On a clear Saturday morning in May, the city’s sleekest and most enviable sailboats are docked, as they normally are, at the pontoon of the Aberdeen Marina Club, which today is emptier than normal. It’s only 9am, but Mike Simpson, the founder of yacht sales and charter company Simpson Marine, and his team are already sweating onboard his Beneteau Oceanis 46.1, a large performance cruiser. They are carrying out final checks, readying the sails and polishing the hull in the sweltering heat, which is already a blistering 33C. Freedom, Simpson’s boat, is their “chariot” for the day. A team of seven sailors steers the gleaming vessel from the quiet Sham Wan shelter, past the defunct floating seafood restaurant Jumbo Kingdom that once hosted Queen Elizabeth II and into the rough waters of the East Lamma Channel, where they meet 20 other sailboats gathered to compete in what will be Asia’s first Beneteau Cup.
The Beneteau Cup, a sailing race organised among Beneteau owners, was founded in France in the Nineties and has since expanded around the world, including one of the largest and most prestigious races in the UK, where boats sail from other parts of the UK and Europe to Cowes in the Isle of Wight.
The two-day Hong Kong edition follows the format of the UK Cup, with an island race on the first day and a pursuit race on the second. But it adheres to the rules of a local rating, called Hong Kong Performance Number, a handicap scheme under the Hong Kong Sailing Federation that rewards the best-performing yachts relative to their prior performances. In the island race, boats, separated into divisions, start at the same time and race around a set route to the finish. Jennifer Li, Aberdeen Boat Club’s assistant marine and sailing manager, explains how it works: “The criteria for winning the cup will be based on the boat’s corrected time calculated from its handicap. So, while they may finish first on the water, they might not win the race. They need to do their homework with regards to the racing area, the wind and tide on the day, and make lastminute strategic decisions.”
It’s 11am. In the outer Repulse Bay area, against the backdrop of the rides of Ocean Park, the 21 boats scramble for the best position at the start. Nerves are already jangling. “You have to give way! We have the right of way,” Richard Allen, an ex-marine from Essex and the general manager of Simpson Marine aboard the Freedom, shouts at a sailboat on the port side. Meanwhile, Simpson and Erwin Her, the Asia Pacific sales manager of the Beneteau Brand, also an experienced sailor, struggle to tune in to the right radio channel on a safety device provided by the race organisers. “I’ve never used this new gadget. Is it working?” Simpson keeps checking as an alarm sounds every few moments to indicate the presence of a nearby boat. Suddenly, race officer Alex Johnston’s voice cuts in via the radio, “The course today is number 18. IRC for both A and B.” IRC, the International Rating Certificate, is a rating rule managed by the UK’s Royal Ocean Racing, which handicaps different designs of boats, allowing them to race together.
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