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Wednesday, July 29, 2015, 08:47

Lamma marina may resolve shortage of berths

By Timothy Chui in Hong Kong
Lamma marina may resolve shortage of berths

The reaction to a controversial plan to turn a southeast Lamma Island cove into a super yacht marina resort has divided sailing enthusiasts — despite a pressing need for berths in Asia’s boating capital.

Support for the project among them is mixed. The Windsurfing Association of Hong Kong supports the city’s first marina in 20 years, while Hong Kong Sailing Federation (HKSF) President Warwick Downes supports developing marinas elsewhere in the Islands District.

While sailing is often dismissed as a pastime of the rich, a dearth of berths exists. This is one of the main reasons why access to the sport is increasingly beyond those who are less affluent.

Surrounded by water, Hong Kong boasts 15,000 fishing and leisure crafts, according to Hong Kong United Dockyards’ Todd Jeffrey. Yet only 5,000 mooring spaces are available throughout the city and its outlying islands. None of Hong Kong’s small number of private and public marinas can accommodate yachts bigger than 100 feet.

This forced the world’s largest three-masted Bermuda rigged schooner to moor off Jeffrey’s dockyards in Tsing Yi when the yacht, owned by US media tycoon Barry Diller, ran into problems with its bow thruster during a Southeast Asian tour earlier this year.

The cost of small boats has never been lower, thanks to newer materials and manufacturing processes. But simply finding a berth remains difficult with waiting lists commonly more than a year at most clubs and public facilities — if one is lucky, notes Royal Hong Kong Yacht Club (RHKYC) member Claude Wong.

Berthing fees were roughly double those in other regional ports in China, with monthly berthing fees at the RHKYC’s Causeway Bay site costing up to HK$6,237 per month. In Singapore, sailing receives generous public support and is open to everyone with storage and training, Wong said.

The disparity between limited supply and growing demand can be seen on weekend mornings. There, on a few dozen meters of sea in front of the Stanley Water Sports Centre, beginner sailors maneuver to catch the wind while avoiding fellow novices.

Securing spots for sailing lessons in Leisure and Cultural Services Department classes is tough. There are only a handful of available courses and other local clubs also train crews for local regattas. Meanwhile in Shenzhen, the China Cup International Regatta has grown into the single largest one-design regatta in Asia. It attracted 103 fleets from 32 countries and regions last year — setting a new record.

Coastal China has undergone something of a maritime makeover, with new network of marinas taking shape from the nation’s sailing capital of Qingdao, Shandong to Sanya, Hainan.

There are plenty of berths in Shenzhen, according to RHKYC’s Wong. But securing permission from immigration officers can be a headache and inconvenience, “otherwise many would opt to tie up their craft along the Guangdong coast”, he said.

The province has considered opening its waters and marinas to Hong Kong-registered boats, but concerns over smuggling and taxation have dampened expectations.

Despite controversy over the luxury marina proposed for Lamma, Wong believes the marina would be well received by those looking for a place to moor their vessels. The island’s geography also means good winds from all directions.

The marina at the heart of the plan would host 500 yachts of various sizes up to 100 meters or more, with a sailing academy, waterfront plaza and promenade open to the public.

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