sail for the first two days at least before the notorious fickle winds off the Philippine's North Luzon coast slowed progress for the majority of the fleet. Wind conditions lived up to expectations for the front runners however, as they managed to carry the average 15 knot breeze with them across the South China Sea, bringing them in nearly a full day ahead of the remainder of the fleet.
The impressive 80' Swan Maligaya, the Philippine entry, owned and skippered by Andy Soriano III crossed the finish line in third position, giving her a win in the Premier Cruising division and third overall. This was the newly built Maligaya's first long-distance race and was a welcome opportunity to stretch her very long legs. First over the line for the Clipper fleet was Jersey Clipper, followed closely by London Clipper and Leeds Clipper in third place for her very first podium finish since leaving Portsmouth in October 2000.
The Clippers generated their own brand of in-house rivalry between Ras Turner (winner of the 1996 Clipper race), the new temporary skipper of Leeds Clipper, and his fellow Plymouthian, Matt Baker, on Plymouth Clipper. These two had raced against each other many times before and had plenty of old scores to settle. The first two days were tailor-made for these boats: plenty of breeze, and just forward of the beam. Leeds and Jersey led the division most of the way, but in the end it was those who ran down the southings at the end of the track who got there first. Leeds reported being very miffed as they watched Andrew Rickards and crew on Moonblue sail gently past a few miles from the finish, hard on an almost non-existent wind.
After the first dozen or so boats made the finish line, the remainder of the fleet were deciding when (or if) to join the motoring division. It was hot and slow work for all concerned, probably not helped by the sure knowledge that all those on the beach were making inroads into the cold beer! Lady Luck came home a mere 34 hours after Ffree Fire to claim second place in the HKPN Overall standings.
First night out saw a couple of boats retiring due to boat damage. Husband and wife team of Cathy and Jim Hobbs on board their IMX 38 Wizard retired due to a faulty rudder bearing and Robert Knight's Rhythm Stick suffered an engine failure that prevented them from charging batteries. Windseeker retired a little later with a broken forestay, and Countess of Cathay also turned back.
Last boats home were Sonic, at 2100 hours
on Monday night, just in time to help with the washing up after the party,
and Jacaranda in the early hours of Tuesday morning. In Jacaranda's case
patience proved to be a very real virtue, winning the HKPN Division B
and the Plover Shell Trophy for being last across the finish line in what
is surely to be the race that everyone is still talking about 10 years