On Sydney’s glittering harbor, the Chinese have been on a mission to conquer the world of sailing. With an average age of 24, the crew onboard the yacht De Rucci includes professional athletes and former members of China’s special forces.
They have been here training and competing for weeks in preparation for the 630-nautical-mile yacht race to Hobart, the capital of the island state of Tasmania.
The 73rd running of the race kicked off December 26, and ended with a new record. An Australian crew finished the race in one day, eight hours and 48 minutes, smashing the previous record of one day, 13 hours and 31 minutes. De Rucci is expected to finish the race Thursday.
Skipper Dong Qing says that back home, sailing continues to ride a wave of popularity.
“Chinese people are becoming richer and richer,” he said. “Now more and more people can afford to buy a boat.”
Crew members have been competing against some of the world’s best ocean-racing yachts in preparation for the arduous dash from Sydney to Hobart. They might be relative newcomers, but they have long-term ambitions to win major races.
“I do not think it is possible for now because we have just started,” the skipper said, “but I think all of us as Chinese we have this dream of winning in big sailing competitions one day.”
Britain, the Netherlands and Australia dominated sailing at the Rio Olympics. But China, which won a silver medal, has lofty ambitions in a sport that requires money and motivation, according to De Rucci’s Australian coach, Ben Morrison-Jack.
“You could probably draw some comparisons, maybe, with some other sports that they have taken on,” he said. “There is always a timeline and sailing is a complex sport, so it will take a while but if they are committed to it they’ll win medals eventually. That is for sure. It is crucial to the sport because it is not that big a sport, really, and to have a population of China starting to get interested in the sport is fantastic.”
Fate hasn’t been kind to the sailors from Shanghai. A collision with a rival boat knocked them out at the start of the 2015 Sydney-to-Hobart race. Last year, a broken mast saw them limp to the finish line.
However, they have already made history. The crew from Noah’s Yacht Club in Shanghai was the first team from mainland China to compete in the famous Australia race. It will also take its place in the Australian Yachting Championships in Melbourne in January.
After a dogged pursuit of success, the team will then head home in time for Chinese New Year.