Having become the largest manufacturers of Optimists in the world, established a global sales network for one-design racers and performance cruisers, Shanghai’s Far East Boats, harbours hopes of putting its name to the first America’s Cup entry built in China. That is the lofty ambition of chairman Demolar Du Yingying (left).
Far East Boats, the company she founded with her husband Lu Weifeng in 2002, has produced over 14,000 yachts with a distribution footprint which reaches western Europe, Asia-Pacific, South America, South Africa and Russia.
The range spans from youth dinghies like Funboats and Optimists, Lasers, International 420s, under licence to ISAF, to catamarans such as the Rosella 36C unveiled at the Shanghai International Boat Show earlier this year.
In 2009, Far East entered into a partnership with the Dutch-South African designers Simonis Voogd. The fruits of that collaboration come in the shape of a fleet of 16 FarEast 28Rs among the 108 entries in this week’s 8th edition of the China Cup in Daya Bay, Shenzhen.
Ms Du Yingying cited the rise of the Chinese participation in global sailing events, and burgeoning Chinese engineering and manufacturing expertise as reasons why an America’s Cup entry emerging from the Far East boat yard in Qidong, Jiangsu Province might not be a forlorn hope.
“If you look at the number of good Chinese sailors competing in the China Cup and other major regattas in the Asian region and around the world, we are building a solid foundation,” Ms Du Yingying says.
“Also, with the acceptance of products coming from Chinese builders like Far East Boats in global markets, our technical, engineering and manufacturing capability if gaining respect – and earning customer loyalty.
“We have had Team China in the America’s Cup and currently we have Team Dongfeng in the Volvo Ocean Race, so one day I hope as a nation that we can reach our ultimate dream. We are growing our all-round expertise, and we certainly have the desire.
“We also need to have a full Chinese crew on a Chinese-manufactured America’s Cup boat to satisfy our country’s passion for sailing.”
To underline the point, Dongfeng Race Team, represented in the China Cup by a number of Volvo Ocean Race reservists, clinched class victory in IRC Division B.
Team coach Bruno Dubois explained that the objective is to expose the Dongfeng underlings, some of whom will feature on future Volvo legs in the current iteration of the race, to competitive sailing whenever possible.
“The aim is to put the sailors in a competitive environment when we get the opportunity, and the China Cup is the biggest regatta in the country and one of the biggest in Asia, with the quality going up every year,” he said.
“I was at the China Cup a year ago looking for talent and there were certain qualities we were looking for such as strength and fitness. But the main thing is spirit, and that is what these sailors have. Spirit is the most important quality.”
To help the bottling of that spirit, Far East Boats has also launched training initiatives with over seven yacht clubs all over the country. The majority of clubs in China, which now number 40, have adopted their training techniques. The results are speaking for themselves.
“As an example we have four clubs in Shanghai and Suzhou and at one of them 6,000 people came for sailing training for the first time this year. We also hold team building events at those clubs where we attract the corporate sector to try sailing,” Ms Du Yingying says.
“We educate them about sailing and then they get to try it for themselves. In this way we are helping to introduce the whole country to sailing.”
That growth resulted in China’s first ever gold medal in the Laser class at the London 2012 Olympics for Xu Lijia. That followed gold for Yin Jian in the woman’s sailboard at Beijing in 2008.
Far East also collaborated with the organisers of the China Cup to stage a regatta in Shanghai in September featuring 14 teams competing in Far East 18 and Far East 26 racing yachts. The event attracted over 20,000 spectators to the marina.
Far East’s effort in growing sailing participation in China was recognised with a special achievement award at the China Cup annual gala dinner.
The secret of Far East’s growth, Ms Du Yingying says, is a strong team ethic, and the time and resources they invest in market research and taking learnings from their distributors in the regional markets.
“We have a highly skilled team at Far East with exceptional technical expertise,” she says. “We have 10 Chinese engineers at the boat yard who focus on attention to detail and craftsmanship. We are very proud of their work and their efforts to raise the profile of Far East in the sailing world.
“We have not been afraid to take the feedback from our distributors in the international markets in an effort to constantly improve our products.”
So, will we have an America’s Cup entry stamped “made in China” in the future? “No, ‘made in Shanghai’”, she quips.