Not windy city

Beijing Journal A Slice of Life

Light breezes, office buildings define sailing center

August 16, 2008|By The New York Times

QINGDAO, China - The Chinese do not have much of a tradition of yacht clubs or sailing centers, so for the Olympics they built one from scratch in a former shipyard in this port on the Yellow Sea.

Qingdao, where all the Olympic sailing races are taking place, is not a quaint seaside village. It is the Hartford, Conn., of China, a major insurance center, with a population of some 7.5 million. There are traffic jams, glass office towers that light up at night, and thousands of the gray high-rise apartment blocks that sprout up overnight in China, like mushrooms. Along the seafront are stucco villas with red tile roofs that seem vaguely Mediterranean, and in the older part of town there are some European-looking churches and commercial buildings.

In the late 19th century, Qingdao was a German colony, and the Germans are mostly appreciated now for having left behind a tradition of brewing. Tsingtao, probably China's best-known beer, is made here, and the local draft beer, natives swear, has foam like cappuccino.

The sailing center sticks into Fushan Bay like a lobster claw. An outer breakwater roughly a third of a mile long, from which spectators can watch the races, protects the inner harbor, where there is a long pier with slips and also a boat ramp and a pair of cranes. Olympic boats are dry-sailed - they are hauled out of the water every night and washed down so that gunk will not grow on them.

The Olympic village is at the back end of the claw.

At this time of year the winds in Qingdao tend to be light, but in the Olympic regatta so far they have been zephyr-like or nonexistent, with some races starting in breezes of three knots or less. On Thursday, racing was canceled.

Yesterday, the races were postponed, and while waiting for instructions, the boats bobbed in a sultry haze, their high-tech sails slatting slowly and sounding like shaken aluminum foil. Onshore, Chinese families strolled along the seafront esplanade, eating Popsicles and trying to hold parasols over their children. Every now and then, someone stepped up to one of several pairs of coin-operated binoculars and stared out to sea. Sailboat racing in China is a novelty, apparently, but not one that makes the heart race. Hardly anyone noticed when the Endeavour, Thomas Sopwith's 65-foot J-boat, which raced for the America's Cup in 1934 and has been beautifully restored, slipped out of the harbor. For sailing enthusiasts, though, it was like seeing Garbo come back to life.

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