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Designer's Dream: Yachts Float on Huangpu River

For American Douglas Sharp, a visit to Shanghai is not a mere tour to experience Chinese culture and taste the local cuisine.

The world-renown yacht designer believes Shanghai is one of the most beautiful and secure cities he knows.

But Sharp expressed regret over the fact that yachts could not be seen on the Huangpu River. Yachts can be seen in most port cities of the world, and Sharp felt Shanghai, being an international metropolis that it is, should not be an exception.

Currently, the yacht industry in Shanghai is practically non-existent, but some say the city has great potential.

"I plan to set up an office here," Sharp said. "It is a best place to extend my yacht-design dreams."

Sharp has designed a 46-foot yacht for Shanghai DeFever Yachts Industry Co, which is run by Jimmy Ma. Ma returned from the US to set up the company.

The company has a yard in Minhang District where the first 46-foot yacht is being built and expected to be launched on October 1.

"After returning from Europe, I will come to see how the project is going in July," Sharp said.

On June 28, he will go to Monaco to receive the Yacht of the Year 2000 for Large Motoryachts Design for his new 160-foot yacht. The honor is issued by Showboats Magazine.

"It is the first time for me to get the award for a large yacht, though I have received other awards before," Sharp said. "Designing yachts is my profession, my hobby and my life."

His wife, Caroline interjected: "No, a yacht is his mistress."

It usually takes 18 months to design a yacht because every client wants something special even if the yacht is mass-produced. Construction then takes 2.5 years.

As for custom-design yachts, Sharp has many funny stories to share that shows how difficult it is to cater his design to very picky clients.

He once designed a 138-foot yacht for an Arabic prince who never outlined his requirements specifically.

"The chair had to be sent from the United States by plane to let him have a try," he said.

Nobody could imagine how anxiously Sharp waited when he sent the yacht over to the prince four years after the order was placed.

Fortunately, the prince was very satisfied.

Sharp also recalls the challenges of trying to please a picky female client who owned four airplanes and several boats.

Sharp had to design the yacht to also carry four rubber boats to shuttle her dogs from the yacht to the beach.

"It is the biggest mistake for me to ask what she wanted," he said. "She answered, 'No questions, just present what you can do for me and let me choose."'

"It is a very rewarding career and I enjoy the sense of creating something that is an engineering and aesthetic success," Sharp said.

With a long and successful tradition of building ships for trading purposes, there is no reason why Shanghai cannot be equally successful in the yacht market, he said.

With proper training, the labor force will provide the means for China to become a formidable competitor in the US and the world yacht market, Sharp said.

"It is the right time to tap the potentials as Shanghai leads the country in ship-building," Sharp said. "It won't take long to see yachts floating on the Huangpu River and Suzhou Creek."

(Shanghai Star 04/26/2001)

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