Setting sail

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 20 September, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 20 September, 2009, 12:00am

Staging a leg of the Louis Vuitton World Series in Hong Kong fits with the government's mandate to utilise Victoria Harbour as a public asset, says Royal Hong Kong Yacht Club commodore Warwick Downes.

Downes is determined to see the Louis Vuitton event on Victoria Harbour next November and has spearheaded the club's proposal to the Home Affairs Bureau.

'The government has stated in its policy that it's focused on using the harbour so that it becomes a public asset and to be able to stage an event like this down in the heart of Central fits with that mandate,' he says

'In Hong Kong, we've got great waterways, great places to go sailing. Not many people around the world know that, and not everyone in Hong Kong knows that.

'We missed out on the Volvo Ocean Race in January this year. The boats bypassed Hong Kong for Singapore and Qingdao. I want to enhance the marine environment of Hong Kong so we can host other world-class yachting events here in Hong Kong.'

The proposal before the government has earmarked piers 9 and 10 in Central as the race village, which could become a semi-permanent asset and host more regattas in the future, says well-known yachtsman Frank Pong.

'In addition to the proposed Louis Vuitton World Series, several other world-class sailing events are also looking to come to Hong Kong as a stopover in their round the world races, or to hold one of their regattas in our harbour.' Pong said.

'Just like the cruise ship terminal, these sailing events will enhance Hong Kong's image as a major tourist destination. Our government might consider forming a policy to facilitate these sailing events in the way of a basin to berth the boats and base the race village.

'The facilities will be opened to the public for recreational use the rest of the time. The basin can be designed not just for sailboats but other craft as well.'

The new Louis Vuitton World Series is an outgrowth of the successful and highly competitive Louis Vuitton Pacific Series that took place in Auckland in February.

It is not the America's Cup, and that's a good thing, says Downes.

'In the America's Cup these days, it's every man for himself and the races aren't that close, which detracts from the spectator's thrills. The team that wins is the team with the biggest R&D team, not necessarily the best sailors. With the Louis Vuitton match racing, it's very close, adding to the excitement,' Downes said.

'Louis Vuitton is using the latest technology boats. They're already built, they're already available. Hosting an event like this costs a fraction of the cost of hosting an America's Cup and other regattas.'

And the benefits to the economy are huge, with a television audience in the hundreds of millions.

The Louis Vuitton event organisers plan to use the model for television coverage they developed in Auckland. Every day footage was compiled and edited, then given free to the major television networks around the world. The biggest television reach was in Asia, where 330 million viewers watched the series.

'I can't think of a better way to showcase Brand Hong Kong internationally, with our spectacular harbour beamed around the world daily for a couple of weeks,' said Downes.

He said the yacht club had the expertise and experience to host the regatta and the HK$10 million from the Mega Events Fund would be money well spent.

The Home Affairs Bureau would also get On Water Race Management from the club, which Downes believes is the biggest in the world in terms of members.

'On Water Race Management means that we will help lay the marks, assist on the start line, provide support boats and crowd control,' he said. 'We have the equipment and personnel to do this due to our involvement in events like the China Coast regatta and many years of expertise with regattas in Hong Kong, such as the Corum Cup, San Fernando and Round the Island Races.'