While boating in Hong Kong is perceived to comprise large motor and sailing yachts from venues such as the prestigious Royal Hong Kong Yacht Club, there is another side to boating in Hong Kong that appeals to a broader segment of the population and includes everything from canoes, windsurfers and small fishing boats to the fast-evolving world of watersports such as paddle boarding and kite surfing. This was well represented at the inaugural Fragrant Harbour Maritime Festival, which took place in mid-May at Pier 8 in Central Hong Kong.

The event was organised by David Robinson, owner of local boating magazine Fragrant Harbour, and hosted by the Hong Kong Maritime Museum. Talking to IBI’s Asia correspondent, Robinson said: “The key objective of the event is to show that marine recreation can be for anyone.”

The festival attracted 25 exhibitors and some 3,000 visitors and, as a start-up first-time event, was acclaimed as a success by the local industry.

Two of Hong Kong’s major sailing clubs – Aberdeen Boat Club (ABC) and Royal Hong Kong Yacht Club (RHKYC) – joined the festival. “This is a pleasing sign that the clubs are reaching out to real people, dispelling the myth that sailing and boating are elitist. The ABC displayed an Optimist, which is an entry-level craft for young sailors all around the world. The RHKYC brought along a Laser and signed up visitors for their popular sailing courses.

By far the most photographed exhibit was Ranger Tugs’ Happy Mini Ship. At 21ft in length, it drew glowing praise from boating and non-boating folk alike. “’So cute’ was the most commonly-heard phrase, along with comments about its affordability and suitability for family use,” said Robinson.

The list of exhibitors included local clubs such as the Hong Kong Water Ski Association, ABC and RHKYC. Local companies exhibiting included Absolute Marine, Ferretti Yachts, Northrop and Johnson, Simpson Marine, Sunseeker Asia and Starship Yachts. The largest yacht on the water, moored alongside the venue, was a Ferretti 850.

Representing the other end of the leisure boating spectrum in Hong Kong was luxury yacht magazine Asia-Pacific Boating, which added more diversity to the festival.

Hong Kong Maritime Museum director, Richard Wesley, encouraged both exhibitors and visitors to venture upstairs to see the many maritime artefacts, paintings, and rare exhibits in his museum galleries.

The entire show was held undercover – a big advantage in May’s fickle weather. Next year, there are plans to expand the event using both the lower and upper decks of the building, together with space in the open, along the promenade.

According to Robinson: “By staging the festival in Central, and in the public eye, it is hoped that the simple message of marine recreation being for everyone [not just the rich] will be conveyed to the public and those in power. With 9,500 licensed pleasure craft in the territory, and a good 5,000 other diverse recreational craft, Hong Kong is paradise for those who know there is more to life than work. And what better way to spend precious leisure time than out on the water.”