On Deck: Local sailors making their mark

PHUKET: In sailing circles, attention is more often than not focused on the big international sailing events full of professionals: the America’s Cup, Volvo Ocean Race, World Match Racing Tour etc. Locally though, and in the region, the focus is on the keelboat and multihull sailing events.

As I write this, my 30th column (yep, hard to believe), the Olympics is in full swing and it’s time to look at the ‘amateur’ sailors, or more importantly – dinghy sailors. More about that in a moment.

The Phuket King’s Cup Regatta – also the 30th annual meet – recently held the first event of the 2016 Phuket Dinghy Series, which was established a few years back by members of the organizing committee, who were keen to see dinghy sailing make a return to the regatta. The series has grown to become a training ground for young sailors in southern Thailand, including Phang Nga, Surat Thani and Songkhla.

Racing in Optimist and Laser classes, it was Phuket sailor Yada Hasap who won the Optimist class in the first of the three-event series. Tanakorn Kaewluan of the Songkhla Sailing Club won the Laser class.

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Elsewhere, local sailors were making their mark at the 2016 Topper World Championships at Ballyholme in Northern Ireland. Katy Gooch took a team of three Thai sailors to the championship with strong local funding support to give these youngsters a shot at the big time. It was the first time overseas for some of the youngsters and likely the coldest place they had ever been. Imagine sailing in 14°C waters after training in Phuket’s warm waters.

The youngsters overcame the culture and temperature shock admirably with Paton Mervielde finishing third in the Topper 4.2 World Championship and Max Yuangngam crowned the winner. Yes, you read that right. Thailand won Gold and Bronze at the Topper World Championships – Max Yuangngam is the Topper 4.2 World Champion.

To be a world champion is a fantastic achievement in any sport and in a sport that is still very much in its infancy in Thailand – with little nationwide infrastructure or central government support – it is a fantastic achievement indeed, and one that deserves more recognition.

Thailand, to my knowledge, has only ever produced one individual sailing world champion in the past. That was Noppakao Poonpat. At the tender age of 15, he won the 2010 World Optimist Championship.

I’m writing this on day four of the 2016 Olympic sailing competition. Sailing conditions so far have been tricky and borderline insane. Representing Thailand are two youngsters in the Laser divisions: Keerati ‘Top’ Bualong in the Men’s One Person Dinghy (Laser) and Kamolwan ‘Bam’ Chanyim in the Women’s One Person Dinghy (Laser Radial).

There are four more races to go before the medal race so there is still plenty to play for. Nevertheless, that they have qualified for the Olympics is a significant achievement in itself.

Both are from the Sattahip schooling of youth sailing and have shown that the time and resources invested in them by the Yacht Racing Association of Thailand (YRAT) has not been wasted.

The YRAT has an impressive track record of success in Optimist sailing. It’s the envy of most Asian nations but still more needs to be done beyond the Optimist class. A nationwide infrastructure for sailing is needed.

For a young sailor in Phuket, Phang Nga or Krabi, or anywhere outside Sattahip, opportunities to learn sailing – and to then sail competitively – are very limited. Among those dedicated individuals making a difference are Katy Gooch and Paul Firmin, who run the Phuket Youth Sailing Club, and Alfie Rowson and Liz Schoch, of the Phuket Yacht Club Sailing Club.

Elsewhere in the south of Thailand, the Samui Yacht Club and Koh Phangan Youth Sailing (Surat Thani) are running sailing programs with Optimists and double-handed 420 dinghies. And there is the Sailing Club Hua Hin. All of these clubs offer dinghy sailing for youngsters and each is privately run by people who are passionate about the sport.

More are needed to nurture youth sailing in Thailand as it’s clear from recent results on the world stage that there is talent out there.

Duncan Worthington is a long time Phuket resident and through Infinity Communications (infinity-comms.com) consults to leading consumer brands, hospitality and marine clients in Thailand. In his ‘spare time’ he runs the marine portal www.MarineScene.asia. #OnDeckPhuket

— Duncan Worthington

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