Monday, May 9, 2011

Sailing and vacationing at Dapeng Bay (Taiwan Business Topics)

As increasing numbers of foreign visitors are discovering, Taiwan's coastline is more than a place to soak up the sun and play in the surf. It is also a paradise for birdwatchers and a heaven for lovers of seafood.

The region that includes Dapeng Bay in the southernmost county of Pingtung is well known on both counts. Each winter, the bay and the wetlands that surround it attract scores of migratory bird species, while the adjacent town of Donggang is renowned for its world-class bluefin tuna and other delicacies.

Dapeng Bay has another advantage, one that is immediately obvious to those who have a chance to get on a windsurfing rig or aboard a sloop. In addition to year-round sunshine, the bay enjoys consistent winds. Yet because the mouth of this 532-hectare lagoon is so narrow, the waves are minuscule. As a result, it is an excellent place for all kinds of watersports. In a word, sailing here is a breeze.

Some 3.5km long and about 1.8km across, the bay has an average depth of five meters. Among its unique features is a small island which consists entirely of discarded oyster shells. This islet, which is a legacy of the years when more than 13,000 oyster-raising platforms covered the bay, now nurtures schools of lively fish.

The Pen Bay, a resort inside Dapeng Bay that will boast world-class facilities, is nearing completion.

The entire region's profile will be lifted this month with the 2011 Dapeng Bay International Regatta, which promises to be the most exciting yachting event in Taiwan's history. The regatta will be preceded by the inaugural Taiwan Strait Race, a 350-nautical-mile dash from Hong Kong to Kaohsiung, the waterfront metropolis that brands itself Taiwan's “ocean capital.”

The Taiwan Strait Race will begin at 12.10 p.m. Hong Kong time on May 21. In terms of International Sailing Federation (ISAF) ratings, it is a Category 1 offshore race – meaning that participating yachts are required to be completely self-sufficient for extended periods of time, and prepared to meet serious emergencies without the expectation of outside assistance. The race is being organized by the Royal Hong Kong Yacht Club with assistance from Kaohsiung City Government and the Chinese-Taipei Sailing Association.

For crews, crossing the Taiwan Strait will involve a lot of physical effort and likely a little discomfort, but they can look forward to a warm welcome when they reach Kaohsiung. Taiwan's second-largest city not only has a comfortable climate and friendly people, but also a fine selection of restaurants, several fascinating museums, and enough retail outlets to satisfy hardcore shopaholics. Getting around the city is very easy, thanks to the Kaohsiung Mass Rapid Transit system, plentiful and inexpensive taxis, and a growing network of bicycle trails.

The arrival of foreign yachts in Kaohsiung is fitting in an historical sense, because this city is where merchants from Europe and North America arrived in sail boats in the 1860s, seeking tea, camphor and other Taiwanese products. As the yachts sail into Kaohsiung Harbor, they will pass within sight of a relic of that era, a hilltop redbrick villa. It once served as the official residence of the British Consul, and is now one of Kaohsiung's most distinctive buildings.

Dapeng Bay International Regatta will begin on May 27 with a skippers' briefing in Kaohsiung. The following day, participants will race southeast along the coastline to Dapeng Bay, a distance of 18 nautical miles.

May 29 will see a series of inshore races in what has been dubbed Taiwan's maritime “golden triangle,” the patch of ocean between Kaohsiung, Dapeng Bay and the tiny yet scenic island of Xiao Liuqiu. On May 30, the vessels will head back to Kaohsiung. On the last day of May, they will leave Taiwan.

The regatta is being hosted by Dapeng Bay National Scenic Area Administration, Kaohsiung City Government and Pingtung County Government, and organized by various sports bodies including the Chinese-Taipei Sailing Association.

The regatta's organizers will assist entrants with entry and customs matters as well as anchorage. Various free services will be provided, including 24-hour security for moored vessels, airport pickup and transfer, plus an evening banquet. When not sailing, regatta entrants can enjoy the 13.3-kilometer-long cycle track that encircles the bay, or join free on-land excursions organized by the ROC Tourism Bureau.

Several facilities have been added to Dapeng Bay in recent years, but central to the transformation of this former military base (from the early 1940s to the late 1970s) turned oyster farming center (until 2003) into a hot spot for recreational sailing has been the construction of Taiwan's first drawbridge.

This brand new addition to the landscape – inaugurated in early spring – opens so large yachts can enter and leave the bay. Some 579 meters long and 71 meters high, this striking asymmetrical structure can be seen from several kilometers away.

Since 2009, Dapeng Bay National Scenic Area Administration and Pingtung County Government have been holding an annual windsurfing competition that sees entrants sail from the bay all the way to Xiao Liuqiu, a one-way distance of nine nautical miles. This year's races will last from May 21 to May 27.

Xiao Liuqiu itself is deserving of everyone's time. Just 6.8 square kilometers in area, it is surrounded by pristine ocean rich in coral, fish, turtle and other marine species. The island has a restful ambiance quite different to that of Kaohsiung, and a thoroughly traditional community life.

This is a slightly modified and shortened version of an advertorial I wrote for the Tourism Bureau that appeared in the April issue of Taiwan Business Topics.