Phuket King’s Cup Regatta: on the lighter side

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Since the inaugural regatta in 1987, sailing, yacht-racing and cruising have had an exponential surge in Thailand, especially among the younger Optimist and Laser sailors, with Thailand excelling in international and world championships – even aiming for berths in the Rio Olympiad.

Curiously, looking at the broader picture, it has been the recent America’s Cup challenge on San Francisco Bay that placed yacht racing clearly on centre-stage of spectator sports.  There, the American defender, “Oracle”, created sporting history by overcoming an almost-insurmountable deficit, to defeat the New Zealand challenger.  This exciting, high-tech – almost space-age – battle of the “Titans”, was watched by millions world-wide.  Although these flying machines, capable of speeds that would warrant arrests in most of the world’s major cities, are not for the average sailor, the potential is virtually unlimited.

Our intrepid journo looks back at 26 years of nautical tales, tall and true, from the Phuket King’s Cup Regatta.Our intrepid journo looks back at 26 years of nautical tales, tall and true, from the Phuket King’s Cup Regatta.

Or, as the multi sailing Gold Medallist, tactician on “Oracle”, Ben Ainslie, said it after the event: “The incredible panorama of the America’s Cup brought home to millions the challenge, skill, freedom and sheer beauty of yacht racing – for most, particularly the American public – for the first time.

Meantime, back on terra-firma, we look towards the 2013 Phuket King’s Cup Regatta, held each year since 1987 in the southern Andaman isle to celebrate HM the King’s birthday, on the 5th of December.  Here we feature a few “snippets” under various headings occurring over the years since that inaugural event 26 years ago.

Ancient Mariner

One of the earlier sailings of the now-famous regatta involved a dog.  An itinerant live-aboard mariner, on a round-the-world transit, decided to enter the regatta and had to lighten his catamaran somewhat.  He unloaded his paraphernalia which included numerous pot-plants, items of furniture, a dog and a cat, and placed them in his tender, anchored nearby.

The ancient mariner then entered the race, finishing third.  But, on return to the anchored dinghy, he was heart-broken to find his faithful dog had “abandoned ship”.

Life’s not all serious on the ocean waves. (Photo courtesy Guy Nowell/King’s Cup Regatta)Life’s not all serious on the ocean waves. (Photo courtesy Guy Nowell/King’s Cup Regatta)

He went onstage to receive his trophy which was a King’s Cup replica AND a large box.  Out of the box jumped his sea-borne pooch, joyfully re-united with his master.

The story: One of the competitors spotted a dog swimming in the middle of the Andaman Sea, forlorn and lonely, whereupon the skipper diverted and collected the paddling pooch and brought it ashore.

The outcome: dog and master were re-united, the gallant rescuer was granted redress for his good deed and won the event, and the ancient mariner sailed away to his next port-of-call, complete with his ‘family’.

Moral of this story: if one is on a Cat, look after your dog!

May Day, My Day

The ultimate distress call for any vessel in trouble.  In earlier regattas, the fleets used to sail to Koh PhiPhi, usually into the teeth of a strong north-easterly.  One sailor, famous for his solo excursions, sailed his catamaran alone to the Island.  Very alert Thai Navy personnel spotted the lone sailor from a helicopter monitoring the fleet.  The dreaded “man overboard” May Day signal was relayed to the shore-based race committee.  No problem: it was the notorious – and adventurous – Swedish sailor, Anders Widen, doing what he did best, solo sailing into a 25-knot North-easterly – or whatever wind was around.

The personable Swede came ashore “safe (sane) and sound on Phi Phi, thanks to the vigilance of the Royal Thai Navy and the race management committee.

McCook’s Marathon

One can never forget Aussie Scott McCook with then-crew member, Singaporean Alice Lim, who, somewhat short of funds decided to sail their Hobie Cat 16 to Phuket from Singapore.  They then raced in the Beach-launched Catamaran Division of the Regatta, won all five races and then sailed back to Singapore.  “No big deal,” said Scott later.  “Just another day in the office”!

Alice claimed after the adventure that at times during their torrid journey, she felt a little left out on a ‘LIMb.’

David vs. Goliath

When Lasers were included as a major class in earlier King’s Cups, hard-bitten veteran Reg Chambers – no man to fool with on land or sea – was feathering up to windward, all 130 kilos of man and boat.  Coming on a collision course however was 40 tonnes of keel-boat.  Don’t mess with our Reggie.  “STARBOARD” was the call from the Laser.  The keel-boat crew, with a few choice expletives, honored the sea law, tacking clear of the Laser.  “Thank you”, cried Reggie who continued on to win the Laser Class in that event.

Journos edited.

Two journos, great friends, were covering an earlier King’s Cup for their respective dailies, the Bangkok Post and the Nation.  These were the halcyon days, pre internet.  Both finished their stories in hard copy, handed them to one of the beautiful girls (of course!), for transmission via facsimile.

Next day in the press office there was an agonizing cry, in living stereo, from both journos.  “I’ve been plagiarized”, they uttered simultaneously.  The lovely lady, in her wisdom, had transmitted the two stories to the wrong newspaper.  Both our editors back at the news office, wondered why we had mentioned our rival newspaper, so many times in the story and why a by-line from the rival.  Maybe Rupert Murdoch could have worked that one out.

The friendship of the two “hacks” remains firm but now they use internet.

One and only…

Another journo’s saga, to round off these inane observations:  One writer, dedicated (of course) to covering every aspect of the regatta, made a wrong decision.  That was to go out on the course for some up-close photography.  He chose the sponsor’s craft, where the bar opened as soon as the fleets were off and racing.

By the end of that day, becoming very friendly with the skipper, our journo had a “few for the road”, back at anchorage.  By then he had lost his camera somewhere and lost his mind totally.

As he was about to disembark, the skipper noticed that the lovely duty nurse had gone ashore and forgotten her first-aid box, clearly marked with a big red cross.  So, at the skipper’s request, our hero staggered ashore, carrying the first-aid box.

Half-way back to “safety” the drunken journo, cradling his first-aid box, weaved his way into the Kata Beach Resort.  All would have been well, except that there was a party of very big –and loud –people heading to the beach.

“Look at that old fool”, shouted one of the uncouth tourists.  “He is such a drunken idiot he has to carry his own ‘survival kit’ – a first-aid emergency survival package”.

Our erstwhile hero did not let the group down but managed to do a glorious fall, still clutching the first-aid box.

The hotel nurse however was VERY IMPRESSED, with the journo’s performance and the safe return of her precious “tools of trade”.

This, then, is a “jaundiced” look at a few of the memorable moments happening during my 26 years of covering the Phuket King’s Cup Regatta.  There will, no doubt, be a few more anecdotes to report to you after this year’s event from 30th November to 6th December, 2013.