China – Nansha Marina
Nansha Marina, near Guangzhou along the Pearl River in South China, is part of a 21-square kilometre development that will turn the former quarry into a luxury playground
Nansha, a relatively quiet oasis on the Pearl River, is taking on new life as a leisure/resort centre catering to China’s newly-minted wealthy living in the surrounding industrial centres of Dongguan, Foshan and Shenzhen. Already, a golf course and a luxury resort/hotel are located in what is now known as the Nansha Bay, a 21-square kilometre development site owned by a joint venture between the Fok family of Hong Kong and municipal investment agencies of the Guangzhou city government.
The plans are big and long term – Henry Fok, the patriarch of the family, first took a stake in Nansha in the early 1990s, and the first development would be the complete refurbishment of a temple to Matsu, the sea goddess. Nansha is the ancestral home of the Fok family, and the original family business was in boats. And now, Nansha Bay is preparing to open Nansha Marina.
The new marina is managed by Albert Khong, a veteran of the marina business who previously worked on a project in Hainan and in Hong Kong. The Nansha Marina is preparing to open the first phase of berths to prospective leasers. That first phase consists of 70 wet berths and 30 dry stack berths.
After all three phases are completed, the Nansha Marina will offer 352 berths, in size ranging from 30 feet up to 165 feet. The 130,000-square metre marina basin is snugly protected by breakwaters that are actually concrete walls sitting atop pilings, with the wall’s bottom about a metre below the surface. The space beneath allows for water to flow through, thus preventing stagnant water from becoming foul.
The first set of pontoons have already been laid down, and there’s space for two more phases of pontoon building. The pontoons themselves are wide and accessible to golf carts, which will whisk boaters from the clubhouse to their yachts in just a few minutes. Wide, gently sloping gangways lead on to the pontoon area, letting golf carts deliver patrons directly from the clubhouse main entrance right to their yacht. A large landing area in the pontoons can serve as a cocktail hosting area.
The clubhouse has been designed in a fashion that resembles Qing Dynasty-era fortresses. Stone brick walls and traditional timber roofs are everywhere, and the walls of the clubhouse create a feeling of exclusivity and privacy. This design ethic was requested by Timothy Fok, son of Henry Fok, in part because Nansha was also a traditional defensive point on the river approaches to the provincial capital of Guangzhou. Original fortress walls that were once meant to stop British attackers during the Opium Wars are still visible from the Nansha Marina clubhouse.
At the time of my visit, there was still much to do ahead of the marina’s soft opening, scheduled for July 17-18. However, work was proceeding apace, and the interiors were beginning to take shape. Wood and stone dominate, as the exterior look is brought to the interiors. Khong says that he had to become something of an expert on local history to help fill out the details. The marina-side entrance to the clubhouse features a row of three cannons, working replicas of the cannons that Qing Dynasty fighters would have used in vain against advancing British ships.
Visitors will enjoy several bars and restaurants, with plenty of space for cocktail receptions, private functions and conferences thrown in. The nearby resort hotel already does a brisk business in hosting business conferences by the many factory owners in the vicinity, and Khong certainly thinks that’ll be a part of the marina’s future. He adds that most Chinese yacht buyers like to own boats that they can use for day trips and to host other business leaders.
The clubhouse and attendant amenities are relatively small by comparison to some other projects around the mainland. But part of the reason for that is the nature of the Nansha Bay project: there are already golf facilities, a nearby resort hotel with an enormous pool, so there’s no need to replicate all that, says Khong.
But what’s really appealing to Khong is the extent to which the marina seems to be picking up attention. Khong is wary of moving too fast on any aspect of the marina’s development, including rapid fire memberships sales. However, he gets excited when he talks about the prospects for the marina memberships – not from Hong Kong, but from his own backyard. “There’s so many factories in the area, and for every factory owner, there’s a potential yacht buyer,” says Khong.
After a showing at the China International Boat Show in March, Khong says that downpayments on 30 top-ranked Admiral Memberships were made. Most of these people were from the nearby vicinity. These memberships give the holder the right to a berth. Such interest makes Khong optimistic about getting the entire basin sold off within two years.
He also notes with some pride that he managed to convince the Foks to locate the marina close to the bridge that crosses the Pearl River and joins Nansha to Dongguan and Shenzhen. That bridge has plenty of traffic, and as the marina fills with yachts, Khong expects that interest will naturally grow. He also adds that a metro line is due to connect Guangzhou City with Nansha, effectively turning Nansha into a vacation suburb of the capital.
Khong is himself a sailor at heart and he wants to get a worthy sailing programme going as well. On the day of my visit, a small group of Optimists was already in the water, practicing inside the marina basin. In future, Khong hopes to establish a keelboat fleet to encourage China’s energetic entrepreneurs onto the water, and is currently in discussions with sailing yacht suppliers in the region to supply a fleet of ten yachts for training purposes.
In line with the seeing is believing philosophy, Khong will also put a luxury yacht charter business in place, to let potential clients get a feel for what a yacht has to offer. Already, Jet Tern Marine and Zhuhai Sunbird, yacht builders based just a few miles down the river in Zhuhai, have signed up to have sales offices at the marina clubhouse. Interestingly, they seem to be seeing the possibilities of a China market for China-made yachts. Khong is already in talks with TMX of Singapore to stage a boat show at the Nansha Marina next year, and hopes that the show will have both yachts in the water for sale, and also be a place for suppliers to the yacht builders to showcase their goods. No dates have been announced.
The good news for yacht owners who base at Nansha will be the maintenance facilities. Khong has sectioned off an area for travel lift and a specially-imported forklift for smaller boats. He notes that Nansha will have one of the few marinas in China with such facilities. Jet Tern Marine will have the rights to operate a facility for maintenance there. Buyers who opt for a Zhuhai-based yacht builder (of which there are several) will be pleased to have the actual yard just down the river. In other words, this is a marina where owners can be satisfied that their yachts can be properly maintained.
There are other factors that could persuade China’s wealthy to get out onto the water. Though the area near Nansha may have little in the way of proper destinations at the moment, Khong says there is plan to build a jetty and some al-fresco dining on an island that is in the middle of the river, giving boaters a place to picnic for the day. Further, taking a yacht to Macau would be easy in terms of distance and paperwork, though an actual berthing space might be tough. But given the draw of Macau to so many mainland Chinese, the thought of a private cruise with friends and business acquaintances to the gambling centre of China might be appealing.
Though Hong Kong is in dire need of new berthing spaces, it will remain difficult to buy a boat and register it in Hong Kong, and then move it to Nansha. Khong is trying to persuade officials to do so, but it is process that takes time. In the meantime, Chinese buyers may find that a good facility on their doorstep is all that’s needed to take the plunge.