International Top University Regatta 2018 – Qingdao, China

The story of China started long before we arrived, and despite naturally haphazard and last minute organisation we were somehow just about on track… That was until the morning of the flight when, Lucy Mellers had awoken in London only to realise her British passport was on a yacht in Foye with the family. Chaos swiftly ensued as we desperately tried to rectify the situation of the visa, however, much to everyone’s disappointment it was not possible, and so our team of five was reduced to four. Despite a minor visa saga at check-in we made the plane and met up with our 4 th member of our team (Marisha Naz) a MBA student who was a new face to OUYC events but soon became a loved member of the team.

At the opening ceremony it became clear to us competitors (who had travelled from countries including Melbourne and Russia) that we were highly prized photo opportunities for the locals, as well as our status as very welcome guests of the Chinese  government who had put phenomenal amounts of money into the event and opening ceremony. Having been met with countless cameras, the ceremony kicked off in what can only be described as the typical Chinese fashion – that we observed – of loud music, promo-videos and mesmerising dancers. If the ceremony itself wasn’t crazy enough the entire city of buildings behind the stage had synchronised lights to create an inspiring skyline during performances. The evening concluded in a bar where we were introduced to the local beer (Tsingdao) which had benefits including easy palatability and low effect on the wallet; a live band kept the teams energised for the evening and was a great opportunity to meet the international university sailors.

Qingdao has a reputation (other than cheap beer), and that is a lack of wind… Which had all the teams concerned; however, these fears did not play into reality during the event. We only saw one day of minimal wind however the race committee seemed experienced with dealing with the situation in the presence of a strong tide, hence managing to pull the racing off on a day where it otherwise seemed bleak. The race course saw a rather stable wind direction on all days, with the largest benefits coming in the form of pressure differences. Making splitting off from the pack a risk that had the possibility of bringing boats back from the dead on the course even in the presence on a significant tidal gradient. This was especially true on the first two days of racing in a light breeze where the sluggish boats responded very well to just a knot or two more breeze over 45+ minute races.

The fleet of new boats I just boats mentioned avoided the horror stories of breakages in the previous year’s event. Yet, their form of Beneteau 20ft twin rudder asymmetric speed machines (in reality we could only hope for them to be fast) resulted in somewhat limited agility. But alas, despite other teams’ complaints about the performance of the boats to the committee, we stayed positive and hydrated despite phenomenal humidity to make the most of the cramped conditions on board even with our 4 crew. Whilst being safe in the knowledge that all the teams were in the same boat (excuse the pun), meaning we all had to deal with the same situation. Marisha’s (our bowman) magic bag of medicine came into use on the penultimate days racing in the form of sea sickness tablets due to a very large swell that had been whipped up by a modest breeze against a ripping tide.

After a tough day racing it was Beer Festival time which began with a journey on the longest bridge in the world before arriving, much to our happiness, to free refills of beer and various performances during the evening – other than Lauren Davis (crew) who was fed cherry tomatoes and grapes as her veggie option. The hotel became a hub for post racing socialising between teams (the bar helped this) and being close to the local metro station meant we were easily able to explore the city during some downtime in order to the most of the amazing opportunity to travel to China. We took a particular liking to a PG massage establishment which gave all four of us a chance to release tension in our muscles after wrestling the boat.

With Lucy stranded in the UK it meant the structure of the boat had  to be reorganised however we did our best to manage the  situation however on occasion (namely spinnaker related) that last pair of hands was missed. The racing was challenging and a change from our team racing pedigree but this kept us on our toes throughout – my role as tactician saw me (James Scott) rediscovering some fleet racing. Sadly we just missed out on gold fleet however were not too disheartened after a close fought initial two days. The final day sadly saw no racing due to a storm making the sea-state even more formidable than the previous day; this left us in our position after 4 days of first in silver after two wins the preceding day amidst a challenging sea-state and a rather light crew, leaving us a respectable mid fleet amongst 12 teams.

Our helm’s birthday (Ali Bibby) coincided with the closing ceremony, and as we mentioned previously the hosts were incredibly generous pushing out a final act of kindness in the form of the two largest cakes to which Ali admitted that “even my own parents could not provide birthday love on that level.” We would like to thank the organisers of the event for their incredible hospitality and precision in the event itself, hence making it an easy recommendation for Oxford to send a team in future years. The social aspect with international competitors and fun atmosphere made the event competitive as well as enjoyable for everyone involved (other than maybe Lauren with her brief moment of seasickness!!!)