President Xi Jinping’s Greater Bay Area concept, centred on 11 prosperous Pearl River Estuary cities, has initially met a cautious response, but could provide strong impetus for South China marine tourism and boating industries.
Like the recently-opened 55km, US$20 billion Hong Kong- Zhuhai-Macau Bridge and Tunnel, the world’s longest such sea crossing, potential benefits for the region’s various economic sectors are gradually becoming clearer.
Dawn Tan of The Straits Times, covering a meeting of Greater Bay Area leaders in Beijing, calls it “China’s future Silicon Valley and Wall Street rolled into one”.
Marine tourism, pleasure boat building, sailing regattas, motor yacht cruises, sportfishing, chartering, boat shows, superyacht services and dozens of other ventures are likely to benefit from these latest infrastructure initiatives.
Kara Yeung, Executive Director of the Hong Kong Cruise and Yacht Industry Association (HKCYIA), told a conference in Singapore: “The Greater Bay Area consists geographically of nine cities and two Special Administrative Regions (SARs): Guangzhou, Shenzhen, Zhuhai, Foshan, Dongguan, Zhongshan, Zhaoqing, Huizhou, Jiangmen, and the SARs Hong Kong and Macau.
“Accelerated development of the South China GBA is an important part of China’s national strategy”, she said, and given promised substantial government support, would evolve along the lines of other advanced Pacific Rim GBAs such as Tokyo and San Francisco.
The 2019 edition of the annual Wealth-X Billionaire Census showed Hong Kong No. 2 and adjacent Shenzhen No.11 in the top cities for US$ billionaires worldwide.
Guangzhou and Macau, which has long displaced Las Vegas as the world’s leading casino centre, are both highly-listed too. Nowhere on earth is there such a concentration of sheer wealth as in the South China GBA, and numbers of billionaires are increasing far faster than in Europe or America, present trade wars aside.
Hong Kong itself is the most mature yachting hub in Asia, Ms Yeung told her predominantly Western audience, tracing its first regatta back to 1845. It had over 10,000 pleasure boats in 2019, spread across 12 marinas and clubs, which included 2,280 wet berths and many other vessels on moorings, plus dry-stack facilities ashore.
She revealed that last March, her Kai Tak-based HKCYIA had formed a partnership with China Merchants Industry Holdings to redevelop the 2km waterfront stretch at the southwest end of Tsing Yi into the Hong Kong Superyacht Management Services Centre “to provide world-class support” for superyachts over 35m or 110’, including refits, maintenance and repair. This is where one of Hong Kong’s first-ever superyachts, David Lieu’s 65m Van Triumph, has usually been kept.
The South China GBA should, logically, be the epicentre of Asia’s premier boat show. The problem is that Hong Kong marinas today are largely full, many other ad hoc sites have been tried and found wanting, and opening of Macau’s Fisherman’s Wharf and Shenzhen marinas like Nansha, Seven Star and Longcheer are encouraging, but such facilities do not completely fit the bill yet.
As publisher of Asian Boating and then Asia-Pacific Boating, I helped set up the first Hong Kong International Boat Show with Henderson Land’s Winnie Ng at Club Marina Cove in Sai Kung 30 years ago, and printed its programme. This event continues, but it is now limited because berths are heavily utilised by private boaters.
Other boat shows were held at Gold Coast Yacht and Country Club in Castle Peak Bay, where visiting superyachts often berth, at Discovery Bay Marina on Lantau Island, at Aberdeen Marina Club, and at central Victoria Harbour in-water and shoreside exhibition hall sites.
All had drawbacks of one sort or another, but the advent of the South China GBA has signalled a definite revival of interest. The area has grown too big and too wealthy not to have a significant boat show somewhere.
As existing events in Macau, Nansha and Hong Kong are held in the October-November onset of the dry nor’east winter monsoon, one suggestion has been to have them slightly overlap, allowing exhibitors and visitors alike to check out different options in the South China GBA during one concentrated 7-10 days period, which is what the European and American builders, some owned by Chinese conglomerates, like Ferretti and Sunseeker, would prefer.
That sort of multi-venue set-up, as loosely existed on the Gold Coast in Australia, has proved a little unwieldy due to conflicting interests, and Greater Bay Area facilities are presently too small for something along the separate lines of Miami, Ft Lauderdale and Palm Beach in Florida, or Cannes, Genoa and Monaco in Europe. So this seems out of the question in the immediate future.
There are also different financial, legal and insurance systems in Hong Kong, Macau and the other Greater Bay Area cities, and most importantly, the mainland charges far higher import duties for pleasure vessels, albeit this problem is often resolved by buying increasingly sophisticated local builds, or keeping craft in the lower-tariff SARs, or Kaohsiung, Singapore or Phuket.
Another idea being mooted is a new custom site at say Kai Tak, Hong Kong’s old airport, which is currently being developed, and where the 2017-18 Volvo Ocean Race around-the-world fleet successfully stayed in a high-visibility, easily accessible location.
Sir Robin Knox-Johnston’s round-the-world Clipper Race, incidentally, will also add a port call in South China GBA city Zhuhai later this year, as well as Sanya in Hainan and Qingdao. Zhuhai wants to promote the new bridge, and its considerable pleasure boat building industry, where many well-known foreign and Chinese yards have located in the last decade or two.
The 13th China Cup International Regatta will be held 8-12 November from Shenzhen Vanke Longcheer Yacht Club, and supporter Royal Hong Kong Yacht Club runs other races to Hainan Island, which I used to call “the future Florida of China” and Nha Trang in Vietnam, but needs to rebuild the biannual 30th Rolex China Sea Race to Subic Bay in the Philippines next year.
This was once one of the world’s premier bluewater events, with circa 100 local and international entries, akin to the Kenwood Cup in Hawaii, the Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race, and the Rolex Fastnet Race in Britain, but is now a shadow of its former self after some sponsors were switched to a minor typhoon-prone inshore series.
Annual Hong Kong-Macau day races continue, and it is weird to be driving the same course that one first undertook in stately four-hour ferry crossings, reading a book while the waiter opened a bottle of Mateus Rose on deck, followed by one-hour cat and jetfoil journeys. We have made the Pearl River voyage many times under sail, watching the playful pink-white dolphins that are rarely seen these days.
We also used to sail beyond Macau to Shangchuandao, or St John’s Island on British charts, somewhat misnamed for it was here that Catholic saint St Francis Xavier died, and his embalmed body was later transferred to the former Portuguese enclave Goa.
Voyaging across Mirs Bay to within hailing distance of the Shenzhen Coast was commonplace, too. So if private pleasure vessels are to be permitted to cruise unhindered to the other nine South China GBA cities, it will be a more than welcome extension of what has gone before, hopefully without too much red tape.
Think of the possibilities if one could cruise or charter a 30m-plus motor yacht to casino mecca Macau, continue to nearby Zhuhai which has a lively restaurant and nightlife scene, call at some of the historic estuary ports, spend a few days in Guangzhou, and on the way back, perhaps visit Shekou in Shenzhen.
Here the late Hong Kong Councillor David Kong ran his early boatyard with Australia’s Halvorsen family, the vessels called Kong and Halvorsens, rivalling another well-known American outfit, Grand Banks. The South China GBA could make this sort of passage-making a reality very soon.
Sport fishing can be exciting around the Lima Islands, which Hong Kong and Macau residents could not officially visit before, or at the offshore rigs toward Pratas Reef or Dong Sha. Several IGFA world records for different species are held by China Coast and Japanese anglers.
Finally, the amazing new Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau Bridge and its short undersea tunnel section, to allow future mega vessels to proceed upstream, will become a tourist attraction in its own right.
Although taking a jetfoil remains faster initially, and there are bizarre changes from left-hand to right-hand drive and other licensing rules to consider, it will soon become part of a landscape that, earmarked by the government for priority development status, has to rapidly make South China’s Greater Bay Area one of the world’s most vibrant hubs.
The original article appears in Yacht Style Issue 47. Email [email protected] for print subscription enquiries or subscribe to the Magzter version at: www.magzter.com/SG/Lux-Inc-Media/Yacht-Style/Fashion/
Yacht Style #47: The Multihulls Issue – Today’s Choices, Sail to Power