Finding myself in Hong Kong last Saturday I was lucky enough to asked on-board Impala 1 for a quick jaunt around the buoys. Skipper Burrell had other views on our progress – slow – being the only printable word.
Anyway from the totally biased view from Impala 1’s cockpit I can report on the racing. If you are looking for objective, unbiased reporting, try elsewhere.
The weather was dry, bright sun, about 22 degrees, 6 – 8 knots of wind, shorts and knobbly knees on show.
I had planned to get action shots of all 13 Impalas making a perfect class start. Alas this was not to be as the mainsheet was thrust into my hands. I soon found out why. The Harken blocks let you haul the main in very easily, but un-cleating when the wind gets up is something else altogether. After a detailed inspection of the mid-ships section of the committee boat, I finally managed to dump the main, we were able to get away and follow the fleet across the line.
The next two laps were pretty much the same, everytime we made up a bit of ground and put in a killer tack, someone crossed just in front of us and tacked a boat length ahead and two boat lengths to windwards. Two laps of this had us in a secure 9th place out of ten boats.
Our cunning plan to keep out of the tide by going right failed when we overstood the first mark by a country mile. Gnu made it first with a handy lead over the pack. We made ground downwind as there was some horsing around between the boats in front having a go at each other on starboard gybe vs port etc. From our position at the rear we could hear pleasantries and navigational advice being exchanged. Back on the wind we put plan B into action, which involved going up the left side, next to the old runway where the new liner terminal is under construction. The plan is get into the mythical reverse eddy for part of the leg, then run into the massive header, allowing us to flip over to port and cross the fleet. Well I can report that the eddy is indeed mythical, and wind lifted us right, which of course shortened the distance for the rest of the fleet to the mark.
We did however miss Kende’s Rock. This very small, very pointy rock lurks a few feet below the surface about three quarters of the way along the old runway, and only really became a problem when the airport closed and we were allowed to sail into what was formerly the exclusion zone. Prior to that no one would admit having sailed that close. Of course Kende (a longtime Impala 1 crew ) found the rock when the airport was still operating.
We then got lifted past the end of the runway and passed a good two feet away from the large rubber bumpers on the corner (remember the rest of the fleet was lifting inside us to the mark) , still we pressed on in hope of finding the header. Our progress was impeded by yet another rock – a gentle hint to our skipper that a tack would be a good idea was met with “I’ve sailed over this many times – there’s plenty of water”, fortunately another crew backed me up with “ the rock is out of the water”, this elicited a little more response from the skipper – “***** tack”.
We headed gamely towards the windward mark on port, hoping that some catastrophe might have befallen the rest of the fleet, only to see Gnu had increased their lead, with Boss Hogg and Moll also pulling away from the pack. There was possibly one boat behind us at this stage.
There were some more shenanigans on the downwind leg allowing us to make a little ground and as we got to the mark we had to take avoiding action for a couple of boats that had mysteriously stopped in front of us. That was good.
Those not familiar with Hong Kong Harbour might not know that apart for the rocks etc already mentioned there is a plethora of stationary and moving obstructions. The course from the leeward mark to the finish was past about four large liners moored to buoys and the line itself was not too far from the immigration waiting zone. These liners are floating casinos that pick up customers in HK, then sail into international waters for half a day, where the regulators and tax man does not venture. Suits both the operators and their customers. So there is a lot of coming and going.
We decided to execute plan B2, which was basically plan B but no rock hopping as the layline was not that far across.
The rest of the fleet decided to go right and pass to windward of the liners, so we lost sight of them. By now the flood tide was living up to its billing and there was a decent knot of current against us. Nothing for those who sail in the Solent, but plenty enough on a one mile beat to make a big difference. Our course kept us out of the worst of it and when the rest of the fleet hove back in view, we were in front of some and very close to the others.
At this moment a 200 foot long self propelled barge of the unpainted, very, very rusty type, crossed through the finish line, just missing the committee boat and the ODM, barely cleared the line and then dropped anchor, creating an obstruction and wind shadow in less time than it took to type this.
Spotting this, Impala 1’s tactical team demonstrated their lightning fast analysis of any situation and immediately tacked well short of the layline. Various of the fleet crossed on starboard with lots of shouting to emphasise and rub in that they were in front, charging like innocents into the area where Impala 1 feared to tread. As we came up on the new layline with the ODM to port we flipped over and swanned over to the finish line, now on starboard ourselves, giving Moll, in third, a fright and pipping Rainbow Chaser to fourth place on the line.
Patrick then displayed his lightning fast reflexes, developed over 40 years of intensive training and had the beers on deck just as we cleared the line.
The usual in-depth post race tactical analysis followed.


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