A better-off portion of the population in places like Ho Chi Minh City have taken to the indulgence of building their own catamarans, a type of fast sailing boat consisting of two hulls.
At 7:00 am on one recent morning, around 20 weather-beaten looking men gathered at Bai Sau (Back Beach) in Vung Tau City, approximately 100 kilometers from Ho Chi Minh City.
With them they had their food and belongings neatly packed in waterproof bags.
They are among a new breed of catamaran enthusiasts, from clubs in Ho Chi Minh City, Vung Tau, and Nha Trang City, a resort town in south-central Vietnam.
These men were getting ready to cover 17 nautical miles to the wedding of Le Pham Minh Quan, a 30-year-old aviation engineer and his 26-year-old wife, Trieu Thi Thu Huong.
The bride and groom already had their life vests on, set for a sea voyage toward an immaculate strip of sand where their ceremony would be held.
Four catamarans were anchored around 200 meters from the shore.
The crew set sail for Ho Tram despite a strong breeze and a gloomy weather outlook.
Sailboats are pictured at Marina Bay in Vung Tau City, approximately 100 kilometers from Ho Chi Minh City. Photo: Tuoi Tre
Sitting on his homemade catamaran, called Tiki30, of which he was also the captain, Luu Van Vi, 64, showed off his cutting-edge equipment to one Tuoi Tre (Youth) newspaper reporter, including his Global Positioning System device and software providing precise readings of coordinates, wind power, wave and tide directions, and rain forecasts.
“These gadgets are all essential for the safety of the whole waterway journey, which can be dangerous,” Vi shared.
Following a signal, the four vessels slowly gathered speed before heading to Ky Van Cape with billowing sails.
The sailors all came from different walks of life and from a wide age bracket, with some being businessmen, engineers or office workers.
Quan, the groom, is an aviation mechanical engineer who took up the hobby a few years ago.
“An aircraft and a watercraft share similarities as they both relate to hydrodynamics and aerodynamics, and require decisiveness,” he noted.
He frequently sails his boat to scenic spots like Vung Tau and Nha Trang, and came up with the idea of holding his nuptials on the beach with a catamaran bridal procession as a rendezvous for fellow enthusiasts.
Quan and his wife took turns in steering the vessel on the white-crested waves.
“Only by riding a sailboat together can we realize how tough it is to work in unison, if we don’t want the vessel to be smashed into pieces during a storm,” he added.
Le Pham Minh Quan (right) and his wife steer their sailboat on the way to their wedding. Photo: Tuoi Tre
As observed by the Tuoi Tre reporter, unlike motorized boats whose engine noise can shatter tranquility, the catamaran is free of noise and the reek of petrol.
Vi, the builder of Tiki30, has been hooked on catamarans since he hired one for his honeymoon in the U.S. back in 1977.
Unable to afford a sailboat, when he returned to Vietnam in 2006, he decided to build one despite having limited knowledge of the subject.
Vi purchased the licensed technical drawings from a company in Canada, and materials from reputable firms abroad. It took him more than three years to build a three-hull sailboat called 33, which he and his wife would steer along the Saigon River in Ho Chi Minh City to enjoy the riviera-like scene.
Vi later gifted his boat to the Vung Tau Boating Association before assembling a new catamaran called Tiki30.
“Constructing catamarans in Vietnam is a real challenge, as we have to import all the parts,” Vi said.
The elderly man is revered among local sailboat aficionados for his willingness to take on boating challenges, and his ceaseless fervor for and sound knowledge of the area.
Hardly had the four vessels reached the shore when signs of a storm arrived.
Nguyen Hoan, 31, an enthusiast from Nha Trang, revealed that his catamaran had had its sails torn to shreds during a vortex a few years ago.
“The rule of thumb is to try our best to ensure sailors’ safety by not having them entangled in sail ropes,” he explained.
Luu Van Vi, 64 (right) is pictured on his self-built Tiki 30 sailboat. Courtesy of Le Pham Minh Quan
Nguyen Quy Duong, 24, and five other crew members had thought their lives were on the line in December 2016 whilst sailing to Nghinh Phong Cape in Vung Tau City.
As soon as their vessel slammed into a reef, they all decided to jump into the sea in order to avoid getting hit by debris from the shattered boat.
That ordeal, however, has not dampened Duong’s passion, nor stopped the young seafarer from experiencing the thrills of becoming at one with nature.
Quan said the sport has taught him to stare at the unforgiving weather like other hurdles in life - straight in the face.
Quan said that he had successfully built 10 small-sized sailboats, and will provide free training in how to steer the vessels to around 20 students in July 2017 in a bid to expand the catamaran community.
“The sport creates a love for the sea amongst youngsters and prompts them to learn about the environmental changes that have happened,” the engineer elaborated.