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Flying Tiger Hidden Dragon

The Flying Tiger phenomenon finally reached the Caribbean in July in St Maarten, when German sailor Sven Harder took delivery of a container containing his brand-new, ready-to-assemble 32-footer.

Within a matter of hours, Harder was at Bobby’s Marina and Boat Yard in Great Bay, his present unwrapped, and the yard’s 90-ton Travelift busy lowering the 9’15” beam hull onto the keel. As Harder, who has been based in Antigua for the last 14 years, nervously paced around his baby, onlookers couldn’t help but coo and compliment the Teutonic trailblazer on his purchase.

The Flying Tiger ‘FT10’ is a 10m one-design racer that has been creating a buzz and kicking up a storm in equal measure over the last year. On the surface, she is a 32.65’, open-transom, ‘vacuum bagged fiberglass sandwich core construction’ racer, reminiscent of a Melges 32 or J109, but designed to fit snugly into a shipping container, with a removable keel and two-section carbon fiber mast.

The buzz around the Tiger stems from the fact that the boat is built in China, at Hansheng Yachts in Xiameng, where the factory is now knocking out eight boats a month with a price tag around the $50,000 mark. Initially, the ‘Made in China’ stamp had the yachties scoffing, but some great reviews (in brief: very light, very fast) and downwind rides at 17 knots established that this Chinese boat was no junk.

Then there is the manner of the Tiger’s development. The original design came from Robert Perry and Bill Stevens in the US, who then posted their idea on the website ‘Sailing Anarchy’. At first, members put forward their own suggestions for improving the design. Soon, however, visitors to the site were placing orders, with the first boats going for under 40k. The ease of transport, in which the hull is turned at 30 degrees inside a cradle and slid into the container, meant that it was relatively straightforward to pack the new boat off to the US, Australia, South Africa or Europe, where it could be assembled straight out the box. In a matter of months, racing fleets were springing up in California, Chicago, Washington and elsewhere and the boat was nominated as one of Sailing World’s Boats of 2007.

At around the same time, Antigua’s Sven Harder, who runs NewsPaper Direct Antigua and normally sails on the Beneteau 25 Ice Boat, was tracking reactions to the Tiger on Sailing Anarchy’s message boards. “There was a lot of badmouthing about a boat built in China, but I was very confident,” says Sven. Not surprisingly, a fast, narrow boat that costs half the price of its immediate competition is only going to appeal to those who eventually own one.

A short while after Antigua Sailing Week, Harder softened and placed his order, picking up boat number 42, out of a total of 150 sold so far. Just 42 days later, it was in the Caribbean, ready to go with a Kevlar jib and Dacron mainsail. Harder’s plan is to race the FT10 in St Maarten, the BVI and Antigua and down-island for the 2008 season. At this price, and with everything pointing towards a favorable rating, Harder’s won’t be the only Flying Tiger in the Caribbean for long. If other sailors don’t place orders, quips Harder: “Then I’ll be the only one winning races.”

China recently entered a team in the 32nd America’s Cup, and will host the 2008 Olympic Games, yet recreational sailing is almost non-existent. However, according to the new Bobby’s Marina Yard Manager, Hendrick de Jong, who recently finished a 7 1/2-year stint in Shekou, China, this is all about to change. The dragon is ready to enter. Boat building, from small one-design racers like the Tiger, right up to megayachts, is yet another of the economic areas the Chinese are aiming to master.

For a start, China will have 500,000 millionaires within the next decade, and millionaires need yachts. To accommodate them, four huge luxury marinas are currently planned in Shanghai, with room for 8,000 boats, and another 50 marinas are planned or under construction nationwide. (There are currently fewer than ten. The United States, by comparison, has over 12,000 working marinas.)

If the trend continues, Antigua’s Sven Harder could be the first to usher in a new yachting mantra: ‘Go East, young man.’

Thanks to:

www.chinaboatmarket.com

Nick Marshall is an English journalist living on St. Maarten who was consultant editor of All At Sea from 2003 to 2005.

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