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March 14, 2013

Four Unforgettable Legal Voyages: Part IV — Commodore’s Cup, Hong Kong

by WSBA
Victoria Harbor, HK
Read the final installment of Attorney Timothy MB Farrell’s Legal Voyages series.

Victoria Harbor, HKRead Part I: Hawaii to San FranciscoPart II: Broaching Bad in Puget Sound, and Part III: Inter-island Racing in the Northern Marianas

My fourth and final memorable sailing experience associated with the law was a race in Hong Kong’s Victoria Harbor in 2006.

As an attorney practicing on Guam, I was often asked to be on various boards and committees. The Marianas Yacht Club(MYC) was one of those organizations; I became active as its vice commodore. My main function was to act as commodore when the commodore was not present. The club was very affordable and membership had its privileges when traveling. Almost all yacht clubs in Asia had a reciprocal relationship with the MYC, which was handy when looking for an ex-pat bar, a race, and sometimes a place to stay (the Singapore Yacht Club, for example, offers extraordinary accommodations for next to nothing to club members). These clubs are usually not accessible to the general public.

I often used to travel to Hong Kong on business to meet my clients. There was a time when I even considered practicing there. Unfortunately, practicing in Hong Kong can be a chicken-and-egg proposition in that you need to register with the Hong Kong Law Society and get a visa. Most attorneys get a job first with a local or registered foreign firm that supports their visa application. Visas can be difficult to get without a job offer, as an applicant would first need permission from the Law Society to set up and register a firm before applying for a working visa. However, firms from Washington state have done it, including Keesal, Young and Logan, to better serve their Pacific Rim clients.

In 2006, the Royal Hong Kong Yacht Club (RHKYC) hosted commodores from around the world to attend a conference. Unfortunately, my commodore could not attend, so I was sent to Hong Kong to do the honors. Part of the honors included racing in the Commodore’s Cup. The RHKYC’s members graciously donated the use of their Etchells to the effort. An Etchell is a fast keel boat, about twenty feet long, that can be raced by three or four sailors. About 15 of us took advantage of the offer. Our club secretary, a pilot for Continental, offered to work the foredeck. With our RHKYC representative, the three of us hoisted the main and worked our way out to the starting line.

Typically, I like to sail up and down the starting line a couple of times to get a feel for how long it takes to travel its length. Then I get out of the starting area and wait for the starting sequence, timing my arrival so that I am in the center of the line going at full speed at the gun. In this case, the wind died about two minutes before the start, leaving us becalmed far from the line and drifting with the tide in the wrong direction. Some of the more conservative commodores were a little closer to the line and actually started on time before drifting back. But when the wind filled in, we were all off again, the Guamanians being in the back of the fleet. We picked off two boats, including the distinguished Commodore and a new friend from the Yacht Club de Monaco, before rounding the first mark.

Having sailed in Victoria Harbor before, I knew that the winds could change rapidly. My aggressive pilot/foredeck man was dying to throw up the spinnaker to catch the rest of the fleet. I considered it, but did not see the other boats going any faster, felt a little hesitant with the new crew and new boat, and (remembering my broaching experience in Seattle) decided to hold on to the next mark to see if the wind was settling in. Suddenly, the sky lit up with lightning bolts and the wind increased to a gale. Two boats in front of us lost control and rounded up into the wind, while two more, including my buddies from the MYC, simply pulled their sails down and headed back to the club for cocktails.  We just hung on and found ourselves in the middle of the fleet at the next mark, which we easily rounded, putting another two boats to our stern. Being high and tight to the mark on the turn served us well as the wind died and the current became more of a factor. One boat, supposedly crewed by the Seattle Yacht Club’s Commodore, drifted in between two barges and broke her spreaders in the process. Another boat close behind started her engine to avoid the same fate. Suddenly, we were in the thick of the race and high on the mark. Three boats had to tack to make the mark, putting us in fourth at what would turn out to be the last mark. From there, we could see that the race committee had shortened the race, so we would not have to go around the course a second time.

Having sailed in Puget Sound, I knew that the shallow water had the least current. In the light winds, I poked the bow of the Etchell within inches of the breakwall before tacking, and then tacked again at every opportunity to stay in close to the shore. A fisherman in a sampan shook his fist at us when we tacked back in again; our RHKYC representative shouted something back. We were soon ahead of two more boats that had sailed further out into the current and on the tail of the leader when the wind shifted behind us to give us a beam reach to the finish. Despite our best go-fast efforts, the leader was very competent and we could not get past him.

The crew from Guam could only manage second. First place went to the RHKYC’s Commodore and his able crew. What a race — and what an unforgettable experience!

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