Thailand, a yacht racing destination

It all started in 1986 when a select group from the elite Royal Varuna Yacht Club (RVYC) got together and decided to launch a regatta in Phuket in 1987 – as a special tribute for the 60th birthday of the then King of Thailand, His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej. Thus the Phuket King’s Cup Regatta (PKCR) was born.

Royally connected architect M.L. Tridosyuth Devakul, affectionately known as ‘Mom Tri’, designed the prestigious trophy and generously offered his new Phuket Yacht Club Hotel at Nai Harn Bay as the regatta venue.

Starting with a mixture of dinghies, beach cats, keelboats and windsurfers, this regatta has grown to attract big keelboats and ocean going catamarans and remains Thailand’s biggest regatta of its kind by numbers, with a regular fleet of 90 yachts or more.

Held always during the week that includes the former Thai King’s birthday, December 5, the PKCR achieved international fame in – and outside – the yachting fraternity for its parties, where captains, crews, guests and others would join the revelry at a different venue every night.

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Since 1998, the regatta has been based at Kata Beach Resort (now Beyond Resort Kata) on Phuket’s west coast and, in 2016, won Best Asian Regatta of the Year in the Asia Boating Awards. With most of its fleet coming from overseas, PKCR abandoned both the 2020 and 2021 events under the weight of the Covid-19 pandemic restrictions in Thailand.

Fast forward 36 years from the first PKCR and Thailand is now home to 12 regattas, two superyacht events and action-packed weekend yacht racing programs at the country’s two principal ‘big boat’ clubs.

PKCR had it all its own way until 1998, when photographer John Everingham, together with a few yachting friends, founded the Phang Nga Bay Regatta, primarily in order to capture stunning images of yachts sailing between the bay’s dramatic limestone karsts. In 2011, Phuket Yacht Club (PYC) – formerly Ao Chalong Yacht Club – stepped in to save it from extinction, before handing the reigns over to Regattas Asia in 2012.

With a name change to The Bay Regatta (TBR) along the way, this event distinguishes itself by moving from one island or beach resort to another every day and was, in its earlier days, a favourite of live aboard cruising sailors. TBR sets sail in January/February each year and has managed to avoid lockdowns to sail uninterrupted throughout the Covid-19 pandemic.

The four years from 2002 to 2005 saw the founding of three more noteworthy regattas in Thailand: Koh Samui Regatta (KSR) in 2002, Phuket Raceweek in 2004 and Top of the Gulf Regatta in 2005.

KSR was founded by former PKCR president and serial trophy winner, Bill Gasson, motivated by getting quality yacht racing going in his home waters, the Gulf of Thailand. KSR attracts the cream of the Asian fleet, the big racing class yachts from Hong Kong, but without a strong local fleet has always struggled for numbers. In its sixth year (2007), to keep it from going under, Grenville Fordham’s Image Asia Events – Phuket boat show organiser and South East Asia Pilot publisher – took on the organisation for one year.

Subsequently, after a couple of years’ stewardship by Callum Laing’s Mobyelite, TBR organisers, Regattas Asia, added KSR to their portfolio and have announced that the 19th regatta in 2022 will move from its traditional slot in May to July, having missed 2020 and 2021 owing to Thailand’s Covid-19 pandemic restrictions.

Next up, July 2004 saw the inaugural PRW, founded by Fordham and business partner Andy Dowden, both veterans of the PKCR organising committee. Based at the Evason Resort on Phuket’s southeast coast for eight years, PRW claimed the distinction of being Thailand’s only major low season regatta, when more challenging racing conditions generally prevail.

Eschewing the Thailand regatta ‘template’ of a different party venue every night, PRW distinguished itself with its one-regatta-one-venue policy, offering magnificent after-race five-star parties at the host venue four nights out of five.

With the closure of Evason Phuket after the 2011 event – the year PRW was voted Best Asian Regatta of the Year, beating PKCR’s win by five years – the regatta relocated successfully to Cape Panwa Hotel in 2012. In 2013, Media Business Services acquired the rights from IAE.

Disrupted by the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020, and staged out of Phuket Cruising Yacht Club (PCYC) in 2021, PRW is reported to be close to finalising a deal for a new home for 2022 onwards, with new dates in late June.

Last but not least among the ‘big boys’, Pattaya’s Ocean Marina Yacht Club (OMYC) hosted the inaugural Top of the Gulf Regatta in May 2005. Another Gasson brainchild, TOGR capitalised on the Hong Kong and Singapore yachts heading for Koh Samui in May, fixing its dates immediately before the island regatta.

With a relatively small base of ‘big boats’, TOGR makes up its numbers by incorporating dinghy and Platu events and attracting crew by virtue of its proximity to Bangkok. In 2019, the fleet of 13 ‘big boats’ was boosted by 12 Platus and around 180 assorted dinghies. Despite the distinction of being the only regatta in Thailand sailed out of a marina, Covid-19 pandemic meant TOGR was unable to take place in 2020 or 2021; the 2022 edition, originally scheduled for April/May, has been postponed with no dates yet announced.

Then there are the ‘little boat’ regattas. There’s the Thailand Optimist Open Championship, founded in 1976 and raced out of OMYC, up to 2019 as part of TOGR. The Coronation Cup, a Platu one-design event, was founded in 1996 and, from 2005 to 2019, has formed part of the TOGR fleet.

RVYC hosts a separate dinghy event, the Admiral’s Cup, in January/February each year, featuring an 80-90 strong fleet of mostly Optimists, with a sprinkling of Laser dinghies. And then there was the Hua Hin Regatta, founded by the Yacht Racing Association of Thailand (YRAT) in 2000; a mostly dinghy event featuring a wide variety of designs, the last edition was in 2017.

Phuket’s PYC organises weekend sailing and three annual club events. There’s a multihull mini-regatta founded in 2008 that, since the Covid-19 pandemic, has strangely allowed monohulls to taint its reputation as “Asia’s biggest multihull-only event”. Then there are two oddly-named races, The ‘Jai Dee (Good Heart) Regatta’ and the ‘Sailors’ Regatta’ – as though other regattas are black-hearted events targeting non-sailors… Someone at PYC must have a strong sense of irony.

Then there is Pattaya’s OMYC, which also has a very active weekend racing fleet – albeit disrupted by Covid-19 pandemic-related restrictions.

Finally, Phuket plays host to two superyacht events: the Asia Superyacht Rendezvous (ASR), founded in 2002 with the last recorded rendezvous taking place in 2019 and the Kata Rocks Superyacht Rendezvous (KRSR), first staged in December 2016 and running every December throughout the Covid-19 pandemic years. Not real races, both ASR and KRSR are invitation-only events for superyacht owners, captains and assorted high net worth individuals to network, play ‘boat games’ and party.

No other Southeast Asian country can claim as rich and varied an all-year-round yachting calendar as Thailand – a sadly undervalued and under-utilised ‘resource’ in terms of high value national tourism marketing.

Paul Poole is the founder, managing director and chairman of Paul Poole (South East Asia) Co., Ltd., an independent marketing consultancy based in Bangkok, Thailand. The company specialises in commercial sponsorship and partnership marketing, working with both rights holders and brands. Paul Poole (South East Asia) Co., Ltd. has packaged, sold, and managed sponsorship and partnership opportunities for several of Southeast Asia’s leading yachting events, including almost all of the races and rendezvous named in this story.

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