Shenzhen's Yacht Haven
The marina at Da Mei Sha, known as Shenzhen Marina Club, has advanced rapidly since its early days in 2008, when most of the marina was a construction site and the basin only half finished. Now, it is a case in point about how to market the yachting lifestyle in China.
In 2008, the Shenzhen Marina Club (aka Dameisha Marina), was largely unfinished. The first section of pontoons were inhabited by just a handful of boats, most of them owned by the club or its energetic owner, Fong Nan. At the time, Fong made the point that Chinese people had been to the French Riviera, had seen Monaco and the Med, and how wealthy people often had luxurious homes by the sea – that coastlines were not just rural spaces to be ignored. If you visit Da Mei Sha today, the change is palpable, as is the sense that Fong had things pegged right all along. There are new luxury villas and flats all over the area, and the move by Shenzhen’s wealthy citizens to the beachside town is readily visible. Da Mei Sha, once home to small shops selling noodles and balloons to beach goers, now resembles a luxury theme park. “The most expensive homes in Shenzhen are in Da Mei Sha”, Fong told me at a recent visit in December.
At the heart of all this lies the Shenzhen Marina Club, now fully completed and nearing capacity. Over 400 people have become members, paying rates between 580,000 yuan for a basic membership (berth not included) to two million yuan for corporate memberships that include a berth. Over 30 are from Hong Kong, and though none are expatriates, the look and feel of the club is a lot less bombastic than many luxury venues in China. Only 60 memberships remain to be sold (roughly the number of berths available). Luckily, the club only charges a five percent fee for private sales of memberships between members.
The design of the club and the layout was the work of Fong, and though he made his original fortune in the telecoms business out of Shanghai, he’s done a remarkably good job. The main clubhouse with all its amenities was only completed in 2012, in time for the latest edition of the Shenzhen Boat Show, itself becoming a landmark event for the region’s dealers.
It’s fair to say that the Shenzhen Marina Club has not only become a focal point of Da Mei Sha, where it is now as well known as the fantastical and iconic Sheraton Resort next door (which predates the marina), but also a focal point for the yachting business in South China. The combination of a massive wave of luxury beachside development, aided by the establishment of a highway system that has enormously reduced travel times between downtown Shenzhen and Da Mei Sha, has created one of China’s best resort towns.
The popularity of the club is due in part to the unique combination of yachting, luxurious surroundings and business facilities. The owner of Huawei, headquartered in Shenzhen and the world’s largest maker of telecommunications equipment, keeps his Lagoon 620 berthed at the marina.
The standout element is the new clubhouse building, whose design was done by Fong himself, a point he takes obvious pride in. The clubhouse is divided into two main parts: the main entrance hall and dining area, where Fong’s baby blue chopper from Orange County Choppers is ceremoniously parked; and the conference area. The conference area contains a large room for business meetings, and has been a popular feature according to the sales and marketing staff that attend to members’ needs. There is also a gym and spa, to help unwind the muscles after a long day of conference-going. In the main building, with floor-to-ceiling windows, there is a tea station strategically placed to enhance its Feng Shui properties.
There are quite a number of members who have joined without berths but enjoy the atmosphere, and of course, the networking opportunities. Most members stop by for the weekends, but even on a cool December midweek day, there were still a number of members enjoying the facilities.
Above the main clubhouse entrance, perched at the top of the building six floors up, are four presidential suites, each facing over the marina basin and out to sea. Here, a member and his guests can enjoy a superb spot for having barbeques (there is ample space on a deck terrace outside each suite), or they can relax in a common lounge that is open to all four suite residents. In the centre of this common lounge is a model of a Riva Aquarama. According to Fong, these suites were designed in “Beijing style”. But most appealing of all, you are in the centre of Da Mei Sha and its growing crowd of wealthy weekenders escaping the bustling city of Shenzhen.
Beyond the main clubhouse are a series of large dining halls that can be used for conferences or just large dinners. Each has a floor-to-ceiling view of the marina basin and the beach beyond. For the food and beverage service, Fong opted for the services of a growing chain of high end Chinese restaurants, Dan Gui Huen, which already has two outlets in Macau and 11 more in Guangdong Province.
One of the most popular features of the club remains one of the first that Fong had built – a beach bar/BBQ area that is located on the sea-ward side of the marina basin. Here, members and guests can linger with their families at a section of beach that is private for the club, or partake of cocktails and food served from a rustically styled, circular kitchen done in stone and wood. Guests can relax by the sea, with yachts passing by in the dredged out channel that bisects the beach.
With yachts in general and marina clubs in particular, the big question in China is, where do I take my boat?” Da Mei Sha itself is a pretty place, with a long sandy beach and tucked into the mountainous coastline of South China. Facing south, the marina is easily accessed from Sai Kung, Hong Kong’s popular boating playground. The nearby Yantian container terminal, located just around a headland from Da Mei Sha, is hardly noticeable. To the east, there is relatively undisturbed coastline, with a string of nearby islands. The most popular destination is Dapeng Nan Ao, with a round-trip time of about five hours.
Looking into the future, Fong Nan has come to the point of completion of his beloved project. A yacht owner himself, Fong has done his best to promote yachting to local governments, in particular trying to get a simple procedure worked out for visiting yachts from Hong Kong, or to make it possible for yachts at the marina to visit Hong Kong waters. Originally, he had worked closely with Gordon Hui of Sunseeker Asia to woo government officials on to the idea. He has since given up on this, as government at all levels have become closed to the proposal.
Given the extent of the marina’s popularity and the evident growth in yacht ownership by Shenzhen businessmen, that Hong Kong connection may no longer seem so necessary. The Shenzhen boat show, based at the marina, has become a much larger event since its inception six years ago. The number of boats has increased substantially, with larger booths and a bigger presence from Chinese yacht builders.
The trick for the show may be that the decreasing space in the marina will eventually force the show to adapt or move. Fong’s immediate plan calls for the building of a new “yacht mall”, which will essentially be an area for dealers, brokers and chandlery stores to be located in one spot. Currently, the old clubhouse building, a small building about the size of a cargo container, houses the dealer offices, including Sunseeker Asia, Simpson Marine and IAG Yachts of Zhuhai. Given the fact that the club’s members tend to be drawn from the elite ranks of Shezhen businesspeople, it’s very likely that Fong’s yacht mall will draw plenty of Hong Kong yacht businesses, just for the contacts.
Beyond that, Fong is interested in possibly finding new locations for other marina projects, as there is little room for expansion around the marina club, bordered as it is by roadways, the Sheraton resort and the public beach areas. He clearly saw that the confluence of easy road access, existing popularity of Da Mei Sha’s beaches, and available space would lead to a perfect spot for a yachting centre. That those conditions are not easily replicated around China is the likely reason for his hesitance to commit squarely to a new marina project. But, ever in search of opportunities, Fong clearly stated that he would build a new marina if he found the right conditions. With his own creation nearly complete and now almost full, the time for checking out new possibilities may be a real possibility for the former IT entrepreneur.