Tuesday, November 12, 2019

J/80 China Cup Challenge Match Report

J/80 China Cup off Xiamen
(Xiamen, China)- After an eleven-race fleet regatta for 38 teams, 10 teams plus the defender and a top women’s team were invited to return Xiamen and participate in the “match racing phase” of the 2019 China Cup Challenge Match on Wu Yuan Bay.

As China’s oldest sailboat regatta, this was the 15th edition of the China Cup Challenge, and as expectations have risen, it was also the largest one-design regatta ever held in China- with thirty-eight J/80 teams!

The format of the event is that the 11 ‘challengers’ fight for the right to compete against the defender from the previous year for the perpetual solid silver trophy in the shape of a clamshell.

The event started with two complete round robins over three days with the defender (the 2018 Champion, Beijing Sailing Centre) part of the round robin 1, but excused from round robin 2. One has to allow the defender some match practice, but not too much knowledge of who will ultimately face them.

Work this math out! Two full round robins equals a total of 120 matches over 44 flights, which makes for long days on the water. Not only for the sailors, but also for the umpire team of John (Chief) NZL, Wayne NZL, Nev AUS and Alistair GBR with a total of 44 flights over the three days.

Conditions ranged from an almost drift off, to enough breeze to light up the J-80s used for the event, making the pre-start very busy at times with some skippers rather fond of the ‘Y’ Flag which, more often than not, drew a ‘Green’ response.
J/80 sailing off Xiamen, China
Not always though, with more than a smattering of blues and yellows, a few reds, one black and a redress request (denied). A few ‘contacts’ but none more than a ‘kiss’ with no hull damage reports required, although one or two spinnakers required some tape assistance along the way.

A few sailors commented on their level of tiredness when they came ashore, but spare a thought for the race committee or the umpires who, rather than being involved for half the flights, were on the water for ALL the races.

Those first three days whittled the fleet down to the top 4 teams for the semi-finals. The semis were first to three, then the wind shutdown bringing a brief respite for all in the hot sun and, literally, cloudless sky before the heating land brought in a healthy double-figures sea breeze.

That meant the first semi-final was a humdinger. At one point, when one team put in a completely unexpected maneuver, the umpire boat had to make a swift exit at high power leaving one umpire flat on his back on the bottom of the RIB with the only evidence of his presence being a blue flag being waved above the console and the loud screech of a whistle signaling the penalty that caused the RIB to move!

SEAWOLF TEAM from Shenzhen eventually ran out the worthy winner 4 points to 2, but it was a hard (and fairly) fought victory where at times the tables could have easily been turned. A real sharpening up process for the eventual winner.

There followed a prize-giving on the dock for what could be called the local equivalent of the Louis Vuitton Cup or Prada Cup, as the job was only half done. The Challenger winner was now determined and now had the right to go up against the Defender.
J/80 sailing off Xiamen, China
Those Defenders, by the way, spent the whole afternoon on the spectator boat moored just off the race track observing the action with more than a little passing interest. They knew they would have to be on their game to defend their title.

The North against South battle in the Challenge match may appear to be one-sided with SEAWOLF taking the title 4-0, but they didn’t have it all their own way in the pre-start. For the SEAWOLF team, the 24 “practice races” leading up to the match had made the Shenzhen team razor-sharp and their superiority in boat speed. Plus, their boat-handling, particularly at the mark roundings, gave little chance to the Beijing-based team to take advantage of their competitors.

As the Chief Umpire, John Rountree explained, “the quality of the match racing across the fleet has risen every year.” He should know, he has been coming to the event for the past six years!

There was one final element to the event that was pioneered two editions ago- the “All-Star Challenge”.
J/80 sailing off China
The new champion would sail in a “Big Money Match” against a team brought together from the teams ranked 2nd to 5th with the best helm, the best mainsheet, etc for a first to 3 winner-takes-all for RMB 250,000; a portion of which would go to the charity of the winner’s choice.

In the past, this has seen some amazing racing. In fact, in one race, there was so much action, it prompted one umpire to claim it was “in the top 10 matches I have even witnessed” and he has umpired at three America’s Cups!

This year SEAWOLF ran away from the competition, winning in a 3-0 rout in convincing fashion; taking home their 250,000 RMB and donating it to a sailing charity for children in China.

Five days of intense racing, a total of 142 races– that’s NOT a typo by the way! The 2019 China Cup Challenge Match once again proving why it is one of the most highly-regarded regattas in the Chinese sailing calendar. Lots of smiles on sailor’s faces (winners and losers), which is what it should all be about – roll on next year! Add to Flipboard Magazine.