Being an island well placed along the routes of yachters and sailors, Penang has become an important hub for sea-people in the region. It is perhaps time to study how the state can take full advantage of this.
Pen Marine was formed in 1988 to promote leisure boating in Malaysia, as well as to provide storage for boats. Oh Kean Shen and his partner, Pheh Hoe Huat (who has since retired) started out by selling a 12ft outboard motorboat.
The company went on to provide dry storage and services for boats, and also to take people for fishing and long cruises to Langkawi and Phuket.
In the 1990s, the company began to supply diesel-powered motor yachts when they sold the world renowned Grand Banks long range Penangcruiser, which was built in Singapore at the time. Subsequently, the company began to represent other overseas brands including Princess Yachts, Hunter Sailboats and megayachts.
Not bad for someone who admits he can’t swim!
In spite of that minor handicap, Oh still manages to find passion for the sea and the boating life. “The sea provides serenity that soaks your stress away and gives you time to think in solitude. No one can get to you by phone if you choose to get out of the signal area.”
Oh is keen on more people taking up yachting.
“Yachting is becoming more popular as society becomes more affluent, especially when there are marinas to keep these boats safe. With good marinas you will have more and more boats visiting Malaysia.” Marinas in Malaysia include Royal Langkawi Yacht Club, Telaga Harbour, Langkawi and Straits Quay Marina in Penang, which he says are regularly full.
From December 1 to 8, Pen Marine will be organising the third edition of its successful Nautical Lifestyle Event, which promises to be even bigger than previous iterations. This event will feature seven Princess Yachts, as well as Hunter and Leopard catamaran sailboats. World-renowned boat builder Grand Banks will also be launching its new Grand Bank GB43EU model then. Several used boats, including 75ft and 102ft motor yachts will also be put on display for sale to the aspiring sailor, or for corporate usage. These yachts will be on display at Straits Quay Marina, and viewings can be arranged via appointment or invitation.
On December 4, people interested in trying out the nautical lifestyle can join Pen Marine’s Charity Convoy Cruise, as part of Pen Marine’s CSR programme. The cruise will take the guests to islands north of Penang, sail under both Penang bridges, before finally anchoring at the Pulau Jerejak anchorage just outside Queensbay Mall. Proceeds from this cruise will go to charity, and bookings will be on a first-come first-serve basis.
During the weekend of the event, December 1 to 2, members of the public will be given a chance to have short boat rides in the name of charity.
Penang is considered a gateway to the boating grounds in the north, in Langkawi, southern Thailand, Phuket and Myanmar. Yet Oh believes more can be done to take advantage of Penang’s strengths. “Phuket has already overtaken Penang and Malaysia in the yachting industry in the past decade,” he says. “Penang has the infrastructure to become the destination for yachts in South-East Asia, an alternative landing port like Singapore or Port Klang.” Singapore, meanwhile, is growing fast and has even been dubbed the “Switzerland of Asia”. “Its yachting industry has grown beyond its seams, as it does not have a big coastline.”
What Penang needs, Oh argues, are more marinas to house local and visiting boats, as well as training to provide much-needed soft skills like boat handling, navigation, preparing guests for activities like snorkelling and diving, and first aid, as well as boat repair and maintenance expertise. Pen Marine has a shipyard on Penang Island and is training people to provide the yacht management needed by new boat owners.
It can also use a helping hand from the state government. “A growing yachting industry is synonymous with high net-worth individuals, and in turn would bring economic opportunities to Penangites.” To fulfil Penang’s potential, the state government should engage in dialogue with the local boating industry and come up with a master plan. Others have already seen opportunity and are capitalising. “Johor has built Puteri Harbour, and Senibong Cove will be launched next year. Johor’s master plan has an additional three marinas that will be built.”
The industry will also need infrastructure to support these marinas, including sailing schools, maintenance facilities and special medical services to assist older sailors who travel from halfway around the world. Oh himself has assisted many sailors with Lown-Ganong-Levine syndrome.
The government could also contribute towards staging an international boat show, says Oh. “Penang is an ideal location for a boat show, as there is plenty of interest in the region. Penang’s food and heritage are also attractive to people from outside the state. It’s easier here for boaters to conduct sea trials as the sellers have the necessary amenities.” Pen Marine’s Nautical Lifestyle Event is proof that such an event can be successful. Imagine how much more successful it could be if it had government backing.
“The construction and development of marinas are complex and expensive,” says Oh. “If the government recognises this, as well as their potential, it would look at ways to encourage and assist developers to build these marinas. Our berths are full, with more boaters begging to come in every day!”