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Captain plots course for yachting success

By MA ZHIPING in Sanya, Hainan | CHINA DAILY | Updated: 2020-09-02 09:32
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Godfrey Zwygart guides a vessel in Sanya, Hainan province. CHINA DAILY

Frenchman is helping turn Sanya into a leading destination for global sailing community

"Sunshine, waves, beaches and the old captain…"

An idyllic life near the sea, as typified by the 1980s folk song Grandmother's Penghu Bay, is now within reach for many people, as cruise ship and yachting trips become more affordable, and maritime recreation grows in popularity in China.

More than a decade ago, French captain Godfrey Zwygart saw the opportunity for growth in the sector in China and the need for experienced terminal builders, managers and ship captains.

In 2010, he moved to Sanya, Hainan, to pioneer the development of high-end yachting services in the island province. But his initial impressions were not good.

"I hesitated for about half a year before deciding to settle in Sanya which was then unattractive to me," said Zwygart, who has taught himself Mandarin and uses the Chinese name Gao Dehua.

"The Banshan Peninsula, where the marina stands today, used to be barren beaches and the surroundings were like a backward fishing village 10 years ago.

"But I could not resist the temptation that Sanya, with its nice location, climate, fine natural environment and sea resources, would someday become a great yacht resort city," said Zwygart with a wide grin.

The Sanya Serenity Marina, with its 325 wet berths for vessels up to 61 meters, is now a major landmark in the idyllic seaside town. "It would take at least five years to build such a marina in the West," Zwygart said.

In 2018, the marina was awarded the Platinum Gold Anchor Accreditation by the Marine Industry Association, the first in Asia and the second in the world to earn the top yachting honor. Only eight marinas have earned the prestigious title.

Zwygart's 90 employees take great pride in the achievement and give most of the credit to the leadership of the experienced captain who is the marina's director.

"He has great marine expertise, which we need very much in Hainan," said Yao Yuanfa, who has worked at the marina for eight years, adding that Zwygart is a "bundle of fun and full of new ideas and insights".

Grown up in a coastal city in southern France, Zwygart said he has been infatuated with Chinese martial arts since childhood and came to China in the 1980s after he left the French navy. He stayed in Taiwan for about 20 years, building boats and running yacht clubs, shipyards and a ship maintenance business.

Yao said Zwygart has 30 years of experience captaining various craft including navy vessels, freighters, sailboats and superyachts.

Last year, Zwygart became one of 100 winners of the Chinese Government Friendship Award given by the State Council to foreigners who have made a special contribution to the country's development.

Zwygart said the award was the greatest honor of his life.

Its convenient location and professional facilities have made Sanya Serenity Marina a stopover for many international sailing races including the Volvo Ocean Race, the Clipper Round the World Race, the Round Hainan Regatta and the 2017 Youth Sailing World Championships.

It is also a popular resort destination for people such as tourist Xiao Wang, an enthusiastic newcomer to the boat scene who recently arranged a weekend party for his friends on a yacht he hired.

"It was a day of great fun," Xiao said. "The captain told us many stories and shared his knowledge about marine culture while we sailed the sea. We were charmed by the sea views and became immersed in the excitement of jet skiing and sea fishing, a brand new experience for all of us."

Zwygart foresees huge potential for yachting tourism in China, especially Hainan, over the next 10 years. The younger generation cares more about quality holidays and a diverse lifestyle and will spend generously on sea leisure products, he said.

Zwygart said zero tariffs for certain products under the establishment of the Hainan Free Trade Port were good news for the development of the yachting industry in the province. "With costs greatly reduced, more yachts will be imported, land and dock here," he said.

Although a foreigner, Zwygart said he has never lived as an "outsider" in Sanya and considers himself an "old Hainan" hand. He has published many articles on social media promoting knowledge about yachts and environmental awareness about the ocean.

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