Rolex China Sea Race: Centennial V's All-Filipino Crew
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Rolex China Sea Race: Across The Sea with This All-Filipino Sailing Crew

Veteran sailor Ernesto Echauz. Courtesy of Jann Pascua

Marking the 62nd anniversary of this world-renowned blue water classic, the Rolex China Sea Race takes the teams across 565 nautical miles to the crisp waters of Subic Bay. From Victoria Harbour in Hong Kong to Subic Bay, Philippines, get to know the team behind Standard Insurance Centennial V.

On the windy shores of Victoria Harbour, 22 teams gathered at the docks of the Royal Hong Kong Yacht Club last March 27, 2024, for the return of the Rolex China Sea Race. 

Standard Insurance Centennial V
Victoria Harbour as the race begins. Courtesy of Rolex / Andrea Francolini

The teams assembled on the starting line, ready to race the grueling distance–565 nautical miles or 1,046 kilometers–across the South China Sea to Subic Bay in the Philippines. Being regarded as one of the most tactical and challenging offshore races, many of the world’s best-known sailors and yachts have tried to master the Race putting their sailing skills to the ultimate test. 

Representing the Philippines, veteran sailor Ernesto Echauz’s Standard Insurance Centennial V returns as the 2023 Line Honours defending champion, a historic victory marking the Philippines’ first time winning the Rolex China Sea Race. Accompanying Centennial V is Standard Insurance Centennial III, likewise holding an all-Filipino crew. 

Ernesto Echauz
Veteran sailor Ernesto Echauz. Courtesy of Jann Pascua

Manning a boat across 1,046 kilometers in offshore racing is no small feat. Not only do teams have to subject themselves to nature’s demanding conditions, but they also have to remain determined and in union. Much like learning a skill, it takes years to be able to master and orchestrate teamwork, which develops slowly over the course of ten to fifteen years. 

Echauz captained an all-Filipino crew composed of current and former members of the national sailing team, most of whom are from the Philippine Navy. He praises the crew, connecting the inherent skill to understand the wind and the sea to the natural disposition of living in an archipelago: “It’s in the blood of the Filipinos. Since we have tons of islands, it’s easy for us to be exposed to the sea.”

Standard Insurance Centennial V Crew
Standard Insurance Centennial V. Rolex China Sea Race 2024. Courtesy of RHKYC / Guy Nowell

Sailors Alaiza Belmonte, PSC Women in Sports 2024 awardee, and Paula Bombeo speak on overcoming the challenges as the only women in the crew. For me, there’s no easy way. I need to understand the importance of the training that we do. [As women,] we also have to match the strength of the men when they do the exercise. No special treatment. And on the boat, both men and women are welcome to [make] a decision,” says Alaiza. Likewise, Bombeo expands on the importance of more women in sailing: “Having women on board brings a different perspective which enables more effective decision-making as a team,” she says. 

Rolex China Sea Race 2024
Participants of Rolex China Sea Race 2024. Courtesy of Rolex / Andrea Francolini

In a race testing endurance, bravery, and teamwork, there is no room for error in the open water. At the mercy of the weather, Echauz reiterates the gravity of crew strength: “In fact, when you’re in the boat, we make sure we’re all equal. There’s no boss, no superior. Your life depends on each other… When you’re in the boat together, that’s how it’s gonna be.” 

It was a nail-biting finish, and Standard Insurance Centennial V finished as overall second runner-up, completing the course only five minutes behind rivals Happy Go. Battling hard from the start, both teams delivered a strong performance, trading positions every few hours. Despite the results of the race, the Echauz’s team remains hopeful for next year, where they could hopefully claim line honors once more. The wind carries on, and the waves continue to flow. 

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