by John Curnow
Like little packets of data running around the Internet, Zou Inter Marine are busy delivering lots of Byte CIIs in to the North American, Asia/Pacific and European markets.
Singapore’s Darren Choy ahead of Germany’s Florian Haufe at the 2010 Youth Olympic Games (YOG) racing in Byte CII’s.
Being selected as the craft used for the Youth Olympics is just one of the Byte CII’s accolades. Quite possibly the main attribute is that this lightweight dynamic craft allows the smaller sailor to, well, actually sail this dinghy and not only fully emulate some of their heroes, but extract more enjoyment and garner greater skills in the process.
Penny Ma from Zou Inter Marine is quite excited by the new craft they are making.
She explains, ‘Yes. We have been busy since receiving the Byte CII moulds from Ian Bruce in Canada later last year. Our first prototype was ready in February, with some preliminary shipments occurring in April. It was only last month that we swung into full production with a solid flow of Bytes going around the world.’
‘We have the capacity to make plenty of boats, so are very keen to demonstrate just how good the boat is. It will certainly have a great impact here in China’, Penny added.
Not that Zou Inter Marine is new to building dinghies or running sail training programs either, mind you. They actually made their first Optimists for the Asian Games in 1990 and by 1999 they were ramping up their production volumes.
‘The Byte CII is our main focus currently. Not only because of its status globally, but also because it will take us some time to promote it in China, as it is not an existing class yet, which means we don’t really have exclusively Byte sailors from anywhere inside the whole country. I want to use one of the first fleet of Bytes for my own club as part of this summer’s training program.’
‘In the meantime, our target this year is to organise some events, so as to attract some different sailors to join this class. We are keen to have the World´s and to see whether we can do some qualifying events in Qingdao, where our factory is, or even other cities in China and give the Byte CII the launch it deserves.’
As with the rest of the world, the Byte CII continues to prove its credentials as the vessel for smaller sailors, be they youth or adults, which is something Penny also acknowledges. ‘It is more suitable for light sailors than the Laser. We do have Lijia ‘Lily’ Xu as a Olympic Laser Radial Champion, which is a class that suits the young and also female sailors.'
‘In China we also have quite good sailors in Optimists, but the problem is those sailors couldn’t go directly ahead to the Lasers, because they are too light, so we needed a class that is suitable for that age and that weight. The Byte CII is exactly the right boat and of course, we do hope that we can build a good market in China.’
‘When smaller sailors use the Laser, they don’t learn to sail as well as the heavier sailors. If they are young, they almost have to relearn when they get heavier. The Byte CII gives them correct technique right from the beginning. Lily Xu sails the Laser very aggressively and manoeuvres the boat around like the men do. Smaller sailors when they are coming out of Optimists can’t do that’, Penny added.
Not only is Penny proud to be building and also representing the Byte CII in China, she is also very passionate about the company and sailing school, too. Apart from being a former sailing and multi-discipline Chinese Champion, Penny’s Father in Law, Zou Chengchuan, was a very hands on kind of man and had his very first Optimist approved by the International Optimist Dinghy Association (IODA) in 1988. On the back of that success, he and wife Wang Zhimin, who are both avid sailors, set up a very small factory and started building small numbers of Optimists. Importantly and interestingly, this was the first factory in China to build an ISAF class boat.
A decade later their son George and his wife Penny, who were teaching kids to sail the Optimist from their sailing club in Qingdao, had a dream. Simply put, they wanted to host a world championship.
Their proposal received an affirmative response from both IODA and the Chinese Yachting Association and so in 2001, in partnership with the government of Qingdao they hosted the 39th IODA World Championships.
‘That was the first time we built about 255 Optimists in about one year. It’s also the point at which George and I took over the business. We started contacting most of the national sailing teams or associations and gradually started building volume’, said Penny.
‘The Optimist is also important to us for it is where we set up our quality control processes for the entire factory across the other lines like 420, Tirion, Longtze and Splash. We control the lamination weight for every layer and ensure that the building manual is followed step by step. Combined with very strict purchasing control we can deliver on time and on weight and match client expectations.’
‘Our real growing step happened around 2008 when Qingdao hosted the Olympic Games. Suddenly most of the people knew about sailing, whereas before nobody knew or understood anything about it.'
'There was not even a boat on the water and almost 100% of our product was for export, but after 2008 we now do 30% for the local market and 70% for overseas. The Chinese market is now really growing, especially during the last two years and those percentages are changing every year. Qingdao has become a sailing city and almost all the schools offer sailing.’
‘In addition to running the factory, we also have the sailing club, which is where we help the government teach the kids from the local schools. This facility is located inside the Olympic marina. Every summer we train at least 500 students. I think we are the first sailing club in China and the only ones to focus on children and small dinghies.'
'This is why having the kids go on from the Optimist to Byte CIIs is a good step. Our dream is not just selling boats worldwide, it’s also to remain the biggest sailing training centre in China.’
But right now this passionate sailing business is very busy shipping Byte CII´s around the world
So look out for the Byte CII and any smaller sailor that is lucky enough to be in one. Apart from having a good time, they’ll be building skill sets that will help them not only at that stage of their career, but for any racetrack they may appear on in the future.
Checking out the new boats - Australia’s first Byte Regatta