When Pershing’s latest flagship, the stunning Hong Kong-owned Pershing 140, made her debut in Monaco in late May, another magic milestone was chalked up by one of Asia’s most successful boat dealers, Edwin Ho of Starship Yachts.
Only two years ago, Riva, another Ferretti Group brand, broke with tradition when it staged the world premiere of the 100’ Corsaro at Aberdeen Marina Club in Hong Kong, instead of in Europe or America.
Edwin was behind that sale too, continuing his close association with Italy, which is by far the world’s biggest boat-building country, and renowned for the super styling and performance of its power vessels.
His initial interest was Italversil, when the yard began construction of small superyachts, selling 80 and 83 models on the China Coast. Dominators built at Fano followed, including one for a Dalian client, which taught him about the exigencies of bleak winters spent on buoys in those North China waters, and the need for boat manuals translated from Italian into Chinese characters.
He exhibited at the first Penang Boat Show in Malaysia 25 years ago, as the later-abandoned Penang Yacht Club was being built in Georgetown, and at the first China Boat Show in Shanghai in 1996, held in the basement of Russian-built exhibition halls off Nanjing Road.
Edwin pioneered modern pleasure boat sales and activities in China, delivering the first Ferretti Group model, a Pershing 45, to Haikou in Hainan. He realised that pleasure boating for many people on the mainland had to begin with smaller craft, so he signed up to represent Italy’s leading producer of sports and runabout vessels, Cranchi, situated on the lovely lakes north of Milan.
Fishing boats built by ARS Monaco, big Maioras from FIPA, and a custom cruiser for the President of the Maldives were among other deliveries, as his separate involvement with the Ferretti Group began to grow, starting with Pershing, then run by the inimitable Tilli Antonelli, originally a yachtie who survived the disastrous 1979 Fastnet Race, plus designer Fulvio de Simoni, and associate Nada Serafini, who still helms Pershing today.
Ferretti Group, which is now backed by considerable Chinese equity, is one of the world’s largest pleasure boat builders, and apart from Ferretti Yachts, Pershing and Riva, it also includes Itama, Mochi Craft and dedicated superyacht builders CRN and Custom Line. Most of these yards are located near the eastern Adriatic Coast of Italy, south of Venice.
This obviously provides a suitable range for steadily increasing Asian sales and service by Starship Yachts, which is based in Hong Kong and Kuala Lumpur, helped to some extent by the fact that Edwin hails from one of Asia’s most famous families.
Sir Robert Hotung, also known as Ho Kai Tung, the blue-eyed Eurasian comprador of leading British trading house Jardines and an eminent businessman in his own right, was in the late 1800s and first half of the 1900s acknowledged as Hong Kong’s richest man and greatest philanthropist. His brother Ho Kai Fook was Edwin’s great grandfather.
When Sir Robert was knighted by King George V in the early 1900s, this side of the family decided to keep its surname as Hotung, as that was how the royal citation read.
Ho Kai Fook kept Ho, which according to one account derived from their Dutch Jewish father, Charles Henry Maurice Bosman, a director of the Hong Kong Hotel, Hong Kong and Kowloon Wharf, and sometime Dutch Consul, who sold marine insurance to clients like Jardines. Bosman was pronounced in Cantonese Bo-Se-Man and that transliterated to Ho-Sze-Man.
Edwin conversely has been told that Bosman and wife Sze Tai’s descendants, when they needed a Chinese name, simply picked the first two letters of the Dutch coastal provinces known as Holland, hence Ho.
Ho Kai Fook, who seems to have followed the British bent of becoming a large-scale opium trader, sired Ho Sai Kwong, and he in turn produced the brothers Ernest Reginald Stewart Ho, Edwin’s dad, in 1913, and Stanley Ho Hung Sun in 1921.
Stanley is supremo of the Macau casino industry, now the world’s largest, having weathered many storms ashore and afloat. Daughter Pansy, like Stanley a boater, has recently taken over the reins, and her brother Lawrence has just bought out Australian casino billionaire James Packer – who this year is taking delivery of a Benetti 107m – from their Macau-based City of Dreams JV and other projects.
I’ve watched casino shows like Crazy Paris, a play on the raffish Crazy Horse theatre in the Champs Élysées district, with Ernest and Edwin, and briefly produced a magazine called Macau Voyager for the brothers, as well as staying many times at their Lisboa Hotel. The impression has always been that they were very much partners.
Some say it was Ernest who really got the casino ball rolling, but that’s conjecture. He later retired to a house on the Gold Coast in Australia, near one I owned at Sanctuary Cove. The Hos would fly down on the family jet to see him as his health waned. He passed away in November 1998, shortly before Macau officially reverted back to China, on a “one country, two systems” basis, after nearly 450 years of Portuguese occupation.
Other interesting aspects of the Ho family tree include the fact that Edwin’s Aunt Susie married Teddy Yip, the first and only Chinese to have Formula 1 and Indy 500 teams, and whose Theodore Racing remains a mainstay of the Formula 3 Macau Grand Prix.
A more distant cousin was the great kung fu fighter Bruce Lee, who died in 1973 in odd circumstances, as did his Hollywood actor son Brandon 20 years later.
The young Edwin, born in Hong Kong, thus had a somewhat privileged upbringing, but these were large families, and it was still every guy and gal for themselves.
His mum Diana Wong Yuk Ying happily had a penchant for the South of France, staying at Juan Les Pins near Cannes, so apart from Cantonese, spoken in Macau, Hong Kong and elsewhere in southern China, he was soon fairly fluent in French, and in the de rigeur business language English.
Schooling included sojourns at The Abbey near Ashurst Wood and East Grinstead in Sussex, England, where former PM Winston Churchill had his early education, and many Jardines-rival Swire schoolboys boarded. The local pubs were often full of Hong Kong people.
When the Hos decided to invest in a new casino venture in Paris in 1987, French-speaking Edwin was a natural choice, but there are some tough cookies in the casino industry, and having reappraised their fellow shareholders, the family later decided it would be prudent to withdraw.
A distinct upside, however, was that in Paris he met and married the beautiful Edith, who was studying there, daughter of Brazilian diplomat Jayme De Souza Gomes and a Danish Baroness, Edith Olivarius, herself a Danish envoy.
The European side of the Hos was thus further reinforced. They have three children, Jamie, 24, Pamela, 21, and Dominic 11, who was heavily into rugby at first but now can’t be separated from his go-kart, and is a fan of Theodore Racing, an outfit that Starship Yachts supports in co-promotions.
Edith, meanwhile, has an art gallery at Tropicana Golf and Country Club Resort in Kuala Lumpur, where they moved from Coloane in Macau to bring up the children, and she is an accomplished interior designer and decorator, handling a prestigious contract for the latest Pershing 140.
After Paris, Edwin next decided to open a restaurant at Port Camille Rayon, the attractive marina in Golfe Juan, just up the road from Juan Les Pins, and situated more broadly between Antibes and Cannes, Côte D’Azur cities where he would later buy apartments.
Because English was spoken at the restaurant, it was patronised by a more cosmopolitan marine clientele, including the multi-lingual Cannes-dwelling Munich-raised boat dealer Rudy Berglehner, who became a leading boat sales executive for the Italian FIPA group. FIPA is a strong force in the Italian yachting industry, with the well-known brands Maiora, AB Yachts and CBI Navi.
When Edwin decided to return to Asia, Rudy suggested they become business partners, and so began a decades-long friendship. Rudy was at the first China Boat Show in Shanghai in 1996 too. As visitors seemed more interested in acquiring paper pamphlets for resale rather than boats, one recalls he and Mike Simpson, another Western boat dealer, headed off to Shanghai’s antique shops instead, as both of them were collectors.
The well-connected Edwin had clients in Macau and elsewhere, including David Chow, who with son Donald runs the Legend casinos and development companies, plus Fisherman’s Wharf, site of Macau Yacht Shows.
David first bought an Italversil 95 delivered in 2000, and has purchased other craft since, mostly kept at Aberdeen Marina Club. He has chartered superyachts in the South of France, where Edwin’s “local knowledge” has come in handy.
Willy Roberts, who bought the magazine Asia-Pacific Boating from me in 1999-2001, went to Genoa to sell Edwin and Rudy an advertising campaign. Forty-eight hours later he re-surfaced as owner of a Pershing 37. They were a persuasive duo.
One of their sport fishers appeared in the James Bond film GoldenEye. The Man With The Golden Gun was also shot in the fire-ravaged and sunken liner Queen Elizabeth 1 and Bottoms Up Bar in Hong Kong, and in spectacular Phang Nga in Phuket.
The latest Pershing 140 would be a worthy latter-day James Bond steed too. Largest vessel that the yard has ever built, she has four engines that in sea trials achieved a highly impressive 40-plus knots, albeit burning a not-insubstantial amount of fuel in the process.
Six tons was shaved off the total weight of the yacht by load-lightening measures. We’re told she has a custom mahjong table “made in Italy”. Very cosmopolitan.
Maiden voyage in May was to the Monaco F1 Grand Prix, a streets event not unlike that of Macau. Arrival in Hong Kong is expected later this year. A separate boat review is scheduled. And so the most remarkable Ho and Starship Yachts saga continues.
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/
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