Only three sailors over the last 25 years hold the distinction of winning the Racing Division of the Phuket King’s Cup four times.
They are Australian Ray Roberts and two New Zealand born sailors, Neil Pryde and a more recent arrival Bill Gasson, who came to Thailand in 1983 after six years in the Philippines.
Gasson’s 42 foot yacht Buzzard was designed by Rob Humphreys and built in the Philippines. The CHS (now called IRC) racer-cruiser won the Phuket King’s Cup in 1989, 1990 and 1991.
Gasson subsequently commissioned a 50ft racer-cruiser from the same designer. Big Buzzard was built in Fremantle, Western Australia and in 1996 Gasson sailed her to his fourth event win.
A founding member of the Phuket King’s Cup Regatta and Phuket King’s Cup Committee President in 1992 and 1993, Gasson has not sailed the event for several years but has returned for the event’s 25th edition.
Bill Gasson started sailing Dragons in the Philippines in 1977 and moved up to a Sonata 8, followed by a Gary Mull three-quarter tonner.
He explains ‘in 1983 I looked at Royal Varuna Yacht Club but it was very much a dinghy club back then, so I didn’t do a lot of sailing for a couple of years.
Big Buzzard in Koh Samui Regatta - Bill Gasson
‘Then I brought my Philippine built, Rob Humphreys design to the Thai Gulf. It was the first keelboat of that modern era of keelboats, in Pattaya.
‘In 1987 after I had been hauled on board as one of the founders of the King's Cup, I scoured Phuket to find 13 Thai boats and had a few boats coming in from Malaysia, to actually get the regatta started.
‘Back then we ran the keelboats out of Naiharn Bay, where there was wind.
‘We had some top name sailors from around the world competing and one year I had eight sailors onboard Buzzard who had sailed in Whitbread Round the World races, some of them had even done two or three.
‘Attracting top sailors helped the regatta’s early years, three through to six, to develop the competition.
‘I won three regattas in a row (1980, ’90 and ‘91). I had my old mates onboard but I always had one or two guys who knew what they were doing.
‘The very first year of the regatta we probably had 10 or 12 different nationalities racing. Henry Kaye came down with some stalwarts from the Hong Kong Yacht Club and they were, during those early years, the backbone of the fleet and then Singaporean and Malaysian sailors came along.
‘I was pretty involved in those early years, twelve years in racing or in race management, and then for another three or four years I would come and muck about until December 20th.
‘2011 is the first time I have been back to the event in five years’ said Gasson.
Gasson has however kept busy over the last few years being involved in the formation of two new regattas - Koh Samui and Top of the Gulf in Pattaya.
In recent history the King’s Cup has always been held over the King’s birthday but this has not always been the case, as Gasson explains.
‘Actually we originally did not hold it over the King’s birthday because we couldn’t get any of the dignitaries to attend. Ex Prime Minister Prem and other Thai dignitaries couldn’t ever come on the King’s birthday or the Constitution Day, which is the 10th, because they all had their duties.
‘For the first two years, we held the King’s Cup on a Friday, Saturday and Sunday.
‘We added an extra, separate event, a race to Phi Phi Island with an overnight stop there and a race back to Nai Harn Beach. Within a few years that race was incorporated into the King’s Cup.
‘The growing success of the overall event meant that it outgrew the Island and the format changed pretty much to what it is today. When the regatta was extended to a week the King’s birthday fell within the event.
‘In the early years there were a lot of dinghies sailing the event, but it became impractical to continue with the little boats, despite of our best efforts.
‘Hobies went out after about four or five years because they all came down from Pattaya, from the Royal Varuna Yacht Club and Lasers only went for a couple of years. Windsurfers were only around for the first year.
‘It was quite exciting that first year and I think we got 40 knots across the deck during one of the races.
‘It has been interesting to look at the changes to the event. The format has changed little, the event management has become more professional and the quality of the fleet continues to improve.
‘It’s good to see the King’s Cup providing more opportunities for the younger sailors with the Phuket Dinghy Series. The kids are the future and every event needs to expand its engagement with our potential young sailors.’
For news, results and information on the 25th Phuket King’s Cup please visit the event website www.kingscup.com
Sponsors of the 2011 Phuket King's Cup Regatta include Kata Group Resorts Thailand, PTT Group, Siam Winery, Singha Corporation, AIA Thailand, PTT Global Chemical, PTTEP, Thai Oil, Centara Grand Beach Resort Phuket, Boathouse and Sunsail. Media Partners include 91.5FM, Helm Superyacht Asia Pacific, The Nation, Phuket Best Group, Phuket Gazette, Phuket Magazine, Sail-World.com, SEA Yachting and YachtStyle Asia.