Congratulations to Nick Southward for finishing first overall in IRC in the 565-mile 2023 China Sea Race sailing his J/109 WHISKEY JACK. This was the first time in five years the biennial race has been run. 16 boats finished the 61st running of this offshore classic, the oldest blue water race in Asia that crosses the China Sea from Hong Kong to Subic Bay in the Philippines.

China Sea Race Course Map
Course map for the 2023 Rolex China Sea Race.
Whiskey Jack Upwind from astern
J/109 WHISKEY JACK sailing in Hong Kong.

Southward said that his suit of UK Sailmakers sails (including a Titanium main and headsails, spinnakers and a brand-new flying jib) helped to secure the victory. Barry Hayes, owner of UK Sailmakers Ireland, worked in coordination with UK Sailmakers Hong Kong to develop this winning sail combination for WHISKEY JACK. Barry has a special affinity for the J/109 sail plan and has worked closely with several owners in the competitive Irish J/109 one-design fleet in Cork.

Whiskey Jack Awards 2023
The WHISKEY JACK crew at the Awards presentation for their first overall IRC win.

Discussing some highlights of the 2023 race, Nick said that there were several standouts. “Last night was a wild ride,” Nick said, “We were sailing in 30 knots winds with four-meter waves. It was pitch black, and we were screaming along, reaching at 120° wind angle, hitting speeds of 12 knots at times. We had the new flying jib up, with the storm jib as a staysail and the Titanium main with a single reef. Conversely, the third night was champagne sailing as well, 20 knots and flat seas. We had the A4 up that time, and the boat was really stable and solid. Our UK Sailmakers A4 is bulletproof.”

The lead changed hands numerous times throughout the four-and-one-half day race, but WHISKEY JACK pulled away for a decisive win in the final 24 hours. The approach to Subic Bay saw WHISKEY JACK bathed in the afternoon sun with no other boats in sight. The J/109 had the second slowest IRC rating in the fleet, making for an inspirational underdog victory. Nick said, “It goes to show that even the smallest boats can win.”

WHISKEY JACK finish line
Daniel Forester/Rolex photo of WHISKEY JACK crossing the finish line of the China Sea Race in Subic Bay, The Philippines.

Nick has participated in the China Sea Race three previous times, including a 2016 double-handed venture with Barry Hayes. One of his important take-aways for offshore racing at this caliber is that preparation is key to success. Thorough planning for rough conditions and inspection of all safety equipment, rigging, and sails allowed WHISKEY JACK to finish with no injuries and no damage to the boat or sails.

Whiskey Jack Crew Photo
Crew photo from onboard the J/109 WHISKEY JACK.

“This year it all clicked, with great sails, superb conditions and a solid crew. Mick McCool, Rob Berkley, Tom Carter, Peter Davies, and Mark Lyons accompanied Southward for this epic victory,” he concluded. Congratulations to Nick Southward and the WHISKEY JACK crew on an incredible performance.

Heather Mahady
Heather Mahady

Heather Mahady is the General Manager of UK Sailmakers International. She is based on Vancouver Island in the Pacific Northwest, and is a passionate sailboat racer, sailmaker, and sustainability advocate.

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