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Meet the Team: Y.P. Loke

Meet the Team: Y.P. Loke

May 1, 2024

It’s a breezy day in March and Y.P. Loke walks in for the interview in slick khakis and a batik shirt. He is not only in tune
with the weather, but also very much in vibe with the marina ambience. Just as well, as Loke, who recently came on board as an advisor at ONE°15 Marina Sentosa Cove, is no stranger to the marina and yachting industry.

His relationship with water started as a young boy in the ’60s running around in the shipyard his father owned at Jalan Benaan Kapal, which is situated along the northern bank of the Geylang River near to the river mouth at Kallang Basin. “In the old days beforenthey cleaned up the Kallang River, it is where all the shipyards and boatyards were located. Hence the name,” he explains. “I guess that’s where my love for being near the sea and seeing what happens when
people knock about their boats comes from.”

Today, aside from his advisory role at the Club, Loke runs his own consultancy Spinnaker Marine, is Chairman of Singapore Boating Industry Association, President of Raffles Marina, and cofounded the Asia Pacific Superyacht Association—he is now an honorary member—and Global Marine Business Advisors (GMBA). He has a long relationship with ICOMIA (International Council of Marine Industry Associations), having been a member of the ICOMIA Marinas Group since 1999—he has been Vice President of the Board, and was made an honorary member last year.

Over a casual chat, he regales us with stories on yesteryear Singapore, the yachting industry here and his hopes for its future.

What got you into the commercial side of the shipbuilding business?
It was in the 70s and Singapore was just taking over both Keppel and Sembawang dockyards from the British, so a lot of scholars in my time went to the United Kingdom (UK) to do marine engineering and naval architecture, and upon their return became the first locals to take over their running from the British. Sembawang was then a naval base, and was converted to a commercial shipyard. I went to work for Keppel after finishing my degree in naval architecture from the UK. I didn’t join the family business as my dad was very clear”: “Go make your mistakes elsewhere” [laughs].

Then somewhere along the line I went back to the UK to do my MBA and dabbled in the restaurant business for a while. It was around that time in 1991 that Raffles Marina was being built, and I interviewed with them for the position of General Manager. I thought it would be an interesting job to do, as I had some hospitality experience, knew a few things about boating and could sail—I learnt to sail when I was studying in the UK and became a member of Changi Sailing
Club upon my return.

How did the marina industry change the sailing scene in Singapore?
In those days, boats were parked in boatels in Punggol, where operators would launch the crafts on and off the beach using tractors. These were smaller boats, and could be hauled out of the water easily, and they would be spread out like in an open car park—very land intensive. It was not environmentally friendly either, as you can imagine, with oil from the boats spilling on to the ground. There were no proper refuelling facilities then so boaters would carry the fuel in jerry cans. From there to a walk-on, walk-off marina was a giant leap for the industry.

There was no real boating scene in the modern sense at the time that Raffles Marina launched in 1993. So it was more than just selling a product and a parking space, it was about selling the lifestyle and the boating experience. If you look at Europe and other Western countries, yacht clubs are tiny with a lot of space on the water for the boats. But in Asia, country clubhouse associated with a yacht club took root. This, obviously, comes with a big social component attached to it. Thinking about the ecosystem of it—how the marina is just one part of the supply chain delivering the boating experience—was more interesting to me than running the club itself.

How different is the boating culture in Singapore from other countries?
In the West, there is a robust sailing culture, and people start to learn to sail from quite a young age starting with a small boat and graduating to bigger boats. But in Singapore, people get into boating quite late in life, after the family comes along, when they have made a bit of money, and paid their mortgage off. Recreation by the sea is not really a part of Asian culture, although it has changed. Singaporeans also do not have a do-it-yourself mentality, everyone has hired help. Whereas in the West, tinkering with the boat is part of the boating culture. Four out of five times they go to their boats would be to fix something or mess about the boat.

What was the thought process behind the founding of the Asia Pacific Superyacht Association?
In the ’70s and ’80s, there were very few boats that could cross the oceans. These superyachts were based in the Mediterranean—traditional routing was summer in the Mediterranean and winter in the Caribbean. The opening of the first marina brought a sprinkling of adventurers through Singapore waters as well. With the advent of the integrated resorts, the Singapore government sold the mental image of Monte Carlo and Monaco with high-end casinos and superyachts. The opening of ONE°15 Marina Sentosa Cove was well timed to benefit from this. And in order to incentivise more superyachts to come to Singapore, we realised the need to look at the bigger picture and market
Southeast Asia as a whole. This prompted the founding of the Asia Pacific Superyacht Association based in Hong Kong. The objective was to promote Asia Pacific as a yachting destination, the way that the Mediterranean and Caribbean are destinations. A regional body was a way for all stakeholders to chip in to promote it as a superyacht destination.

How did you meet the Club’s Chairman and CEO Arthur Tay?
His father had a boat in Raffles Marina when I was the General Manager. Arthur was still a young man then. I met him again when I started my own consulting firm—I had stepped down from my role at Raffles Marina by then—when he became interested in building ONE°15 Marina. We got into quite a few long discussions about the financial aspects and business plan during the bidding and planning stages.

What changes do you hope to bring to the Club?
That is probably a question for Arthur [laughs]. But I looked at the rest of the members of the advisory board. I can see their backgrounds are quite different from mine, so there’s a diversity of expertise. I see that I can bring something to the
table that is different from the other advisors.

The original article was published on the May/ June 24 issue of Longitude, ONE°15 Marina’s Club magazine. Read it here.