Match Racing Nationals, Day 1

Over the weekend of the 3rd and 4th of April 2021, Hebe Haven Yacht Club, in conjunction with the Hong Kong Sailing Federation, hosted the first Hong Kong National Match Racing Championships for several years.

As explained by Bob Vart, assistant race officer for the day, match racing is by no means new to Hong Kong. He was a keen competitor in Impala match racing back in the 1980s. Also, back in 2014 and 2015, soon after the arrival in Hong Kong of a fleet of J-80s, the Royal Hong Kong Yacht Club organised two international events, over which race officer of the day, Inge Strompf, also officiated.

The hope is that match racing’s resurrection this Easter will entice more youngsters into the sport. 

With 10 teams entered, the first part of the event comprised a round robin, in which each team would race against each other. With six J-80s available, this meant 15 flights were scheduled, each comprising three matches for a total of 45 matches. The top four teams would progress to the semi-finals and final rounds to be held on Sunday.

The breeze was relatively light as Strompf settled the committee boat in the centre of Port Shelter on Saturday morning, the 3rd of April.

A winch problem on one of the J-80s meant that the back-up boat had to brought into use, resulting in a postponement of the 1100 start. During this time, the Force 2 southeasterly began to build, allowing the RO to set three windward marks, at a distance of 0.4 nautical miles, at 125, 130 and 135 degrees. The outer two provided alternatives, if needed, in the event of wind shifts. With just two boats in each match race, a relatively short line of 80 metres was set.

The first flight lasted longer than expected so, for the second, the windward mark was brought in to 0.35 nautical miles, shortening the match time to around 16 minutes for two laps.

Considering rigging issues and the need on occasions for crews to switch boats, time was off the essence in order to complete the schedule.



However, the breeze, while building in strength to between 8 and 10 knots, was not co-operating. Swinging westwards, Mark Dowding, the mark laying maestro, was constantly called upon to re-lay the windward marks or notify the sailors on the water of changes. In the end, windward marks were between 230 and 265 degrees – a huge shift from their original positions. This all added to the technical challenges by the competitors and management. 

Many of the sailors were a little rusty and there were several newcomers to the match racing discipline. But it was pleasing to see the three major yacht clubs entering youth teams with Hebe Haven Yacht Club represented by two teams made up of Hebe Dragon dinghy sailors.

Aberdeen Boat Club and the Hong Kong Sports Institute were represented by two teams of 29er sailors and the Royal Hong Kong Yacht Club by members of the Sharks, all with an experienced coach onboard. However, this again proved challenging since for many as it was their first introduction to spinnaker poles and spinnakers. J-80s normally use asymmetric kites but, to improve visibility, all boats were re-rigged for spinnakers. Occasional delays to the programme occurred when spinnaker halyards had to be retrieved from mast heads – Sam Sakai did a splendid job volunteering to retrieve them, earning himself a race officer’s prize.

Some skippers were less familiar with the starting procedures for match racing, perhaps having not followed the America’s Cup. On several occasions boats failed to enter the starting box on time or from the on-course side, whilst other more wily competitors managed to prevent their opposition entering on time, inducing penalties and in some cases black flag disqualifications.

With no further flights permitted after 1630, the race management team managed to complete seven of the 15 round robin flights for a total of 21 of the 45 matches.

At the end of Day 1, Andy Pidden and Mark Thornburrow, having sailed four races each, were both undefeated. Duncan Gregor completed five races with four wins and one loss to Thornburrow.

Chan Yuk Wah (Fajai) had three wins out of four matches under his belt, while Jono Slattery had two wins out of four.

Ben Gunton, Adam Glendinning, Cynthia Law each had one win from their four races while Alfred Okoth and his Hebe Dragon team had one win out of five. Daniel Dolega had yet to score after four races.

Okoth and the others were full of praise for their young crews mostly single-handed sailors and experiencing team work for the first time. However, although challenging, everyone seemed to be having fun, expressed with the huge smiles and chatter as they came off the water.

 
 
 
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