World at their fleet

PUBLISHED : Friday, 06 April, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 06 April, 2012, 12:00am


It's a toy show for China's ultra-rich, with offerings that vary from fine art to luxury villas, cars and private jets. But it is the superyachts that steal the spotlight, marrying new wealth with Sanya's aspirations to become the Chinese Riviera.

The Hainan Rendezvous, in Sanya from yesterday to Sunday, bills itself as China's largest yacht show. It is attempting to build on China's nascent superyacht market.

Yachting is a relatively new trend in Asia, with marinas now starting to dot the coastline. Superyachts, which normally exceed 40 metres in length and cost tens of millions of yuan, aim at a higher echelon of China's wealthy. Industry analysts estimate the Asian market for large yachts will eventually see US$350 million to US$500 million in annual sales, and China is expected to account for a large portion of that.

'The market is certainly developing, but whether you can keep the boats in China is a big question, due to regulations, taxes, a lack of marina space for large yachts and the fact that there's just nowhere to cruise,' says Bart Kimman, founder of Asia Yacht Services, which acts as an agent.

Organisers say the show has attracted at least 130 yachts that are available for sale or charter, an increase of more than 30 per cent over past year, including a handful of superyachts.

The Helix is 44.65 metres long and was launched in August by its Dutch builders, Feadship. One of its key features is a huge skylight over the owner's king-sized bed, taking stargazing to a new level of luxury. The mahogany-trimmed interior is also considered exceptionally roomy, considering it is only a 'mid-size' superyacht.

The 50-metre Northern Sun was once a vessel used for expeditions in the seas off Japan. Now it is a luxury yacht designed for long-range expeditions and cruising.

The US-built Lohengrin includes marble whirlpool baths in her 49 metres of seafaring style, as well as 180-degree views of the sea from the master stateroom.

Axel Douque, a yacht broker with Ocean Independence, represents Onyx, a speedy 38.5-metre Sanlorenzo motoryacht with underwater mood lighting and all the onboard comforts of a five-star hotel.

'Chinese might not like water so much, and there are no superb cruising grounds in China. But Chinese buy yachts for business and to show off,' Douque says. 'Expectations are very high.'

He adds that Chinese buyers are only now beginning to look at larger yachts, with most clients still looking at 30- to 35-metre models. They lean towards popular European brands. They also want enclosed or heavily shaded decks due to the region's strong sun and a cultural aversion to sun exposure.

But the show will also include Chinese-built yachts from builders such as Kingship, a Hong Kong-based company with its shipyard in Zhongshan, Guangdong.

'The show is going to raise the profile of the Chinese superyacht industry, its position within global programmes of international boat shows, and cement the position of China as the leading emerging market,' says Ben Roberts, editor-in-chief of, which tracks the industry.

China now has 254 US-dollar billionaires, up from 130 in 2009, according to the Hurun rich list for last year. That puts it in second place behind the US, which has more than 400.

Kimman, who represents several of the yachts in the show, says that while there is potential, China still has many a sea to cross before it will rival the famous superyacht playgrounds in the Mediterranean. Most of China's new marinas are too small or shallow to take superyachts, and the country is still formulating rules for the industry to allow for commercial yacht licensing, wide-ranging coastal cruising, and import taxes that don't scare off potential buyers.

For example, Kimman says one of the yachts he represents is struggling to get crew visas to enter China. The organisers told yacht captains that they would be allowed to bring their boats and crews into Hainan without visas, but in order to do so, they need to sail through Chinese waters.

'If you're the captain of a superyacht with 10 or 12 crew members and you're in charge of a multimillion-dollar yacht, you won't go into Chinese waters with no visa, because that then makes you an illegal immigrant,' Kimman says.

Another yacht captain ran into problems with immigration officials when Chinese nationals came aboard his yacht but did not have the proper papers to visit a foreign-flagged yacht, which is technically foreign territory.

Due to China's restrictions, many of its wealthy choose to keep their yachts in foreign ports. Kimman estimated that there are only three or four superyachts kept in China, while many more Chinese-owned yachts are kept in Thailand, Singapore and Hong Kong.