With three months to go to the 10th edition of the biennial Rolex Commodores’ Cup the international fleet has every prospect of being one of the more exotic in recent events. A noteworthy success in these straightened times. The headline foreign contingent is perhaps South Africa, participating at the regatta for the first time. Hong Kong has confirmed it will be back following its happy venture in 2008. Thereafter, the northern European teams – Ireland, France and the United Kingdom – that are the traditional backbone of the event – will be present in numbers. Organisers, the Royal Ocean Racing Club, anticipate a total of 12 teams. Racing is from 15 to 21 August, with close of entry on 12 July.
The Rolex Commodores’ Cup is a weeklong series mixing inshore racing on the waters in and around The Solent, the body of water separating the Isle of Wight from the mainland United Kingdom, with an offshore course that takes the fleet out into The English Channel and a course round the Isle of Wight. All of the racing is typified by one thing. Comprehensive knowledge of the tides and currents affecting these areas is essential. Furthermore, it has been proved time and again that is not just the team with the best boats or the best sailors that wins. It the team that is the best prepared in all aspects.
Take the Hong Kong team, led by Jamie McWilliam. Having finished fifth overall in 2008, surprising many of the more seasoned campaigners in the process, McWilliam and his teammates were resolute in their determination to return. Not just to participate, mind you, but to have a crack at winning. “In 2008 we arrived with a crew that had trained hard but which had never seen the boats before the regatta, as they were either charters or brand new. This meant that we spent quite a bit of important time just before the event working on the boats instead of working on our speed, and as a result we were still learning about the boats during the series. Our team this time was determined to avoid that mistake,” comments McWilliam, explaining that this time, “all the boats are owned by Hong Kong owners and we therefore have much more time [to prepare]. Our full team will be at the UK IRC Nationals in late June and we are scheduling other weekends over the summer for the boats to have new sail trials.”
It is a tall order to travel almost halfway around the world to participate in a three-boat team event. The three yachts needed to compete range in size, roughly, between 35 and 45 feet. There are crews to be identified, accommodation and travel to be arranged. McWilliam is clear that it is worth the effort, “it’s always exciting going to an event where you think you have a chance to win but where you know you’re going to have to really perform to achieve that. It provides a great combination of expectation, anticipation, and nerves. Combined with the knowledge that we are representing the small sailing community in Hong Kong, it’s a really exciting deal.”
The Hong Kong team is made up of Rockall III, a Corby 36 owned by Chris Opielok, in the small boat slot. Opie, as he is known, is a Hong Kong sailing legend, having won two Admiral’s Cups for his native Germany. Rockall III is the former Rosie, which has a dominant history in UK & Irish IRC racing. The middle boat is Blondie IV, a Mills (King) 40 chartered by Anthony Day from Helmuth Hennig, both very well known Hong Kong racers. Blondie was 2nd in class in Rolex Commodores’ Cup 2008 and has an exceptional track record under her former owner. The big boat is Mandrake, Nick Burns’ Mills 40.5, formerly Ngoni and Tiamat. As Tiamat, she had an outstanding Rolex Commodores’ Cup in 2006.
McWilliam acknowledges the difficulties involved for foreign teams, particularly getting the right boats in the right condition to the venue when they are located more than a delivery trip away. He clearly believes more countries should look more seriously at the possibilities, “I would definitely encourage other teams to participate. The Solent puts unique and intense pressure on crews and seemingly trivial moments turn out to be really critical, like a down tide bottom mark rounding where you’ve got to be perfect in order to hold your lane to get out of the current. I also believe that the best team here has always won the event, and that’s the best recommendation I know for a regatta.”
The Hong Kong team is looking forward to renewing rivalries with some of the teams it competed against in 2008. They are not here to make up the numbers, “we really enjoyed the event in 2008 and feel that the event is a good match for the type of sailing we do in Hong Kong, and therefore represents a great opportunity for Hong Kong to compete against peers and find out where we rank. We were happy with our 5th position in 2008 but saw it very much as an initial effort and unfinished business.”
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