Kunming may be thought of as a mountain city, but it also has plenty of water nearby. Despite being landlocked, Kunming is a two-hour drive from several lakes including Dianchi Lake, Fuxian Lake and Yangzonghai Lake. Kunming is also the home of the famous 15th Century Chinese navigator Zheng He, who sailed as far as India, Africa and the Middle East - and who some think may be the legendary explorer Sinbad.
Today Zheng He would be proud to know that there are people trying to establish a new sailing tradition in Kunming. Dan Letton recently started a sailing instruction program called Sailing Adventures in Life Skills, or SAILS, which is aimed at providing Kunming residents and visitors with sailing instruction and experience. SAILS currently has one boat on Dianchi Lake and two on Fuxian Lake and offers daysailing and camping/cruising services as well.
Letton is a registered US Sailing Instructor and a Royal Yachting Association Skipper who has lived in Kunming for the last 14 years. As far as he knows, he is also the only person currently engaging in recreational sailing on Dianchi Lake or Fuxian Lake. This seems likely to change in the next few years as there is already a ban on gas-powered motors on Fuxian Lake and a similar ban is planned for Dianchi Lake.
Why keep a sailboat on the super-polluted Dianchi Lake instead of putting them all on the clean and beautiful Fuxian Lake? Letton says that his boat on Dianchi Lake is meant to raise local awareness of the lake's situation.
"Everyone I talk to about Dianchi says, 'It's dead' and just shrugs their shoulders," Letton said. "What if people had taken the same attitude toward Lake Huron [in the US] years ago when it was having problems? Nothing would have been done - but today the lake is much cleaner than before."
Letton said that although the northern part of Dianchi Lake near Kunming has serious pollution problems, he has found some relatively clean areas in the southern end of the lake. Fuxian Lake is a much different story, he says, as government officials in charge of the lake have moved to protect the quality of the lake's water and to prevent reckless development on the lake's shores.
Letton's boats are all made in Kunming - he now has a small shop in the Xishan district where he and his assistants make trimarans, or three-hulled sailboats. The boats are made of wood and use bamboo masts. In addition to making sailboats for use by SAILS, Letton also builds boats for purchase, with prices for a 5-meter trimaran beginning at 30,000 yuan. Sailing courses through SAILS run 1,000 yuan for 20 hours of beginning or intermediate courses. Daysailing is 50 yuan/hour per person or 500 yuan/day.