One strong and ongoing example of His Majesty the late King’s dominating influence on the development of sailing and marine activities in Thailand was the founding of the Phuket King’s Cup Regatta.
In 1986, a group of sailing veterans, mainly from the Royal Varuna Yacht Club, gathered to plan a regatta for His Majesty’s 60th, fifth cycle birthday. The owner of the then Phuket Yacht Club Hotel and a leading Thai architect, ML Tridosyuth Devakul, placed his hotel and resources at the disposal of the group. His Majesty graciously agreed to be the Regatta’s patron and award the splendid permanent trophy each year to the overall Regatta winner.
Mom Tri Devakul designed the magnificent trophy, embossed with the number nine, representing His Majesty as the ninth ruler of the Chakri Dynasty. Nine “sails” in burnished metal, emanate from a silver column placed upon a base, mirroring the sea. Atop this vertical column is a replica of the symbol of the King, known in Thai as the “Tra Sanyalak”, emblazoned with His Majesty’s initials and topped with the royal crown. The whole edifice is mounted on a column of ash-wood, carved with the regatta’s title.
When one looks at pictures of the famous – and quite ugly – “America’s Cup” trophy, fought over for almost 160 years in the hallowed halls of international yacht racing, the Phuket King’s Cup trophy stands out as a work of art, fashioned by a man with a most artistic temperament.
Dr Rachot Kanchanavanit, Adolph Knees, William Gasson, Albert Chandler and Chris King, amongst others – all great sailors – put the minutiae of such an event into reality. Thus, in 1987, the Regatta was sailed for the King’s sixtieth birthday – a first of its kind for Phuket – and Thailand. It is a multi-disciplinary sailing event with international and Thailand-based sailors gathering for some fierce on-water competition and friendly onshore celebrations, revelling in the wonderful ambience of Thailand’s southern island province.
Today, the foundations remain solid and the principles the same. The difference? Three decades later, the Regatta has grown into the largest sailing event of its kind in Asia, attracting 1,000 plus participants each year, with a further 1,000 people headed by the Royal Thai Navy and the Phuket Governor, who lend full support to the event.
In the past, one of the biggest spectacles of the Regatta was the “Royal Sail-past” on the fifth of December each year, in commemoration of the late King’s birthday, when the total fleet of Regatta participants traditionally sailed their craft, festooned with flags, around a Royal Thai frigate, anchored mid-stream off Kata Beach, with the Thai Navy men, in sparkling white uniforms, lining the frigate’s deck. In light His Majesty’s passing, the sail-past last year was moved to December 9 in commemoration of the late King as the ninth monarch of the Chakri Dynasty.
Over the past decade, due in no small part to events like the King’s Cup Regatta, Thailand has become one of the world’s most desirable sailing and water-sport venues. With its beautiful coastlines, warm waters and friendly, smiling people, the Kingdom has attracted a great number of world championships, and many regional competitions.
Thai dinghy sailors and windsurfers have reached world standards and not too long ago became world champions of the highly competitive junior sailing, via the Optimist dinghy. Many have competed in the Olympics, especially in wind-surfing and single-handed Laser classes and Thailand is now fielding teams in round-the-world races and other big regional regattas.
The Royal Varuna Yacht Club in Pattaya also hosted the OK Dinghy World Championships in recent times, the event coming to Thailand as a tribute to the King, knowing his affinity for the dinghy and his many successes in sailing and building the craft in the Kingdom. “It was the best ever of our world championships,” was the consensus of the world-wide group. “We’ll be back, for sure”.
His Majesty the late King, undoubtedly, was the Royal catalyst in this nautical surge, starting from the early 1960s and continuing even stronger every year, as many events commemorating his maritime prowess are celebrated here in Thailand and other places abroad, lauding not only his sailing, but his dedication to sports and sports-people everywhere.
His Royal patronage of the region’s best yacht club, the Royal Varuna Yacht Club, has also had a remarkable influence on the evolution and exponential surge of sailing, yacht racing and maritime sports, locally, regionally and universally.
The club, situated on a beautiful plot of land at Pattaya Point, has been located at this prime beach-front for more than three decades and His Majesty’s influence has been felt constantly.
As the rapid development of Pattaya moved up over Pratamnak Hill, the Varuna Club had to re-adjust to maintain its status as an oasis of tranquillity in the encroaching concrete desert.
Facing west, the frequently-beautiful sunsets over and behind Koh Lan were enshrined in the orientation of the splendid new club-house, opened by His Majesty the current Thai monarch, Crown Prince Maha Chakri Vajiralongkorn as he was tilted then, in October, 2004, with Prince Bhisadej, of course, continuing King Bhumibol’s contribution and blessing in the laying of the foundation stone and dedication of the Spirit House on 23 October 2004.
The late King’s daughter, HRH Princess Ubolratana, has recaptured the magic of the early days, with an occasional sail off Royal Varuna, as has his grand-daughter, HRH Princess Patcharakitiyapha.
Undoubtedly, King Rama IX’s love of the freedom of the sea has been a shining example of fulfilment in just about our last frontier, in a world overtaken by conflict, technology and materialism, constricting this very freedom we all crave.
Starting with the highly-successful Ocean Marina in Na Jomtien, clubs, marinas, sailing associations and numerous boat-building facilities now proliferate up and down Thailand’s beautiful waterways. Regattas, world events or, more simply, just people enjoying the healthy, stimulating freedom of sailing are all the outcome and basically originate from the early days when the late King made his “maiden voyage”, at Pattaya beach.
The preceding stories in this article have attempted to present a microcosm of His Majesty King Bhumibol’s skills as a sailor – just one sphere of the enormous talent and dedication he had in so many other disciplines. The text has been limited to his maritime endeavours and their impact, both locally and world-wide, which will continue ad infinitum, thanks to that fateful day in South Pattaya over 50 years ago.
Each and every dinghy, catamaran and keelboat which takes to Thai waters is there, basically, as a tribute to and an acknowledgement of the “King of Sailing” – His Majesty the late King Bhumibol Adulyadej.