BY Enrico Zanella on 7 Feb 2023

MoHan skipper Enrico Zanella recounts the challenging 2023 Hong Kong Solaris Four Peaks Race, a dream come true for inclusive sailing

At 12.44 pm on Sunday, February 5, 2023, we crossed the finish line!

It was tough, even in the first bay, Ma On Shan, where our runners needed to kayak for over 3km before tackling the 6+ km climb to the first peak. We experienced waves of several metres in the stern for about twenty miles south of Lamma Island, with cold and drizzle for a few hours.

And here is our story!

The team were absolutely fantastic – I had never sailed with them before this race. I let Ar Tai, skipper of MoHan, who was unable to participate in the regatta, and Fred, a Sailability Volunteer that I promoted to co-skipper at the regatta, organise everything and the training for this race, while I supervised everything. 

In addition to being the co-skipper and therefore an active sailor on board, Fred is a very strong runner and therefore he also ran the two toughest peaks. Our helmsman, Wai, is very good upwind; Sylvia was on the jib, PUK on the mainsail, and Ok was our multi-role with sheets and winches.

They didn’t let go of trimming the sails for a minute.

John and Fung, the runners, had to struggle as counterweights in very important and difficult stages. Sunny Boy and CK had the role of “while you’re there”, one of the key roles because it helps everyone. David assisted Fred in managing the boat’s manoeuvres. Kay was our fantastic steward, and she delighted us with various delicacies she had personally prepared.

Sailability Hong Kong’s MoHan competing in the 2023 Four Peaks Race, Hong Kong

At 10:50, we started upwind into Tai Tam Bay in two groups: 4 IRC boats started at 10.45 and 7 boats (one boat retired due to damage) HKPN Div A and B together. We set sail with the (smaller) reefed mainsail in 15 knots of wind waiting to get out of the bay to see what the situation was like. Over 20 knots were forecast, but it was 15-18 knots, and therefore we decided to fully open the mainsail as we passed the imaginary line between the Kau Pei Chau rocks and Sung Kong Island.

“In the first bay, Port Shelter, most of the teams launched their runners aboard kayaks more than two kilometres from shore, due to the total lack of wind. Normally, it would have been 50 or 100 metres”

We sailed upwind to the TCS2 buoy and then further up, passing Steep Island, west of the Trio Islands, Ping Min Chau rock, Shelter Island, up to Port Shelter to land at Tui Hoi Tsuen for the first mountain, the tough Ma On Shan Peak.

In the first bay, Port Shelter, most of the teams launched their runners aboard kayaks more than two kilometres from shore, due to the total lack of wind. Normally, it would have been 50 or 100 metres.

Fred and CK ran 12.75km, climbing and descending the 650m Ma On Shan Peak in two hours and 38 minutes round trip, including kayaking. We remained floating in almost no wind for over an hour. Then, a line of wind arrived in the distance.

Taking advantage of the current, we brought ourselves within this line and waited for our heroes to reach us after more than three kilometres of kayaking. Finally, we were able to set off again in the late afternoon with more than 17 knots of wind downwind towards our second destination, Repulse Bay, to climb Violet Peak.

On the outward stretch, all upwind from Port Shelter, I underestimated the current from the east and we were trapped near Trio Island by 1.8 knots of current which made us suffer a lot to reach and pass east of Ninepin Island East.

At that point, we entered the wind line in a broad reach. We all got back to enjoying MoHan‘s journey, having worked a lot on the setting, before arriving in Repulse Bay late at night.

Despite the (very strong) temptation to open the gennaker, I decided to live up to our stated intention of finishing the regatta in absolute safety and with the aim of learning to compete together, in an inclusive way. So, we kept our foot away from the accelerator and went downwind on the mainsail and jib.

In Repulse Bay, there were continuous gusts up to 13 knots and we decided to drop anchor a couple of hundred metres from shore for the race to Violet Peak. David and Fung, our runner with a lower leg amputation who runs with a prosthetic, paddled to the start point where our heroes ran the 5.5km to climb and descend the 405m Violet Peak in one hour and 56 minutes round trip, including the kayaking.

We remained at anchor with the mainsail hoisted, checking it when gusts arrived amid long periods of almost absolute calm. Upon the runner’s return at around 1 am, we set sail with gusts up to 13 knots, we began the long navigation towards Lantau for the third peak.

The crew of MoHan during a well-deserved rest

Just past Round Island, we encountered 17-knot winds with gusts reaching 25 knots along the south coast of Lamma Island. For a few miles, the waves were more than a few metres high.

“We screamed, rejoiced, messed around and hugged each other, super happy and proud to have fulfilled our dream: an inclusive Sailability Team participating in a challenge, only dreamed of before.”

We arrived in Cheung Sha Wan Bay around 12.30 am at night after a furious but extremely enjoyable ride that required the full attention of all involved. We lowered the sails and sat at anchor waiting for Fred and CK to kayak the two kilometres round trip and the 10.5km to climb and descend the 995m summit of Lantau Peak in two hours and 20 minutes total round trip.

We set sail again at dawn with overcast skies and about ten knots of wind on the beam to Shek Kwu Chao Island and then upwind with a maximum of 15 knots of wind, high waves and contrary current up to Ha Mei Wan Bay on Lamma Island.

The landing place was Lo So Shing Beach. We suffered a lot at the edge and inside the bay from constant wind shifts, up to almost 180 degrees, which required a lot of effort from Sylvia, PUK, Ok and Wai.

Finally, we arrived near the beach and our heroes, John, who has a hearing impairment, and Sunny Boy, paddled the 200 metres to the beach, together with CK who brought the kayak back on board. We then set sail to the rendezvous point on the other side of Lamma Island at Mo Tat Wan.

There were variable winds (mainly downwind) until the exit of Ha Mei Wan Bay and then we sailed against the current upwind with over 16 knots and gusts over 20. We reached the meeting point on a downwind and stayed with the mainsail up waiting for CK to paddle to the wharf where John and Sunny Boy embarked.

It took John and Sunny Boy exactly two hours to ascend and descend the 6km route to the top and over Mt. Stenhouse, a 390m peak.

At 11:50, we set sail to the southeast to pass Chesterman Gate and then turned northeast towards the finish line near Round Island, between there and the Aberdeen Boat Club Committee Boat.

Thanks also to the Volunteers who gave assistance and carried out checks on land, on shore, along the route, at the summit and an orange buoy placed to the west of the boat itself. At 12.44 pm on February 5, we heard the horn, the signal that the race was over for us.

We screamed, rejoiced, messed around and hugged each other, super happy and proud to have fulfilled our dream: an inclusive Sailability Team participating in a challenge, only dreamed of before.

We sailed for 18 hours and 24 minutes, and ran the mountains climbing a total of 2,440 metres for a total of 7 hours and 38 minutes, including the kayaking. Thanks to our yacht, MoHan and her comforts, we were all well, constantly happy and protected. (Ed’s note: the final results of the race are due February 10).

I would like to thank Mike, Silvio and Marco, who we took with us, with the dedication to them at the top of MoHan‘s mast. Thanks to the Commodore of the Aberdeen Boat Club and his highly trained and very helpful team. Thanks to all the participants who we will invite from now until the next race in 2024. My thanks to all the volunteers who made this wonderful and challenging event possible.

My thanks to Kay who founded Sailability Hong Kong with her late husband Mike, who pampered us with food, drink and pleasant chats during these unforgettable hours. Thanks to Sailability Hong Kong and her Soul for making this possible. Thanks to the Li Ka Shing Foundation and the Hong Kong Solarista Club for making the dreams of a large number of people with disability and other life challenges in Hong Kong come true. Thanks to Solaris Yachts for having designed and built MoHan, making two constructive modifications to adapt a production model, the Solaris 40. And finally, thanks to you too for reading this report of our adventure.

What more can I say?

For more Yachting news click here