Sail-World Asia's 5th birthday

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 01 Jun 2010


The BBC said today “we are living in the Digital Age”. Not much of a surprise there, eh? But think for a moment what that means to you (and to us in the ‘news' business...) Once upon a time you got to read about events and regattas a good while after they happened. Now you can get the info almost as soon as it happens – and in many cases, while it is still happening. News stories (and features, and product reviews, and all the rest of it) are available more or less in real time. Facebook spreads the word. Twitter even brings you ‘tweets' from crew on offshore races.

Sail-World Asia is five years old now – actually we hit the birthday sometime in May. We started in 2005 with a subscriber list of about 500 names, and today this newsletter is going out 4,398 readers. And on top of that, around 9,000 unique visitors in Asia will visit Sail-World during the next month. Once upon a time we used to talk about ‘page views', but ‘unique visitors' is the number of different people who visit the website in a given period – no matter how many times they visit it. (Our figures come from the independent web-metrics people, We didn't just make them up). And that means that more sailors, boaters, and yachties are plugged in to Sail-World Asia and our other editions (,, than to any other marine news website in the region. Half of them are in China (that was a surprise!). We already run news stories in Thai, and before the end of this year we will add Chinese and Korean language reporting.

What have we noticed in those five years? Well, everyone wants to be ‘international', and everyone declares themselves to be the biggest/best/most prestigious event in the calendar. There's a lot of pr hype out there (and some of it is quite amusing), so we try to sort the wheat from the chaff, and try to bring a little objectivity to the picture. When we can, we report on a lot of events and regattas ourselves rather than sitting in the office and forwarding the press releases. Sometimes we find that the blurb doesn't match up to the performance. One event we attended recently described themselves as “the biggest boat show in Asia” – but when we asked them if this was based on the number of visitors, the number of boats in the water, the aggregate length of boats in the water, the value of the boats on display or just the number of exhibitors, they were unable to say.

Something similar goes for regattas. We know one Asian regatta that says it is going to be “one of the top ten regattas in the world”: let's think – Cowes Week, Key West, Geelong Week, Kiel Week, Block Island... my word, that's a tough list to break into! And another Asian event recently declared its goal (after just three events, the most recent with 26 entries, from two countries) of “becoming (the) world's biggest international yacht race” – presumably, right up there with the Fastnet, the Sydney-Hobart, the Transpac, and the Bermuda Race. Those are big shoes to jump into, so excuse us if we think there are a few balloons that need to be pricked.

Sir Robin Knox-Johnston said recently that he thought that some places in this part of the world were doing it “the wrong way round”. Starting at the top with expensive (and empty) yacht clubs, and wondering why the world - and the sailors - weren't flocking to their doors. “They have seen the posh places and the big events, and want the same, but without realising that they are all built on a long history that started at the grass roots. Sailors and small events came before big clubs and big events – not the other way round”. So please excuse us, if you must, when we are sometimes rather skeptical, and try to inject a little reality into our reporting of Asian events.

Over the years of sifting some of the more outrageous claims, we have come to the conclusion that the three most important things that make a good regatta are race management, race management, and race management. Assisted by competent regatta organisation and a good venue. “Give a sailor his grog, and nothing goes wrong”, sang David Isom, so add in a couple of good parties, and you may have a winner – even if the wind doesn't always co-operate! “Give them some good racing, a couple of cold beers and a chance to stand around and talk bull***t, and everyone is happy,” was how one very visible Asian regatta participant summed it up. Firework displays and fashion shows are strictly optional extras. Interminable self-congratulatory speeches from dignitaries in suits and administrators in blazers are not. At one event we attended recently, someone reported after the Closing Ceremony that “the Jury and Committee got more trophies than the sailors, so all as expected.”

And don't even get me started on those well-funded events that hand out ‘entry money' and ‘subsidies' to attract competitors - and prize money. How many of their competitors will return when the cash is not forthcoming, unless the event has proven itself to be really first-class?

And then there's the China Explosion. Still a work in progress... Marinas galore, and the prospect of millions of people suddenly going boating. But how many of that enormous population have access to the water, and to a low-cost sailing facility or club? And how do the (potential) power boaters get past the fact that there are still no government regulations that recognize a ‘pleasure' or ‘leisure' vessel. Practicalities: we understand that of all the marinas in China, only one has a travel hoist. Most – if not all – the marinas are more akin to a property development with a pond and some pontoons in front (to justify the “marine lifestyle” marketing hook) than a real boating facility. The “marine industry” is actually an export industry – boats are being built in China, but sold overseas. Five years ago we said, “it'll happen, but not just yet...” Watch this space.

So let's look on the positive side! Sailing, boating and yachting IS growing in Asia. Singapore, and Thailand have youth development programmes in place that are producing national and international medallists in the junior classes. There are so many big boat regattas on the menu that owners and crew have a tough time deciding which one(s) to attend – we are often asked, “you've been there... is such-and-such worth going to?” The fact that those events are sprinkled across Hong Kong, the Philippines, Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore demands a huge commitment from owners and crew in terms of money and time, but the circuit is flourishing. Maybe none of those regattas are in the World Top Ten (however you care to define that) but they are still first class, and the wise ones trade on an established reputation without going overboard on the PR hyperbole. Powerboat brokers and agents are selling bigger and bigger boats in ever-greater numbers – but there is a serious shortage of marina berths for the big boats, all over the region.

Cut through the flim-flam, and leisure marine activities are alive and well in Asia - financial crisis? What's that? All the manufacturers in the western hemisphere are looking to Asian customers to keep them afloat. More and more superyachts are coming to the region, reportedly because they've ‘done' the Med and the Caribbean, and anyway Asia is a lot cheaper than either of them.

So we'll keep reporting on what goes on in Asia, and around the world, and we'll try to do so without getting sucked in to the press release vortex. The unique visitor traffic for Sail-World, Powerboat-World and MarineBusiness-World (that is, our circulation) for the first five months of the year is up a remarkable 50% over 2009. In February 2010, our audience reached 185,000 readers and by the same time next year, should top 225,000 readers per month. That is unrivalled anywhere, in any market for networked marine media and that will continue to grow as our iPad-friendly sites will offer news in Chinese, Korean and Thai over the coming year. And yes, there are specialist, and MarineBusiness-World apps for both iPhone and iPad coming soon too.

That means lots of news for you, the readers; lots of exposure for the events we cover – and their sponsors; and lots of audience for our advertisers.

Next week: Korea International Boat Show and the Korea Match Cup. We'll be there!

Guy Nowell, Editor

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