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China Cup Int’l Regatta - ETNZ wins shifty Passage Race
Emirates Team New Zealand© China Cup / Studio Borlenghi

China Cup Int’l Regatta

Emirates Team New Zealand (ETNZ) confirmed its status as one of the favourites for victory at the ninth edition of the China Cup International Regatta after winning the opening day of this four-day event, the 30-mile Hong Kong to Shenzhen Passage Race. After a shaky start, world top-ten ranked match racer Chris Steele managed to steer the Kiwis through to the front of the 25-boat one-design Beneteau 40.7 fleet after making the most of a big wind shift to the right, sailing around the early leaders.

Coincidentally, the next two finishers in the Beneteau 40.7 were also being helmed by two other highly accomplished match racers from New Zealand, respectively in second and third, Adam Minoprio and Phil Robertson. This is Minoprio’s first outing at the China Cup, which with 111 entries across nine racing divisions, has become established as one of the pre-eminent and most competitive regattas in Asia. “My first time here at the China Cup, and first time steering a 40.7,” said Minoprio, pleased to have steered Steve McConaghy’s Wanhang Longcheer to second place today – although disappointed to have let slip an early lead.

“We got the start we wanted and went left, and were leading for a while,” said the former World Match Racing World Champion and Volvo Ocean Race helmsman. “Emirates [Team New Zealand] were over the start line, had to go round the boat end and had to tack off to the right. We thought we were OK going left, thought it was suicide for them to the right, but it came good for them when the wind shifted.”

The breeze did indeed shift, about 40 degrees to the right according to Frank Pong, owner/driver of fastest boat in the fleet, the 75ft Reichel/Pugh racing sled, Jelik III. This was sufficient to shake up the pecking order in the 40.7 fleet with ETNZ seizing the lead and holding on for victory. Wanhang did well to recover from sixth place to get back up to second after sailing further out to sea and making amends for missing the early part of the shift. Phil Robertson steered Cheung Kong Sailing Club to third across the finish, helped by strong professional sailors such as Jono Rankine and America’s Cup sailor Ed Smyth.

However Smyth believes it will be hard for the team to hold on to a podium place in such a challenging fleet this week. “Cheung Kong Sailing Club is made up of some very successful businessmen and women and entrepreneurs who have little experience of sailing,” said the Kiwi professional. “We are rotating different people in the middle of the boat each day, and they are good learners, but this is a tough environment to learn new skills. We’re certainly pleased how well it went today, but it will be hard to keep up that performance.” Breathing down their necks in fourth and fifth place are hot teams from France and the USA.

Winners in other divisions included Tiffany Koo’s Hero Racing Team at the head of IRC A, Nick Southward’s Whiskey Jack, the defending champion in IRC B, and another perennial performer in IRC C, Shawn Kang’s Beneteau 50, Lighthorse, which is always hard to beat at this regatta. Tiger Zeng’s TT dominated HKPN Division A, and Joseph Wong’s Hail Beaver won HKPN B.

Principal race officer Simon James is looking to keep things interesting with a variety of course formats for the three days of inshore racing. This evening the international teams gathered the Sheraton Hotel Dameisha for a lavish and spectacular opening ceremony, before getting a good night’s sleep in preparation for some close competition on the waters of Daya Bay.

by Andy Rice

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