by Paul Pool
It all started in 1986 when a select group of the elite of the Royal Varuna Yacht Club (RVYC) got together and decided to launch a regatta in Phuket in 1987 – as a special tribute to the 60th birthday of the King of Thailand from the time, His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej. Thus was born the Phuket King’s Cup Regatta (PKCR).
Royally connected architect ML Tridosyuth Devakul, affectionately known as ‘Mom Tri’, designed the prestigious trophy and generously donated his new Phuket Yacht Club hotel in Nai Harn Bay as the venue for the regatta.
Beginning with a mixture of dinghies, beach cats, keelboats and windsurfers, this regatta has grown to attract large keelboats and ocean-going catamarans and remains the largest such regatta in Thailand in terms of numbers. , with a regular fleet of 90 or more yachts.
Always held during the week that includes the former Thai king’s birthday on December 5, the PKCR has gained international acclaim in – and outside – the yachting fraternity for its parties, where captains, crews, guests and others joined in the festivities at a different venue each night.
Since 1998 the regatta has been based at Kata Beach Resort (now Beyond Resort Kata) on the west coast of Phuket and in 2016 won Best Asian Regatta of the Year at the Asia Boating Awards. With most of its fleet coming from overseas, PKCR dropped events in 2020 and 2021 under the weight of restrictions related to the Covid-19 pandemic in Thailand.
Fast forward 36 years since the first PKCR and Thailand now hosts 12 regattas, two superyacht events and action-packed weekend yacht racing programs at the country’s two main ‘big boat’ clubs.
PKCR had it all until 1998 when photographer John Everingham, along with some yachting friends, founded the Phang Nga Bay Regatta, primarily with the aim of capturing stunning images of yachts sailing between the spectacular limestone karsts of the bay. In 2011, Phuket Yacht Club (PYC) – formerly Ao Chalong Yacht Club – stepped in to save it from extinction, before handing over the reins 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 resort to another each day and was, in its early days, a favorite with sailors cruisers living on board. TBR sets sail in January/February each year and has managed to avoid blockages to sail uninterrupted throughout the Covid-19 pandemic.
The four years from 2002 to 2005 saw the founding of three most notable 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 Chairman and Serial Trophy winner, Bill Gasson, motivated by hosting quality yacht racing in his home waters, the Gulf of Thailand. KSR attracts the cream of the Asian fleet, large racing class yachts from Hong Kong, but without a strong local fleet it has always struggled for numbers. In its sixth year (2007), to prevent it from sinking, Grenville Fordham’s Image Asia Events – organizer of the Phuket Boat Show and publisher of South East Asia Pilot – took over the organization for a year.
Subsequently, after a few years of Mobyelite managing Callum Laing, TBR organizers Regattas Asia added KSR to their portfolio and announced that on 19and The 2022 regatta will move from its traditional May to July slot, having missed 2020 and 2021 due to Thai restrictions related to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Then July 2004 saw the first Phuket Race Week, founded by Fordham and his business partner Andy Dowden, both veterans of the PKCR organizing committee. Based at the Evason Resort on the southeast coast of Phuket for eight years, PRW has claimed the distinction of being Thailand’s only major off-season regatta when tougher racing conditions typically prevail.
Avoiding the Thai regatta ‘model’ of a different party venue each night, PRW has distinguished itself with its one regatta, one venue policy, offering magnificent five-star post-race parties at the host venue four nights out of five.
With Evason Phuket closing after the 2011 event – the year PRW was voted Best Asian Regatta of the Year, beating PKCR’s victory by five years – the regatta successfully moved to the Cape Hotel Panwa in 2012. In 2013, Media Business Services acquired the rights to IAE.
Disrupted by the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020 and released from the Phuket Cruising Yacht Club (PCYC) in 2021, PRW is reportedly close to finalizing a deal for a new home from 2022, with new dates at the end of June.
Last but not least among the “big boys”, Pattaya’s Ocean Marina Yacht Club (OMYC) hosted the first Top of the Gulf Regatta in May 2005. Another brainchild of Gasson, TOGR capitalized on Hong Kong yachts and from Singapore to Koh Samui in May. , setting its dates just before the island regatta.
With a relatively small ‘big boat’ base, TOGR makes up for it by incorporating dinghy and Platu events and attracting crew due to its proximity to Bangkok. In 2019, the fleet of 13 “big boats” was enriched with 12 Platus and about 180 assorted dinghies. Despite the distinction of being the only regatta in Thailand from a marina, the Covid-19 pandemic prevented TOGR from taking place in 2020 or 2021; the 2022 edition, initially scheduled for April/May, has been postponed without any date having yet been announced.
Then there are the “small boat” regattas. There is the Thailand Optimist Open Championship, founded in 1976 and spun off from the OMYC, until 2019 as part of the TOGR. The Coronation Cup, a one-design Platu event, was founded in 1996 and from 2005 to 2019 was part of the TOGR fleet.
RVYC holds a separate dinghy event, the Admiral’s Cup, in January/February each year, with a fleet of 80-90 people, mostly Optimists, with a sprinkle of laser dinghies. And then there was the Hua Hin Regatta, founded by the Yacht Racing Association of Thailand (YRAT) in 2000; a mainly dinghy event with a wide variety of designs, the last edition was in 2017.
PYC Phuket organizes sailing weekends and three annual club events. There is a mini multihull regatta founded in 2008 which, since the Covid-19 pandemic, has strangely let monohulls 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 if the other regattas were black-hearted events targeting non-sailors… Someone to PYC must have a strong sense of irony.
Then there’s OMYC Pattaya, which also has a very active weekend racing fleet – albeit disrupted by Covid-19 pandemic restrictions.
Finally, Phuket hosts 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 held in December. 2016 and taking place every December. the Covid-19 pandemic years. No real races, ASR and KRSR are invite-only events for superyacht owners, captains and various wealthy individuals to network, play “boat games” and party.
No other Southeast Asian country can claim such a rich and varied year-round yachting calendar as Thailand – a sadly undervalued and underutilized ‘resource’ in terms of high-value domestic tourism marketing. .