BY Anna Cummins on 20 Mar 2023

The 565-nautical mile race departs on April 5 from Hong Kong

Rolex/Daniel Forster

Race start. All images: Rolex/Daniel Forster

The Rolex China Sea Race returns on 5 April 2023 in Hong Kong’s Victoria Harbour, taking competitors 565 nautical miles (1,046 kilometres) across the South China Sea to Subic Bay in the Philippines.

First held in 1962, this year marks the 61st anniversary of this offshore classic, the oldest blue water race in Asia; and after five years of absence, the Rolex China Sea Race returns to celebrate its 30th edition.

READ: Father and son duo prepare to take on Rolex China Sea Race 2023

While the majority of the fleet are Asian-based, sailors from around the world have been drawn to participate by the race’s elevated standing as well as the stringent examination of skill and endeavour it presents.

“We are honoured that this Asian blue-water classic is part of Rolex’s distinguished portfolio of international offshore races,” says Lucy Sutro, the RHKYC Commodore. “After five years of absence, we are delighted to see both local and international entries coming back to this iconic race.

“For several decades, Rolex has cultivated close associations with the best-known yacht clubs and organisers of major events in the world of sailing. We are proud that this race was the first Asian sailing event sponsored by Rolex. With their support, the race continues to arouse attention within the international yachting fraternity.”

Rolex/Daniel Forster

The race is organised by RHKYC

The Rolex China Sea Race and its organisers the Royal Hong Kong Yacht Club (RHKYC), one of the oldest and most prestigious clubs in Hong Kong, have been supported by Rolex since 2008, when Rolex became the title sponsor of this biennial race. The Category 1 Offshore Race is run under the auspices of Royal Ocean Racing Club (RORC).

Over the years, overall winning yachts have represented Hong Kong, The Philippines, Singapore, Japan as well as Australia, the United Kingdom and France. There are two main prizes at the Rolex China Sea Race. The most coveted accolade is the Rolex China Sea Race Trophy for the overall winner under IRC time correction (handicap). The first boat to cross the finish line on real time (Line Honours) receives the Sunday Telegraph Trophy. A Rolex timepiece will be awarded to the first boat under IRC Overall handicap and first Monohull Line Honours.

The multihull race record of 38 hours, 30 minutes, 7 seconds was set in 2018 by Karl Kwok’s trimaran MOD Beau Geste. The monohull race record 47 hours, 31 minutes, 8 seconds was set two years earlier by Philip Turner and Duncan Hine’s Alive. Alive would later go on to win the Rolex Sydney to Hobart Yacht Race in 2018.

Rolex/Daniel Forster

Rolex China Sea Race start

One of the most significant moments is the start from Victoria Harbour, set against the backdrop of one of the world’s most famous skylines; competing yachts navigate through both traditional and modern sea traffic before embarking on the long passage through the South China Sea to Subic Bay. This open-water segment frequently presents tough conditions with punishing seas and fierce winds.

By contrast, the final approach to the Philippines is more often sailed in light winds, demanding a different set of skills and considerable patience. Yachts are met with the infamous ‘Luzon hole’, often causing the fleet to compress and effectively restart as they near the coast of the Philippines.

Rolex/Daniel Forster

Alive at the race finish

The net result is that many boats have a chance of lifting the Rolex China Sea Race Trophy under IRC – it all depends on how they play their approach to the Philippines.

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