Unlike many wealthy Chinese businessmen, Liang Zhiming, a Qingdao-based interior designer, didn't jump in at the deep end and buy a luxury yacht when he decided to buy a boat.
Liang's first floating purchase was a simple canoe, which he bought at a boat show at Qingdao Sunshine Department Store in 2003, partly out of interest and partly out of curiosity. His interest was piqued, however, and the single seater boat was soon replaced by a two-seater.
"Whenever I got time, I went canoeing. As I paddled along the Li River, the Jialing River and the Chishui River, and across many provinces, my interest in sailing grew," he said.
In 2008, he bought his first yacht, a Far East 26, and now owns a Beneteau 41, called Lan Yu, or Blue Island, after his design company.
"Sailing is a pastime, like playing golf, or participating in tea-drinking ceremonies, but it requires depth of spirit. It's fun and exciting, but also full of uncertainty and difficulties, such as striking a reef," he said.
Having encouraged his employees to take up water-based sports, Liang gradually developed an amateur racing team, which has participated in events such as the City Clubs' Open Regatta in Qingdao, and the Sinan and Louis XIII regattas in Sanya, Hainan Island.
"Sailing gives me a lot of personal space and freedom," he said, while acknowledging that freedom may also produce a sense of isolation. "On the sea, you have to learn to endure loneliness, and to enjoy that solitude."
For Liang, China's sailing culture is different to that in the West, partly because it has yet been recognized as a way of life. "If you live on a boat instead of a hotel, some people will think you can't afford to live in a hotel; some will even say you're trying to project an air of false poverty and misery, because only poor and downtrodden people live on boats," he said.
However, for the 45-year-old who describes himself as "nonconformist" and "an idealist", sailing has already become a way of life. "It's not a way of flaunting how capable and nonconformist I am - just like some people buy several houses, I spend my money on boats."
He sees the final scene of his favorite movie, The Shawshank Redemption - when Red is trudging toward his friend Andy in Zihuatanejo, Mexico, and Andy is on the beach cleaning up his old boat - as a depiction of the perfect life: "That scene really gets me. That's my ideal life; living by the sea and cleaning my boat."
"My Beneteau 41 is like a soulmate. When I feel the pressure of work or life, I go sailing to get away from the cares of the world, the endless networking, and all the hustle and bustle of city life. Sailing gives me spiritual sustenance," Liang said.
Earlier this year, he ordered a new yacht, a Sunreef Loft 60, and designed the interior himself. The vessel, which is being built in Europe, cost 15 million yuan (S$3 million), excluding taxes which can raise the price by as much as 40 percent. "In China, the banks won't provide loans to buy yachts, so that was a really big deal for me," he said.
Although sailing provides Liang with peace of mind, he is also fully aware of the business opportunities the sport can offer. The past two decades have seen his company design hotels, saunas and clubs across China and has left Blue Island well placed to explore the growing market for maritime interior design.
When the new yacht is delivered, Liang plans to use it as a "floating office" that will double as a showcase for his ideas about incorporating traditional Chinese heritage and culture into designs for yachts and boat clubs.