Keeping up with China in fast-forward
ENKHUIZEN _ How fast is China’s watercraft industry developing? At the METS show in Amsterdam in November, 2012, Far East Boats of Shanghai asked designer Maarten Voogd to draw a 31-ft racer. The boat was launched in March and shown at the April 10-13 Shanghai International Boat Show. That fast enough for you too?
Far East Boats was launched in 2002 and quickly made a name for itself as the official builder of the Optimist and other small sailing craft. Early on, owner Lu Wei Feng was keen to build a cabin cruiser.
Far East first approached Voogd in 2009. Voogd told the Dutch trade magazine Jachtbouw Nederland: “This was not a Dutch yard asking for a design to be made cheaply in China, but a 100% Chinese initiative.” Voogd went to Shanghai where Far East then operated from an old production hall near downtown. Apart from Optimists, it also was the distributor in China of the Olympic Laser. Lu Wei Feng and Voogd got on well. “They wanted a simple, well-built boat that sails well,” says Voogd. “Also, it had to fit in a container so it could be shipped. And there was an odd additional condition: the cockpit and cabin had to accommodate 8 people. By now they get that that’s no way to build a racer.”
His 2009 visit paid off. He returned home with a contract for a 26-ft sailboat of which, by now, more than 70 have been built. There was a follow-up order for an 18-ft sail boat for China’s rapidly growing ranks of sailing schools. Voogd: “The first project is always the toughest because you have to get to know each other. Once you have gone through the building process you know each other and you understand the way of working. You either get an order and that’s it. Or you reap additional business. There is mutual trust between us. And that led to the latest order: the one for the 31-footer that Voogd won at the Mets-2012 show. It is a razor-sharp looking yacht that shows Far East and Simonis-Voogd’s keenness to innovative. It is a pure-bred ICR racer made of carbon in vacuum-injection. That guarantees not just a solid, light-weight build but must also position Far East Boats as a quality builder.
The Far East 31R comes with top-flight Harken deck gear and Selden spars. Far East is determined to become a serious player in offshore racing by continuously searching for and implementing the latest techniques and innovations. The Far East 31R has been designed with only one goal in mind: to be the world’s fastest 31ft one-design racing yacht in the world.
The development and construction of the 31 went very fast and led to plans for a 33ft performance cruiser. Far East is keen to expand its portfolio. In addition to performance cruisers, the company makes catamarans as day sailers for the domestic market. “There are a lot lakes in China where real estate projects are being developed,” says Voogd. “You see billboards advertising country homes with moorings. There is a giant market there waiting for us. There is a market for all manner of yachts except _ because of environmental concerns _ yachts with combustion engines. The Chinese want electric motors. All our 31-footers are equipped with electric engines. That’s how it is: China is striding forward and skipping phases. It’s a country in fast-forward. They are keen to use our western expertise. Our years of pioneering are finding immediate high-level applications.”