The Phuket King’s Cup: The genesis of a regatta

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It was in June, 1986, when a number of leading lights in the Thai sailing fraternity came together – with an idea: A regatta for our King who would turn 60 the following year and the event to be held in Phuket, previously untouched by a sail-fest of such significance.

Chris J. King, who at the time was Commodore of the Royal Varuna Yacht Club in Pattaya, was joined by such yachting stalwarts as Dr. Rachot Kanjana-Vanit, Albert T. Chandler, William Gason and Adolph Knees, who all gratefully accepted architect M.L. Tridhosuth Devakul’s offer to designate his newly-opened Phuket Yacht Club Hotel on beautiful Nai Harn Beach as the new Regatta’s “home”.

The beautiful nine-sail design Phuket King’s Cup. The beautiful nine-sail design Phuket King’s Cup.

What better way to launch simultaneously the new hotel and the new King’s Cup – and Mom Tri’s generosity in hosting the event ran for another 10 years.  It was certainly the determination, generosity and vision of Mom Tri which played a major part in raising the regatta to its now highly-regarded world-class status.

Logistics were a determining factor in the early days.  For example, what types of boats, race management, safety and security, approval of the Provincial Government and, of course, a petition to HM the King to bestow his blessing as Royal Patron of the new venture and to graciously bestow the permanent King’s Cup Regatta trophy.

At the opening event in 1987 a motley collection of itinerant keel boats and catamarans, either based in or passing through Phuket, dinghies shipped overland from the Royal Varuna Yacht Club in Pattaya, and various other craft, such as those berthed at various centres around Phuket’s shores, were cajoled into joining in.

The fleets were divided into three main centres, ranging from Nai Harn Bay, the Meridien, the Club Med and the Pansea Resort in Surin to the north.

There were keelboats, beach-launched and ocean-going catamarans, Laser dinghies and even wind-surfers.  Over the years some of these classes have been dropped, due mainly to difficulties of transportation.

The popularity of the Regatta can be judged best from the fact that many of the competitors over the years, have become “Regatta Recidivists”, coming back year after year from the four corners of the world to take part in this marvelous festival of yacht-racing.  In some cases, it is “simply to forget about life for a while” in the superb, stress-free ambience of Thailand’s island province.

Throughout the almost three decades of the regatta, the composition of the fleets has changed markedly, and now, with so much interest in sailing and yacht-racing among Thailand’s juniors, some of whom are competing at world championship level, the regatta committee has installed the Phuket Dinghy Series, which, since its introduction in 2010, has inspired the youth in Southern Thailand to take up sailing.

This Series has featured in four Phuket King’s Cup Regattas to date and has become a popular sailing clinic for young sailors (under 15 years old), offering a solid coaching content and fostering friendship amongst participants from various sailing clubs.

Kevin Whitcraft, President of the Phuket King’s Cup Regatta Organising Committee, said, “The Phuket Dinghy Series brings many new Thai sailing talents into the arena of competitive youth sailing.  It serves as an accessible means of competition for young sailors to prepare them for the international stage and the Phuket King’s Cup Regatta.  I would like to thank our sponsor, PTT Global Chemical, for their highly valuable support of the Phuket Dinghy Series, and the company’s assistance in growing the awareness of sailing sport in Thailand.”

The Phuket Dinghy Series, which is held over several weekends in October and November, is now firmly an integral part of the Phuket King’s Cup Regatta, and the winners of each class will receive a Royal Award to be presented along with other Regatta class winners at the Kata Beach Resort and Spa on 6 December 2013.

His Majesty the King’s personal representative, Admiral Usni Pramoj, himself also a “Regatta Recidivist” having officiated at all the regattas (with the exception of 1988 and 1989), will once more preside over the Awards Ceremonies this year.

Each year, the overall Regatta winner receives the splendid permanent trophy, designed by Mom Tri Devakul.  The trophy is impregnated 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.

Over 100 craft of all shapes and sizes will be competing from Nov. 30 – Dec. 6 off Kata Beach in Phuket.Over 100 craft of all shapes and sizes will be competing from Nov. 30 – Dec. 6 off Kata Beach in Phuket.

When one looks at pictures of the famous – and one might say 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.

So, the 2013 Phuket Regatta is set to start, with somewhat upwards of 100 entries racing for line honours from Nov. 30 – Dec. 6 off Kata Beach, and the international body which controls such big events has approved three judges from the America’s Cup judging panel, “La crème de la crème” on the world scene.

With limited space this is, at best, a mini-overview of the regatta, but hopefully it’s one that gives a brief insight into an original idea that germinated and grew over 3 decades to the point where it now places Thailand – and Phuket in particular –in the vanguard of world sailing events.