Meeting Jun, James, Snow and Yang at the airport, we had no idea what was in store for us in Qingdao. James had organised the accommodation (which, I wont lie, I was seriously worried about), the boat hire, the transport, everything! We were just along for the ride and were hoping we wouldn’t totally bomb out.
Arriving in Qingdao, it was blanket overcast and no wind present at all, as we stepped out of the airport terminal. Driving from the airport to the Olympic Sailing Centre was bleak, full of mass construction and so many industrial sectors. The hotel James had booked us didn’t have our rooms ready (prolonging the anxiety for me…) so we dumped our bags at reception and went to register for the regatta.
There were people everywhere. Most of them all dressed up in their full sailing kits. Some with crew uniforms on, one crew with masks. One womens’ crew all in matching fluro tie-dyed windbreakers, neck scarves and caps. Everyone was there for the same reason: to see what boat they would be allocated, to register their crew for the regatta and to pay the money honey. There was a ¥7,000 deposit required for the boat hire, and it was payable in cash. There was cash everywhere. Wads of it being handed over for deposits, fees and other items payable. I had to remind myself not to stare and gape at all this cash that everyone was pulling from their bags, wallets and pockets. We definitely felt like the poor cousins in our toe shoes and kind of hippie clothes. Thank goodness we had our Med Sailing Holidays gear on to give us some semblance of respectability and authenticity! Everyone else seemed to be fully kitted out in Musto, Gaastra or Hally Hansen, and I spotted some jackets that I totally coveted. Groups of people were taking photo’s in front of the promotional board for the regatta and shouting things we didn’t understand. Turns out it was the other crews having promotional shots taken, and the shouting was their regatta motto or something in Chinese. Come our turn, we had no idea what was going on and just went along with whatever the guys told us to do/say! It was a very overwhelming introduction to CCOR 2016!
We were allocated our boat, and headed down to the marina to check her out and do an inventory of what we had on board and what bits we needed to fix/get fixed. We gave her a good wash down. It looked like she had been stored in the back corner of an old antique shop, she was so filthy! Nick started going over the boat and contents with a fine tooth comb, which seemed to amuse/bemuse our Chinese crew mates. Poor Jun was stuck being head translator, between Nick and the event staff! A halyard fix and a few extra little fixes here and there later, we were able to motor out of the marina and go for our very first sail as a crew. Which was interesting to say the least. With only Jun and James on board who spoke both Chinese AND English, Nick and I had to learn a few Chinese phrases, while Yang and Snow learned a few English phrases, and we all began to learn each others’ cues and body language. It was a great blat for our first run. Even though we were short on time, we made a lot of headway gelling as a team in only an hour or so.
When we finally got into our hotel room, I was pleasantly surprised. There were two single beds that were hard as hell (hahaha well it IS China after all!), but the room was tidy, with no terrible permeating smells and the bathroom was relatively clean. With a good stock of condoms sitting beside the vanity available to use at a price!
Our first race day, we were up early and raring to go. James had filmed our sail the night before and we had watched it together, talking about how we could tweak small things to improve our performance bit by bit. It was really cool to see how enthusiastic these guys were to learn. And then an early morning sail meant that we were all able to put those tweaks into action! We practiced tacking, gybing and really worked out what our individual positions required of each of us. We could all see some real cohesion beginning to happen and it felt good!!!
The races themselves weren’t as ready to go as were were. We milled around out on the water with all the other boats for the morning, as races were postponed until well after lunch. Thank goodness we had plenty of food on board for a leisurely lunch! As the afternoon approached, the sea breeze began to pick up and the AP flag went down. The crew all got their game faces on, excited for our first race together. We managed to squeeze in two races and the looks on the guys faces as we sailed over the finish line were priceless. They were amped and stoked at how the sailing had gone overall. Our first start was awesome (well done Blondie!) and a great way to introduce the crew to Nick’s helming tactics. Around the first mark of the first race we were coming third, and that was a pretty big buzz that carried the guys through the rest of the day.
The rest of the regatta passed by rather quickly, despite the lack of winds in the mornings and early afternoons! The crew looked after us so well, and meals out with them continued to be amazing experiences. James took great pride in taking us to some of the best restaurants that Qingdao has to offer, with amazing variations on Chinese food including Cantonese style sweet and sour pork that BLEW OUR MINDS, and the most amazing hot pot experience of our lives! The best thing about the regatta was the way our crew came together. Nick and I had never met Snow and Yang prior to turning up at the airport on Saturday morning. Snow and James had crewed as part of the CCOR in previous years, but despite being an accomplished sailor, this was Jun’s first year and Yang’s also. Add these four Chinese gentlemen to a couple of crazy Kiwi’s who turn up looking like they’ve raided the bargain bin at the local Sallie’s… Our overall placing of 8th out of the 26 boats in our class was a result that we were all pretty stoked with. Especially considering the calibre of the competition! Sailing alongside us (or rather, up ahead of us most of the time!) was the likes of Summer Song (宋夏群), the Chinese National Womens Champion for 6 years in a row and gold medalist for the J80’s in 2008, Mark Fullerton and David Witt from the Raggamuffin crew, and Jim Johnstone, the rep for J Boats in China and owner/operator of Shanghai’s Sailing IN sailing school.
The down time in the mornings were great to repair sails, sleep, meet and network with other crew members from other boats. The many official event photographers LOVED pretty much anything that Nick did, from listening intently at Skipper briefings, repairing the rip in the kite that we made on Day 1 or even just walking up and down the dock! Then once we got into the races in the afternoons, crazy start lines, mark roundings and close calls were pretty much standard out on the water. We saw (and heard) a fair few collisions, scrapes, and boats getting their keels hooked up on things like the Start Boat anchor line! Not having sailing competitively in months, Nick and I were both aching the entire regatta, a situation that was not soothed at all by the traditionally hard beds at the hotel. But not even aching muscles could dampen how much fun we had with our Schönst crew. They took amazingly good care of us, right down to remembering that I like rice with every meal so one of the, would always order it for me as soon as we sat down at any restaurant. They showed us and amazing time, and we are already planning to return to CCOR in 2017.
HUGE thanks to James, Jun, Snow and Yang for making CCOR 2016 in Qingdao a thoroughly enjoyable experience for us.