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French captain finds berth where he feels at home

Print By MA ZHIPING in Sanya, Hainan | CHINA DAILY | Updated: 2021-06-04

French captain Godfrey Zwygart sails with fellow team members off Sanya, Hainan province. CHINA DAILY

French captain Godfrey Zwygart is now more sentimentally attached to Sanya, where he is the first foreigner to receive a permanent residence card after spending 10 years in the tropical coastal city.


"The 'green card' has made me Hainanese, and given me a strong sense of belonging. I feel at home, and am filled with expectations for the construction of the Hainan Free Trade Port, which I believe will bring huge opportunities to the yachting industry," he said.


The Frenchman is busy drafting plans for an international yacht exhibition and trading center at the Sanya Central Business District. He said invitations are coming from coastal cities in other parts of the country, asking him for help in drawing up blueprints for yachting services elsewhere.


He is now fully motivated to start a new chapter as a marina pioneerand helping to turn Sanya into a leading destination for the global sailing community.


In 2010, Zwygart was invited to Hainan to pioneer the development of high-end yachting services in the island province.


With 40 years of experience captaining various craft, including navy vessels, freighters, sailboats and superyachts, Zwygart was tempted by Sanya's nice location, climate, fine natural environment and sea resources, which he believed someday would make it a great yacht resort.


The Sanya Serenity Marina, Zwygart's brainchild and a major landmark in the idyllic seaside town, has served as a stopover for a large number of world-class international ocean races, including the Volvo Ocean Race and the Clipper Round the World Race.


"With 325 wet berths for vessels up to 61 meters, the Sanya Serenity Marina was completed in a year and a half, while it would take at least five years to build such a marina in the West," said Zwygart, who grew up in a coastal city in southern France, and has traveled to more than 50 countries.


In the meantime, the French captain also established operation and management systems for the marina and helped train groups of young fishermen and boatmen, turning them into crew and technicians, who are now yachting services professionals in Hainan.


"Zwygart has great marine expertise, which we need very much in Hainan," said Yao Yuanfa, who has worked at the marina for eight years, adding that the French captain is a "bundle of fun and full of new ideas and insights".


"The inclusive and innovative environment here gives me a chance to show my skills," Zwygart said in fluent Mandarin.


In 2018, the marina was awarded the Gold Anchor Platinum Accreditation by the Marine Industry Association, the first in Asia and the second in the world to earn the top yachting honor. To date, only eight have earned the prestigious title.


In 2019, Zwygart became one of 100 winners of the Chinese Government Friendship Award, for his contribution to Sanya's modernization and international exchanges.


"The award was the greatest honor of my life," said Zwygart, who is thinking big for yacht tourism in China.


The French captain has a busy daily schedule. He holds a number of posts, including as adviser to the Sanya Serenity Marina, mediator to the Hainan Maritime Court, expert with the Hainan Cruise and Yacht Association and as president of Marevisio, a private company newly registered by Zwygart in Hong Kong and Sanya, which provides marina projection and management, superyacht and harbor management, crew and staff training, yacht club building and operations, and sailing school management services.


Sara Anghel, chair of the Canadian branch of the US Ship Building Manufacturers' Association, told a recent online meeting attended by both Chinese and US business officials that despite the current COVID-19 pandemic, members of the association are strongly interested in the yachting market in China.


Official statistics showed that Hainan recorded more than 100,000 yacht trips by more than 756,000 tourists in 2020, up 11 percent year-on-year.


Zwygart foresees huge potential for yacht tourism in China, especially in Hainan, over the next 10 years. He said the younger generation cares more about quality holidays and a diverse lifestyle, and will spend generously on marine leisure products.


"The master plan for the Hainan Free Trade Port includes very favorable policies, such as zero tariffs on importing yachting products. This will cut the price of foreign brands by around 38 percent, and encourage expansion of the yachting industry. With costs greatly reduced, more yachts will be imported, land, and dock here," said Zwygart.


He said he was recompiling his first Chinese version of a yacht terminal building and management manual, as a reference book for people in the trade.


Zwygart is popular among sea-lovers, thanks to his articles on social media promoting yachts and environmental awareness about the ocean.

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