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Sail Away

Andrew Kay  

Founded by the Hong Kong Catamaran Club (CATA), Andrew Kay’s ASAHK Sailing School is affiliated with the American Sailing Association (ASA). CATA offers the ASA curriculum in Chinese to cater to growing mainland interest in sailing. Courses range from entry-level sailing to advanced cruising for experienced sailors. 

The school was one of more than 700 exhibitors promoting their services at the HKTDC Education and Careers Expo last month. In Six Questions, Andrew Kay, the school’s Managing Director, explains why it’s not just the rich who are interested in hoisting the mainsail. 

Tell us about the ASAHK sailing school.
The school was set up two years ago. So far, we have 150 students in Hong Kong. Our courses are designed for all age groups at different levels. ASA 101 is suited for those who don’t aim to be at the top. Our boats range in size from 21.7 feet in ASA 101, to 34-foot-long boats in ASA 103, and 44-foot boats in ASA 104. Those who want to go into racing would take ASA 106. We’re one of only a few sailing schools that uses keelboats instead of dinghies, which can capsize easily. 

Along with myself, the school’s fulltime instructors are British and American, with one from Hong Kong. We also have about 15 part-time instructors, including one who’s stationed on the mainland. We offer basic training in Shenzhen, Dongguan, Xiamen and Shanghai. But for advanced courses, which require bigger boats, they have to come to Hong Kong. 

How did the partnership with the American Sailing Association come about?
I learned to sail in Hong Kong and had to go to Florida to take advanced sailing courses. Then I approached the ASA about becoming an instructor. I paid US$10,000 to have a senior instructor from the US come to Hong Kong to train and certify me and my staff in two weeks. The ASA flew in an examiner to conduct the exam, which we all passed, qualifying us to become an affiliate school. 

Is there a difference in the curriculum taught here?
Our curriculum is the same as the American curriculum except for the language it’s taught in. We offer classes in English, Cantonese and Mandarin. We have translated the books, syllabus and exam papers into Chinese.

We also offer advanced packages for those who already have some knowledge and experience. For example, they can complete the entire five-course programme within eight days and get certified. 

Who are your target clients?
There are two types of people who would be interested in sailing. One group is secondary-school students who want to be admitted to top universities such as Harvard, Cambridge or the University of Hong Kong’s Medicine Programme. My brother, who’s a professor, says that admissions are not based purely on academic performance because every applicant has similar A grades. Sailing, of course, is a good extracurricular activity that distinguishes them from other students. So for those people, sailing would be good training. 

The other group consists of people who want to upgrade or improve themselves; for instance, self-motivated business executives who want to show that they have interests beyond business. 

What’s the potential for the activity catching on among the mainland’s newly rich?
Sailing is very new to China, where it only became popular after the 2008 Olympic Games. But now China’s newly rich are buying expensive cars, boats, properties as a way to stand out. Some even hire skilled sailors to work for them, paying double the amount they’re paid in Hong Kong. So many people at the moment buy huge, expensive boats, but may not know how to sail. 

Why did you base your school in Hong Kong, if Chinese mainland clients are your key targets?
China now is the world’s second-largest economy. But, unfortunately, there aren’t very many places in the country that are good for sailing, other than Qingdao, Shanghai, Xiamen, Hong Kong and Hainandao. Qingdao is the only place on the mainland that offers the type of sailing courses we offer, but there aren’t very many islands there, the weather can be rough and the winters are cold. 

Hong Kong offers the best sea training in this part of the world. I want to attract more people from the mainland to Hong Kong to learn sailing, especially expatriates and entrepreneurs. Hong Kong is the only city in South China with such a good natural environment suitable for sailing. We have islands, which protect you from strong winds. We have sandy beaches, where people can swim and deep waters that are suited for sailing.  

Related Link
Hong Kong Catamaran Club (CATA)


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