Yachting Redux

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A foreign yacht is docked in Da Nang’s Han River Port on January 5. Photo by Nguyen Tu

The unfortunate thing about writing an article in an English language newspaper in Vietnam is that it seems doubtful it will be read by anyone but English speaking visitors and expatriates.

The purpose of the story on the absence of yachting in Vietnam in the January 17th edition of Vietweek was to try to call the government’s attention to the lost opportunities the country experiences by not capitalizing on the huge potential for revenue and international recognition as a sophisticated society that Vietnam loses by its failure to accommodate and develop yachting along its inviting coastline.

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This is really a message for government ministries and prosperous Vietnamese. The expat community is already well aware, at least those who would like to see yachting here so in that respect, we are “preaching to the converted.”

The first article did have some positive results, however. It resulted in my learning about the hard fought and continuing efforts being made in a number of quarters to resolve the problem. It also resulted in our being introduced to the Vietnamese edition of the Robb Report.

For the uninitiated, this is one of the premier publications for rich people and those who want to see how rich people spend their money. There are only ten international editions so the fact that there is one in Vietnamese shows the publishers are obviously aware there are a lot of very affluent people here.

Noticeable by its absence, however, is any advertising for yachting although there are occasional stories about yachts. The super yacht, Archimedes, which illustrated the first story, is owned by an American billionaire and vessels like this go pretty much anywhere they want. They do not require the usual yacht marina that is required for smaller vessels.

To begin with, if you are interested and will do what I should have done before even publishing the first piece, namely Google “yachting in Vietnam” you will discover numerous references to the sport which suggest that it is alive and well here. In its usual efficient way Google announces that there are 1,050,000 items related to the topic. On closer examination, however, you find that much of this is outdated and inaccurate and in many instances just represents wishful thinking, not actual activity but Google has no way of differentiating.

The information that has come to my attention, subsequent to the story, is that there are several people who have made some headway in developing their own yachting business here, obviously including Ruurd.

To begin with the Hong Kong/Nha Trang race is still being held with the latest ending in October. It has just dropped off the radar in Nha Trang and few people here seem to be aware it goes on. This year brought 13 boats out of 17 that started in Hong Kong and 175 participants, of which 140 reached Nha Trang. 3 boats returned to Hong Kong with broken parts and 1 boat sank after the crew was rescued by helicopter. 

We also learned that it is possible for foreigners to become a licensed captain for Vietnamese waters with a three-day course taught in English in Saigon and costing about US$1,500. With this you can evidently cruise in Vietnamese waters on your own boat, as long as it is also registered in Vietnam.

There are a few boatyards in the Saigon area building high-quality day sailors and cruising yachts for export. One is “Corsair Marine” with yards and offices in District 7 where they build trimarans in the range from 24 ft – 32 ft and ocean going catamarans from 32 ft to 38 ft.

Ruurd is the sales agent for these and a number of other yacht brands in Vietnam if and when affluent Vietnamese decide to become involved in yachting, in the meantime his local market has been resorts and yacht charter operators. However, there are no actual marinas for private vessels anywhere in the country although proposals and planning are going on in a number of areas.

The challenge appears to be the unfamiliarity on the part of Vietnamese maritime and other relevant officials of the nature of private yachting and especially of cruising yachts.

The current maritime regulations do not provide a suitable chapter for the licensing, ownership and usage of yachts in Vietnam. Ruurd, and a few others he has worked with, hope to bring changes about by working with maritime, tourism and ministry officials but it is at slow speed ahead.

If any readers of the first article – "Missing the Boat" – took the trouble to read Jack Van Ommens' account of arriving here in 2008, you would be aware that he was asked while still at sea, who his shipping agent was.

As Jack pointed out, private yachts do not require an agent to handle their arrival anywhere in the world so he was ill prepared for this query.

Ruurd is an officially sanctioned agent for Vietnam and although it is in fact not a requirement for arriving boats, he can handle arrangements for them, to avoid the hassle.

I was also contacted by a fellow American expat who sailed his 38 foot boat from San Francisco several years ago. He settled in Vung Tau and put it ashore where he left it for several years while he worked out of the country. On his return he found it stripped of everything of value (not surprising) and he’s been getting it back in shape but now he can not get permission to relaunch it.

He shared a promotional video for a proposed marina in Vung Tau that was submitted to the People’s Committee there several years ago but never acted upon.

The Vung Tau Marina was an initiative of a Vietnamese investor and a foreign (New Zealand) businessman, who has been living in Southern Vietnam for many years, where he has a boat (parts) building company and who is also a very experienced and capable sailor with a great passion for everything that concerns sailing, including teaching it to the Vietnamese people.

As with many similar projects, a Vietnamese investor claims to have a go on a marina project and attracts foreign expertise to set it up. The only problem is they go public with the idea before proper feasibility studies are carried out and investigation and licensing has been done. The main issue is that, so far, there is no relevant or specific law for marina construction and operation. There is a law for seaport, river port or tourist port development, but that does not fit well.

Besides, many marina projects are often planned, adjacent to real estate projects, in unsuitable locations. Usually the foreign attracted expert will bring this up, but not all investors are happy to hear this.

So at the end, after a lot of noise, the Vietnamese investors pull out, leaving the foreign partners behind and many promises broken. Ruurd experienced this several times in Vietnam.

Actually the Vietnamese government should have a look at Singapore where the cruising (big ships) and yachting industry are combined and facilities are created in cooperation between investors and the government.

That works well, because of proper master planning and clear regulations, with the mutual understanding that the maritime leisure industry is very beneficial for the local economy by generating many jobs and significant income.

In Vietnam it seems that only “Hanoi” can decide such things, so every project that is still acting on a local or provincial level is far from realization.

And, as often in Vietnam with these kinds of projects, things are not always as they seem, so each groundbreaking marina project should be handled with a healthy dose of skepticism; seeing is believing.

You can contact me or Ruurd through the paper if you have anything to share.

Happy Sailing!!!

By Richard McKenzie And Ruurd van Putten*

*Richard McKenzie is an American expat who lives in Nha Trang. Ruurd van Putten is a Dutch businessman who also lives and works in Nha Trang. The opinions expressed are their own.

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