Wednesday, December 13, 2006

24hour Charity Dinghy Race

Close racing

In October, Hebe Haven Yacht Club of Hong Kong hosted its fourth annual 24 hour dinghy race to raise money for charity. It a big event for the club and required coordination from a large number of people as the club borrowed every Laser Stratus in Hong Kong so that as many teams as possible could compete. In this event, teams get together to keep a dinghy sailing for 24 hours nonstop and just about everyone we knew in Hong Kong was competing. Each team is sponsored for their efforts to raise funds for charity. Teams on mostly a Laser Stratus, but sometimes a Laser 2000 or a single sailor on a Laser or a Topaz, coordinated efforts to keep their boats weaving their way around the square course amongst moored boats for the duration of the race and to try to fit as many laps as possible into the 24 hours. The Laser Stratus, the most common team boat is a 2 or 3 person centerboard open cockpit day sailor with an asymmetrical spinnaker (which was not rigged for this race). In all there were 27 teams with boats sailing the half a mile course throughout the night, including a team from Shanghai.

Mark Rounding

At 3pm the teams started in 5 knots of breeze with great fanfare to cheering crowds perched along the pontoon, where there was a great view of the action. The competition was fierce as teams competed to pass other teams and fit in as many laps as they could. The course was filled with boats and it was great fun to watch as the teams came past the pontoon after each lap. The lap counting crew had a tough task tracking all the boats as they went by and ensuring that all laps were counted for each team. With a bevy of computers, volunteers and coffee they kept it up through the night as dinghies sailed around and around.

A kid’s jump house, new release movies, and a broad range of vendor merchandise created a carnival-like atmosphere throughout the daytime periods on both Saturday and Sunday. The sound system broadcast moldy oldies and current danceables designed to please a wide ranging crowd along with a steady commentary of team rankings, jokes and tall tales to keep everyone entertained late into the evening. The beer tent was popular throughout the event and the atmosphere was festive; Sponsors Krispy Kreme Donuts (who just opened their first locations in Hong Kong) and a local pizza chain did a steady business; And the coffee kept everyone going through the wee hours.

Crews changed at regular intervals, standing at the ready, encouraging their teammates and plotting how to best make a swift changeover. As a boat came into the pontoon, the relief crew would be waiting and begin running along the dock as it edged into the red carpeted area. One team member would steady the boom as the sailing crewmembers jumped off the boat and the relief crew stepped on. Together they’d give the boat a running push and quickly exchange valuable information about the wind strength and shifts along various parts of the course. Some teams had as many as 70 members sharing the load of sailing through the night with 2 or 3 crew on the Stratus at a time. The kids loved the freedom of going out sailing in the middle of the night without any adults on board, sometimes packing 4 or 5 into a tiny cockpit to enjoy a few laps in the company of their friends. We had 7 teams of school kids racing and they were pretty keen participants. At all times we had 4 rescue boats out on the course keeping track of the competitors and standing by to lend a hand as needed. Due to a bit of confusion, our team was in desperate need of sailors and we were basically on call throughout the night to fill in as needed. Many of our crew sailed for long stretches so that others could grab some sleep on mattresses in the back of a truck that our team leader had rented and parked in the carpark.

The Magicians

As dusk fell, battery powered LED running lights cleverly rigged with Velcro became visible on the boats, along with necklaces of battery powered red LED lights strung around each buoy, so they could easily be spotted in the darkness. After 4 hours of steady wind, the breeze started to die and laps that once took 15 minutes gradually lengthened to 45 minutes and then an hour or longer. In the dead of night the wind died almost completely and there were often times when figuring out how to get the boat pointed in the right direction became a challenge. Patches of wind occasionally swept through the course and those that were lucky enough to be close by and make the best use of it were able to make up laps on their competitors. In the light winds we could often hear competitors discussing tactics or arguing about what could be done to get the boat moving faster. Listening to the kids was hilarious sometimes. And they always demanded to know who was passing them in the darkness. Garth was lucky enough to sail during a period of good wind at about 7pm and picked up a number of laps on other teams. But by 9pm when Wendy drove, the breeze was dying. After a couple of laps with decent conditions, when we picked off a few boats and made good headway, it became a struggle to keep the boat moving. Everyone was parked. Then they shut the music off. At the last mark, just short of the pontoon where a relief team was waiting the wind died completely and the time it took to get to the pontoon turned into the longest, most frustrating 15 minute periods I can remember. I had a bad case of barn fever and the steam was coming out of my ears! My team was smart enough to have a beer waiting when I stepped off the boat and waited to slot me in for another go until I’d consumed most of it. By then it was midnight and we had 3 hours to sleep before we were scheduled to sail again. In the dead of night there was still a bit of activity, though much more sparse as non-sailing team mates quietly disappeared to grab a little shut eye. It was neat to row back to our boat amidst the fleet of running lights. After a short sleep, we were at it again until 6:30am, sailing together this time. With coffee, beer and Krispy Kreme donuts and lots of friends around, we kept going.

By 9am, the scene burst into life again, with music and commentating, the bounce house and trade stalls resuming. Of course the beer tent continued its steady business and sales began to pick up as the sleepy reappeared. Robin Hood and Maid Marion in full costume held up the fortunate to give to the less fortunate, raising about $1,500 on their own as they wandered through the crowds. An adorable dog, named Grommet, was sponsored for about $400.

Robinhood and Maid Marion

And all the while, the dinghies were still sailing and we were trying to keep our boat outfitted with crew and our sleepy team going. Garth sailed again at 10:30 for an hour and a half until he was called in to race the 0.1 Ton Cup in Optimist dinghies. There is only one rule for the 0.1 Ton Cup and that is that the contestants must weigh over 100 kilos, but in all actuality, there really are no rules. Anything goes. The race started with downing or wearing an entire beer before jumping into the Opti. Garth did quite well sailing the Opti and rounding the first mark, but this was not a sailing race. Then competitors started sinking one another and pulling each other’s rigs down and all hell broke loose. Some were swimming and boats became optional. It was dog eat dog and at the end of the day, the prize was awarded to the cutest of the 2 dogs that competed. Grommet, everyone’s favorite mascot, who we’ve raced with on the Magic 25, took home the trophy for the second year in a row. Immediately following the 0.1 ton cup, school teams raced rafts with everyone cheering them on.

Kids raft race

And on the racecourse, the dinghies sailed on as the breeze filled in, enabling the sailors and spectators to really enjoy the exciting final laps of the race. As 3pm approached and the race drew to a close, team mates encouraged their team sailors to fit in as many laps as they could before the finish gun. Wendy hopped on a safety boat to help coordinate the finish. At the finish gun, all boats past the start line were allowed to complete their lap.

The prize

The winning team did 76 laps followed by 2 teams tied with 74 laps. Our team completed 71 laps. In total, the dinghies collectively sailed 1,027 nautical miles and raised more than $100,000USD for local charities. The event concluded with a dinner and a dance band and everyone had a great time.