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Cancellations (various), The Living Dead, SailGB (yes, you read that right).

by Guy Nowell 4 Mar 2020 15:50 UTC
BuyAssociation HKRNVR Pursuit Race 2020 presented by RHKYC © RHKYC / Guy Nowell

This weekend’s IRC National Championships in Hong Kong cancelled – well, just one race in a series - but NOT on account of Covid-19. The IRC Nationals was to have been two geometric races in Port Shelter followed by a 50nm short offshore starting late afternoon or early evening this coming Saturday 7 March. All and any races in Hong Kong are subject to issuance of a race permit from the Marine Dept, and this has been refused, citing “safety reasons”. They just don’t want anyone sailing around unlit islands at night or going anywhere near shipping lanes.

To be quite honest, this is pretty feeble. I have raced in Hong Kong waters at night on many occasions, including the short offshores that we used to do just before the China Sea and San Fernando Races. Pedro Blanco and back. Around the Lemas and back to a finish in home waters. I have sailed into Hong Kong waters at night many times when returning from the Philippines.

Now, there are a number of ways of circumventing governmental timidity and spinelessness. First, deny all knowledge of racing and call it a rally – just like the Hong Kong to Vietnam Race which started off badged as a “rally” but still had a finish boat and a stopwatch waiting at the other end, and still awarded prizes. Alternatively, never use the words “night” or “overnight” in the NOR or SI. Say the start is going to be at 1000h, fly an AP on shore until 1800, then take it down and start at 1900. Problem solved.

Losing events to the vagaries of government nimbys or the overstated dangers of “lethal” viruses is becoming endemic round here. Pity the organisers of sporting events that have been postponed by the advent of Covid-19, the dreaded lurgy from Wuhan, otherwise known as the WuFlu.

The problem is twofold: if you are trying to reschedule an event such as Hong Kong Race Week, you have no idea of the re-start date for normality – ie the first date you can consider for your postponed event. The Hong Kong Sevens have been moved to October, but what if we are still in the grip of mask mania then?

Second, you’ll now be facing a packed calendar that gets increasingly congested with each passing day as everyone else tries to find new dates for their postponed events.

Third, if your event has an international component, the intended visitors may have made their travel arrangements and accommodation booking a long time ago, and other - prior – arrangements at home just don’t allow for rescheduling.

So far, sailors in Hong Kong have lost Hong Kong Race Week (the biggest dinghy regatta in Asia), the Rolex China Sea Race, and the Interschools Sailing Festival. Strictly in-house events such as the RHKYC’s Top Dog Series of pursuit races, the HHYC Monsoon Series and the ABC Waglan Series remain unaffected. Ironically, the RHKYC has increased its number of course hours at their Middle Island dinghy centre to accommodate demand – Hong Kong’s schools have all been closed since Chinese New Year, and there are a lot of young people going stir crazy in apartments. What better than to get out in the fresh air, eh? Schools cannot participate in events such as the Interschools Sailing Festival because (1) schools are closed and (2) all events are “off”. However, schools can advise parents to contact the sailing clubs directly for information on courses. Yes, it’s bizarre.

The business side of boating is taking a battering as well. The latest casualty is the Dubai Yacht Show, and at just one week’s notice! Other boat and yacht shows that have rolled over for the time being – Hong Kong, Singapore, Japan, Korea, Taiwan.

Hong Kong has been turned into something out of The Living Dead. Just a month ago there were 20+ big white luxury motor yachts parked in the bay in front of my house for the weekend. Last Saturday/Sunday there were four. Traffic on the roads is massively reduced (not necessarily a bad thing), and it’s really easy to get a seat in a cinema as long as you take along a mask in your pocket. Singapore seems to have got a grip, but other parts of the world are preparing for a full-scale panic attack. Hand sanitiser, pasta, and toilet paper are all disappearing off the shelves in Australia, and people are starting to demand to work from home in the UK. Germany’s Interior Minister has refused to shake hands with Chancellor Merkel (probably a good idea on more than one count) and Italy is reverting to being a collection of city-states as one big centre after the other “isolates” itself.

Next likely target on the cancellation list? The Olympics. Former International Olympic Committee Vice President Dick Pound has said that If it is deemed unsafe for Tokyo to host the Olympics during the planned dates 24 July – 09 August, the only option would be to cancel the event. “You just don’t postpone something the size and scale of the Olympic," he is quoted as saying. "There are so many moving parts, so many countries and different seasons, and competitive seasons, and television seasons. You can’t just say, we’ll do it in October.”

Remember Asia Pacific Boating? The oldest boating magazine in Asia? 40+ years old? Folded up at the end of last year? Well, it’s back. It is still owned by Singapore Press Holdings (SPH) but now has a new management team operating it under licence. In the current economic climate we wish them luck. Luxury magazines live off the full-page and double-page glossy ads, not on subscriptions of newsstand sales, but money is undeniably tight at the moment. We still think that if you are a boating business entity then the most cost-effective way to reach the maximum number of people is online. Call me on +852 9680 7062 or email asiaeditor@sail-world.com

Last weekend saw the opening regatta of the 2020 SailGP season, in Sydney. “The fastest racing sailboats on the planet” and all that. If you were standing on Shark Island in the middle of Port Jackson, it was probably a case of “blink and you’ll miss it” as one or more of the F50 cats went humming past. If the commentator reminded us that Ben Ainslie was the “most-decorated Olympic sailor on the water, ever” once, then he did it a hundred times. I am a Brit, so I was quite happy to watch Aisle hand out a comprehensive thumping to all and sundry, but it was probably pretty tedious for everyone else. You can’t tell if the boats are going upwind or downwind, you can’t see any tactics or strategy in play (apart from “go as fast as possible”), and it’s all over before it starts. And speaking of starts – yes, that’s the good bit.

All this proves to me that speed is not the essence of racing, and reminds me that watching replays of 12s in Fremantle or the IACCs in Valencia is a great deal more interesting. Match racing is chess on water, but match racing F50s, at least on this occasion, was pants. “C’est magnifique, mais ce n’est pas la guerre, c’est de folie” as Gen Bosquet observed. Show down? What show down? The two top scorers from the fleet racing, Ainslie (GBR) and Slingsby (AUS) faced off for the last race of the regatta. Slingsby was a ½ second early coming into the box and copped a penalty; Ainslie just waved goodbye, and kept going. You would have, too. There was not one moment of tactical interaction between the two boats. Gawd knows what those monohulls with the alien antenna waving arms are going to be like in a match race. They’ll probably get tangled up in the pre-start.

Standing by on 72.

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