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We are sailing

(Global Times)

10:19, August 24, 2011

"When I got hurt, I stitched myself up; when I encountered some unexpected dangers, I coped with it, and sometimes I told myself 'I don't want to sail any more,'" Zhai Mo, who became the first Chinese person to sail around the world solo in 2009, told the Global Times during the 2011 Qingdao International Sailing Week last weekend.

Zhai said he used sign language when he arrived in some countries to get water supplies.

Though he traveled alone for more than two years, he said he never felt lonely, since he was so busy navigating and sailing his ship.

Zhai said he expects that more Chinese people will get into sailing in the future. Already, more than 5,000 applicants have asked to take part in his second global circumnavigation project.

Many of China's future sailors are likely to come from Qingdao, a coastal city in Shandong Province with a population of about 8 million.

"Qingdao is the only city in China trying to promote sailing as a sport," Yin Jian, champion of RS:X Women at the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games Sailing Regatta, told the Global Times.

Yin said the local government not only offers free-of-charge sailing opportunities to the city's children, but has also held various sailing events, including the 2008 Olympic Games sailing events and the Volvo Ocean Race and Clipper Race.

"The more events the local people watch, the more likely it is that people will have a try," said Li Quanhai, vice chairman of the Chinese Yachting Association.

Li noted that Qingdao is also perfect for sailing, partly owing to its good wind conditions.

In the last five years, 138 sailing schools and clubs have been established in the city. The local government has also organized for more than 100,000 company workers to experience sailing for free. According to the government's plan, it expects that 300,000 company workers will try sailing by 2015.
"The development of sailing in Qingdao has a positive influence on sailing worldwide," said Goran Petersson, chairman of the International Sailing Federation.

However, some people say sailing is a luxury sport that not everyone can afford. Frank Pong, the former president of the Hong Kong Royal Yacht Club, told the Global Times that he does not agree, and that sailing is a sport as ordinary as tennis or football.

"Sailing doesn't necessarily mean purchasing a boat. People can rent boats from clubs. That's not expensive!" said Pong, adding that the unique advantage of sailing is that it cultivates confidence, since it requires courage to battle with the elements.

"Qingdao is setting a good example among Chinese cities to develop sailing," said Pong, because the government support is huge.

According to the government's sailing development plan for the next five years (2011-15), the authorities will continue to improve sailing infrastructure, carry out campus sailing activities and strengthen exchanges with other overseas sailing-related cities and organizations.

So far, Qingdao has formed an alliance with cities including Kiel in Germany, Brest in France, and Keelung in Taiwan Province to enhance communication in the areas of sailing, tourism and culture.

By last year, the city had 28 clubs engaged in the sailing business, four organizations offering sailing training, four sailing boat production companies, and more than 300 companies manufacturing yachts and motorboats.

"Qingdao, with its Olympics legacy, has a natural advantage to develop sailing as a lifestyle. And it can also serve as a communication bridge between the city and other countries," Zhu Yuetao, deputy director of Qingdao Convention and Exhibition Office, told the Global Times.

Meanwhile, Zhu revealed that Qingdao is eyeing not only the sport of sailing, but also the whole "blue economy," or "ocean economy."

The city is home to nearly 80 percent of China's ocean-related scientific research and development personnel, and about 50 percent of the sea research institutions in the country, which provide a suitable development basis for an ocean economy, according to Zhu.

"And sailing is one part of our key ocean development picture," said Zhu, adding that although for now the government is working to provide various kinds of support to guide the industry, eventually the market will dominate the sailing industry.

The government has announced that it plans to organize the city's professional sailing team, establish sailing regulations, and encourage companies to invest in sailing.

"Although sailing as a sport in Asia only has a history of about 50 years, it demonstrates that Asian countries' development space for sailing is far greater (compared with mature sailing countries)," said Li Quanhai.

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