Hong Kong shows off its nautical pedigree

The former British colony is not known for its sailing and is yet to stamp its name on the offshore racing calendar, despite a spectacular harbor that could rival Sydney or New York

By Jacques Clement  /  AFP, Hong Kong

Mon, Feb 05, 2018 - Page 8

Glass towers bristling on Hong Kong’s skyline may be its most recognizable feature but the sight of yachts from the prestigious Volvo Ocean Race in its harbors shows the island metropolis is reasserting its maritime heritage.

Hong Kong’s debut as a host of the Volvo race, which called at the city for the first time in its 44-year history in January, caused excitement among local enthusiasts who say it is about time the city showed off its nautical pedigree.

The former British colony has amassed riches with the help of its busy ports, with huge container ships churning its waters past the tiny craft of local fishermen and gleaming luxury cruisers. But Hong Kong is not well known as a sailing nation and is yet to stamp its name on the offshore racing calendar, despite a spectacular harbor that could rival Sydney or New York.

“People don’t seem to understand that the money for Hong Kong, the prosperity, the good living, the well being, has come from the port,” said David Robinson, the owner of marine magazine Fragrant Harbour — the English translation of the city’s name. The grueling Volvo Ocean Race, stretching over eight months and 45,000 nautical miles around the globe, was marred by a collision off Hong Kong that left a fisherman dead and tore a hole in the side of the American-Danish team’s boat, Vestas 11th Hour Racing.

But Robinson said he hopes the race will still be a launchpad for the city to burnish its sailing credentials.

“What we are hoping for is more recognition for recreation. The Volvo Ocean Race can help push that a lot,” he said.

The city has hosted the Hong Kong to Manila China Sea Race since 1962, but the Volvo race takes it into a new league.

“Bringing this event to Hong Kong in a way helped to put our sport on the map for the broader local community,” said Robert Stoneley, Commodore of the Royal Hong Kong Yacht Club.

Much like the Olympics, he said, bringing a major event to a city requires an alliance of support from the government, local sports federations and the organizers themselves.

“For this edition of the Volvo, all the building blocks fell into place.”


Hong Kong is looking to diversify its tourist appeal to mitigate the effects of dwindling income from high-spending mainland Chinese shoppers, who are now traveling farther afield.

“The government is trying to repackage Hong Kong not just as a shopping paradise, (they also want) to show it also has a lot of heritage, of culture,” said Mariana Kou, a consumer research analyst at brokerage firm CLSA.

“The ocean part of (the race) fits perfectly with the city’s image. The harbor, the coastline, the skyline are such a signature for Hong Kong — it works perfectly for that,” she said of the rebranding exercise.

Some cities are essential stops on the racing calendar, like Cape Town and Auckland, according to the Volvo Ocean Race’s chief technical director Nick Bice.

As the Volvo Ocean Race works to expand its footprint, adding destinations can help draw in entrants and expand the race’s profile — this year Hong Kong boat Scallywag joined the race and Dongfeng from China took part for a second time.

“We have a lot of parameters based on the size of the boat, the area we need for the race village,” Bice said. “Hong Kong quite naturally can cater for those needs.”

“If we can achieve getting teams on the start line, if it means by promoting their particular host city, yes sure.”

The race has already made inroads into the Chinese market, having first made a stop in the country in 2009 at the eastern port city of Qingdao.

Some see it as politically expedient — Volvo was sold by US carmaker Ford in 2010 to the Chinese manufacturer Geely.

On Thursday the fleet will also make a short stop at the bustling mainland city of Guangzhou.