Our intrepid journo looks back at 26 years of
nautical tales, tall and true, from the Phuket King’s Cup Regatta.
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.
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.
Life’s not all serious on the
ocean waves. (Photo courtesy Guy Nowell/King’s Cup Regatta)
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.
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
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”.
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
Moral of this story: if one is on a Cat, look after your
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
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.
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.