DESTINATIONS: HONG KONG
Who better to ask about sailing in Hong Kong than 1997 Sydney – Hobart race winner, owner of the Reichel/Pugh 45 Beau Geste, and president of the Hong Kong Sailing Federation Karl Kwok, which is why I found myself at the Royal Hong Kong Yacht Club on a Friday evening in a large comfortable chair with a very cold gin and tonic.
Karl Kwok described the cruising possibilities around Hong Kong as being relatively small and advised that the eastern waters of Hong Kong have clearer water, washed by the Pacific. While the western side, towards Macau, is muddier because of the Pearl River delta estuary. Karl said that the seasons in Hong are never that cold and from October to May the breeze comes from the north east.
“The Northern hemisphere summer time is a bit tougher to come cruising as you have to be careful of the typhoons,” says Karl.
“And sailing from Australia, once you are above Borneo, its typhoon country. These start as early as May through to October, so you are better coming up during October through December. Opportunities for yachtsmen are improving, people in China are saving money. The per capita income is growing, so they are seeking recreation in Hong Kong and elsewhere, and this will help the leisure economy.”
Karl has a pretty busy racing calendar with many favourite events locked in, as he explains: “We have a race we try to do every other year which is the Vietnam Race, Hong Kong to Na Trang, which is south of Da Nang, a 700 mile dead downwind run for us, so lots of people like that one.”
Another big event on his calendar is Thailand's Kings Cup in December. After that the nearby waters of Malaysia is worth a visit before heading back east to Hong Kong for the China Sea Race, or San Fernando Race. “Also, sailing onto the Kosa Nui race, is getting very popular,” says Karl.
But the lure of Thailand, with many events on the Andaman Sea coast, that takes in Phuket, is hard to beat.
“Thailand is very popular,” says Karl, “because it is fairly central in Asia, and not too far away from Australia. Cruising up that corridor you have lots of places to provision in relative safety. People talk about pirates, but they target cargo vessels, so it's pretty safe.”
Hong Kong is made up of the small Hong Kong Island, the commercial centre, and the Kowloon Peninsula which is the main district for shopping and entertainment. Between the two lies the well-protected Victoria Harbour. Also part of Hong Kong is the New Territories, a large area on the mainland. Plus 235 islands, many uninhabited, in the South China Sea. Hong Kong reverted to Chinese sovereignty on 30 June 1997 but its special status will continue for another 50 years.
The most popular cruising region is the eastern area, giving you access to the islands and anchorages in Port Shelter bay, Rocky Harbour and Ninepin Group. Hebe Haven yacht club (www.hhyc.org.hk) in Port Shelter's Pak Sha Wan Bay at Sai Kungs is a good stop-off. It's friendly, social and welcoming club with a busy restaurant and bar. The Club has marine facilities at competitive prices with swing moorings, a hardstand and pontoon berths. It also has slipping and craning services for boat repair and maintenance services.
The most popular racing series in Hong Kong is the fortnightly Typhoon Series run by Hebe Haven (and featured in the club magazine “The Hebe Jebes”) which attracts a fleet of 50 boats from all over Hong Kong. Racing season is Sept – May, with the breeze in September, October and November a perfect, north easterly of 15 knots. The Club also owns a large number of dinghies and two keelboats which can be hired out to club-approved helms.
Clearwater Bay Marina and Country Club (www.cwbgolf.org) at the southern part of Port Shelter has some of the best facilities in the area. This includes a 70 ton travel lift and one of Hong Kong's largest hardstand facilities for extensive maintenance and repair work, where boats of up to 75 feet can be stored.
Other facilities include the Aberdeen Yacht Club (www.abcclub-hk.com) which was founded in 1962 by sailors who wanted access to the seas off the southern side of Hong Kong Island. Another friendly club with over nine hundred members from 35 countries, it has a second clubhouse with pontoon and swing moorings on Middle Island, a 10 minute ferry ride from the main club.
One of the oldest and most prestigious clubs in Hong Kong, the Royal Hong Kong Yacht Club (www.rhkyc.org.hk) has a history of more than 150 years of social and competitive sailing and rowing. Kellett Island in Causeway Bay,Victoria harbour is the Club's principal base, and acts as the parent site for two smaller branches of the Club. One at Shelter Cove near Sai Kung which is the base for cruisers and the other at Middle Island in Repulse Bay which is home to dinghy sailors, sail training and rowing.
Club members have reciprocal rights with the CYCA, and many clubs internationally, with social membership lasting as long as your stay. The strongest fleet at the club is the Etchells class, with RHKYC members competing in the Audi Etchells worlds in Perth last year.
Offshore racing at the club includes the Asia Pacific China Coast Regatta, sailed over three days (October 2008) in Hong Kong waters followed by the Hong Kong to Hainan Race, a 355 mile dash to Sanya on the Island of Hainan. An added attraction of the Hainan race is that it is a great jumping-off point for boats intending to continue on to other seasonal sailing events in Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand and here in Australia.
Another sailing venue is the Discovery Bay Yacht Club on Lantau Island, (www.dbyc.net) located in the western area of Hong Kong. It hosts fun and friendly regattas, inshore races and cruises, with, as they proudly advertise “low entry fees and free beer!” On the club burgee, and claimed as the club mascot is the Chinese white dolphin, a hump backed dolphin living in Hong Kong and Southern Chinese waters. Born dark grey they grow paler with age, becoming pale white and often pink later in life, and are still seen in the waters north of Lantau Island, Lung Kwu Chau and Sha Chau.
Unfortunately China does not yet have the concept of recreational yachting. So there are only two classes of boat recognised by marine authorities: commercial, or fishing. This rather simplistic approach becomes a headache for foreign yachts when seeking port clearance, unless you are a part of a major organised event. There are events planned but this is still a problem. The easiest place to cruise in Hong Kong is Macau, as the management systems for dealing with yachts set up by the British are still in place.
Weather forecasts in Hong Kong are good and easy to get hold of (see information) If severe weather is around there are also regular updates on local broadcast radio stations.
Typhoons are most likely in September but can occur all year round. When a typhoon is expected, information and warnings are broadcast in 15 minute intervals day and night. Visiting yachts may seek refuge in an approved typhoon shelter, of which there are 14 in Hong Kong for small craft, some for less than 50m LOA. Others are available for boats under 30m LOA. Alternatively, you can secure to a government B Class mooring, for which advance booking is necessary. Yachts which are too large for the shelters can either find a mooring or a sheltered anchorage, notifying the port authority of their position.
After talking to race committees in Hong Kong it seems that pre-1997 when the British were running the territory, residents had more leisure time. Now people seem to be working harder, and many of the sailing ex-pats haven't been replaced by the locals, with many of the children now more electronic focussed than tell-tale focussed.
One thing is certain, all clubs in Hong Kong welcome sailors from around the world. If you are visiting, working or passing through Hong, you will have no problem getting out on the water during a weekend race.
“Although offering limited cruising opportunities, Hong Kong is an excellent stopover for yachts cruising in the Far East, and are attracted by the excellent service and repair facilities available.”
Official tourist site: www.discoverhongkong.com
Hebe Haven Yacht Club (www.hhyc.org.hk)
Clearwater Bay Marina (www.cwbgolf.org)
Aberdeen Yacht Club (www.abcclub-hk.com)
Royal Hong Kong Yacht Club (www.rhkyc.org.hk)
Discovery Bay Yacht Club (www.dbyc.net)