Phuket paddling challenge: Birds ready to hit the water for ’round-the-island’ adventure

PHUKET: The countdown is on for the father-and-daughter team of Les and Victoria Bird whose epic quest to paddle more than 120 kilometers in a circumnavigation of Phuket starts this weekend.

In the early hours of February 12, Ironman athlete Les, 59, and seven-time triathlon champion Victoria,11, will set out from Yacht Haven marina on the island’s northeast coast. They won’t return for some time.

Paddling in scorching heat during the day and cloaked in darkness at night, the Birds will have to contend with boat traffic, exhaustion, unpredictable weather and tide changes to make it the whole way around.

But they are determined to finish what has been described as an “inspiration for Phuket”, and it could take them five days to finish.

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Anil Thadani, CEO of Symphony Capital, has donated his 38-foot vessel Blowfish as safety boat.

Australian mariner Bill O’Leary will helm the boat, looking for potential dangers and pointing the Birds in the right direction.

“When I read in the Phuket Gazette about Victoria’s aim of raising awareness for charity, I wanted to help in some way. I admire people who take on tough new challenges. This young girl is an inspiration to us all,” said Mr Thadani.

The Birds will also be flanked by two veteran kayaking instructors on their trip: Ian Jones, who runs Exceptional Experiences, and Rob Ford, the Head of Primary at Victoria’s school, the British International School.

The Birds announced their ambitious plans in October. Since then, the local community has been quick to lend support and cash donations. They are raising funds for the 100 Friends international foundation and Phuket Sunshine Village.

So far, more than 32,000 baht has been raised and handed to charity representatives. Victoria is intent on raising much more.

First taking up kayaking 22 months ago in Phuket, Victoria completed a British Canoe Union (BCU) training course on the Isle of Wight in the English Channel in summer 2009.

Victoria’s paddling progress over the past few months has left dad Les and her instructors baffled.

“It’s amazing. She is a natural…she makes me look bad,” Les jokes.

The pair will be paddling in 14-foot solo Atlantis kayaks with drinks, food and their bunk-beds all aboard Blowfish.

Les said the paddle will be split into eight sections, a change from the original three.

On the first day, the Birds will set out from Yacht Haven and paddle about 30km to Nai Yang (2). Later that day, after Les has had his daily two-km swim for a “cool-down”, they will head for Bang Tao (3) and stay the night on Blowfish.

The following day they plan to make it all the way to Nai Harn (4) in the South. Les said they will have to stop halfway for a quick respite.

This will all be the easy part, says Les, who is more concerned with the unpredictable tidal patterns and speedboat traffic in Chalong Bay and off the coast of Phuket Town’s Rassada Pier.

Day three is going to be tough. Paddling from Nai Harn, the duo plan to make it to Friendship Beach (5), then Cape Panwa (6).

On day four, en route to Boat Lagoon (7), “We’ll stay away from the coastline to avoid the busy channel,” says Les.

The fifth day will see the pair shoot for their final destination, Yacht Haven. This is where Victoria’s classmates are expected to throw a welcome home party. All members of the Phuket community are welcome to attend.

Will the Birds reach their dream of paddling the whole way around the island? If there’s any father-and-daughter team who can, it’s them.

If you would like to bank on the Birds and donate to one of the charities mentioned in this story, then contact Les at T: 081-926 7103 or

— Fraser Morton

Thai Life

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