Billionaire ahoy

Luxury yachts on the horizon for the Chinese elite

Billionaire ahoy

Soon to be seen in Chinese coastal waters

When people think about the American Jim Clark, few recall that he was the co-founder of Netscape Communications in 1994. More remember him as the owner of rather large yachts.

To say Clark was committed to his boat would be an understatement. Ten years ago, he was estimated to have spent $30-50 million on the 155-foot sailboat Hyperion. The yacht’s mast cleared the Golden Gate Bridge with less than 30 foot to spare.

But Clark didn’t stop there. Soon after Hyperion was launched, he was setting sail on the 292-foot, three-masted schooner Athena.

The explosion in private wealth in China is leading others to follow Clark’s example. This year’s China International Boat Show (CIBS) is proof of the new appetite. Five yachts, including two from US-based Brunswick Boat Group which went for Rmb6.15 million ($900,000) and Rmb3.4 million respectively, were sold on the first day of the event.

Last year, China imported leisure boats with a combined sale value of $220 million, compared to $70 million in 2007, according to an industry association.

Boat-makers with pedigree are keen to get in on the act. “Our nation’s pavilion is 50% larger (250 square metre) than last year and we have 15 exhibitors, up from last year’s 11,” Maurizio Forte, trade commissioner at Shanghai’s Italian Trade Commission, told the China Daily.

Most of those looking to buy are business tycoons. Take Charles Zhang, founder and chairman of Chinese internet portal, Last year, Zhang made headlines after reportedly splashing out Rmb63.4 million on a 22-metre UK-manufactured Sunseeker.

“Chinese tycoons buy boats and yachts more to show off than for their love of sailing,” says Zheng Weihang, vice president of China Communications and Transportation Association.

As the demand for yachts continues to grow, developers are also building marinas to accommodate them. There are currently less than a handful available, and even then with limited facilities.

But that’s about to change. Xiamen, a popular tourist location, is leading the way. Developers have started building what will be the largest marina in the country, with berths for as many as 600 boats.

Similarly, Sanya Visun Interntional Yacht Club – which opened in Hainan last April – has 72 berths and what is being termed a ‘super’ five star yacht hotel (yachts can tie up in the hotel’s lobby, apparently).

And sailing just got another celebrity boost from Wang Shi, chairman of property developer Vanke.

Unlike many of the other boating billionaires, Wang actually loves sailing.

According to the Economic Observer, he sailed dinghies in his thirties, and he helms his own yachts during races, rather than sitting in the back of the boat with a martini.

“I have participated in numerous sailing competitions, most recently in Japan where I took two gold medals,” says Wang.

He has also found a way to merge his hobby with business, buying a yacht club in Shenzhen.

Wang explains: “Needless to say, the acquisition is closely related to my personal interest in sailing. But more importantly, Vanke is developing the island opposite from the yacht club and it needed a dock”.

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