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Phuket King's Cup 2023

by Guy Nowell 12 Dec 2023 07:44 PST 5-10 December 2023
Team Hollywood. Phuket King's Cup 2023 © Guy Nowell / Phuket King's Cup

Last week’s Phuket King’s Cup was one of a kind. The first regatta was run in 1987 by the Royal Varuna Yacht Club to honour the Fifth Cycle, or 60th birthday, of the late King Bhumiphol Adulyadej, himself an enthusiastic and accomplished sailor.

The regatta flourished; it became over the years a blue riband event, the biggest regatta in Asia, a magnet for racing and cruising classes alike, and a byword for both quality racing and a high octane après-sail scene. Sailors came from all over the world for a tilt at the King’s Cup trophy (created by Garrards of London), the delight of sailing in shorts and t-shirts in warm tropical breezes on aquamarine seas, and the sheer pleasure of sipping ice-cold beer on the warm sands of Phuket at the end of each day. It was elysian.

The event grew and grew, over the years running divisions for top-flight IRC racers, cruisers, multihulls, bareboat charters, premier cruisers, one designs, windsurfers, kiteboards, beach cats and more. Race courses included distance trips to the islands of Koh Racha and Koh Phi Phi, shorter excursions through Phuket’s southern archipelago, and of course geometric racing for those who sole intent is to get 1° closer to the breeze or spot the first shift on the first beat. Over 100 boats lay at anchor in Kata Bay, where there were early morning starts for sailors with fuzzy heads, wading Dunkirk-style out to the longtail boats that would take them to their moorings.

And then along came covid. December 2019 in Phuket all was sweetness and light, but 2020 saw a shutdown of world travel both internationally and within countries, quarantine measures imposed on those who dared - or had to – move, and a worldwide regime of protection and immobility that crippled tourism and inter alia international sailing regattas.

There was no Phuket King’s Cup in 2020 or 2021. In 2022 the Phuket King’s Cup Organising Committee, Chaired by Kevin Whitcraft, took the bold decision to run an event in the hope that even a reduced entry list would send out a signal that “the King’s Cup is back”. It did: last year saw a mere 19 boats line up for the starter on 05 December, but this year’s entry list was up to 31 – plus 122 dinghies (Optimists, O’pen Skiffs, ILCA 4, and a handicap class of ILCA 7s and a solitary OK).

Weather for the 35th running of the Phuket King’s Cup was balmy. From the practice day to the last race there was good breeze for the most part. The sun shone, the white caps on the blue water were picturesque, and the sailors were happy. PRO Simon James and his well-oiled team of AROs reprised their roles for the nth time, starting a total of 58 races over five days.

The IRC 0 division was always going to be a fight between the two TP52s, Team Hollywood and Vayu THA72, and a Pac 52, Callisto, all the way from the USA. Observers were not disappointed. Callisto started race 1 at the boat end, and took off higher and faster. For a moment it looked as if it was ‘all over, Rover’ for the regatta, but Team Hollywood with Adam Minoprio on the helm was first at the top mark and then first across the finish line. “There’s always a lefty on that beat”, he said afterwards. After that hammer and tongs all the way to the end of the week, with Steve McConaghy’s chartered After Shock with a pay-to-play crew on board hanging on gamely for the first beat each time, but losing out on the downwind legs and never getting back into the frame. Kevin and Tom Whitcraft’s Vayu THA72, replete with practice hours in the Med 52 Super Series, had their game spoiled by a technical problem that put them off the race course for three starts, but came back stronger than ever. An extra race inserted into the programme (more on that, later) gave the division 11 starts, with Ray Roberts’ Team Hollywood claiming victory for the fourth consecutive King’s Cup. Asked how he felt at prizegiving time that evening, Roberts replied, “absolutely fantastic”.

The Premier Cruising division involved three sets of familiar faces – Pine-Pacific, Shahtoosh, and Yasooda – although the latter’s owner, Hans Rahmann, has been racing a Firefly in recent years. Added to this mix was Aphrodite, a beautiful 92ft ketch designed by Andre Hoek and built by Vitters, but even the presence of Bruno Peyron on board couldn’t stop the three smaller boats from running away every day, and Ithinai Yingsiri’s Pine-Pacific lifted up her skirts to record a clean sweep across all seven races. Peter Cremers (Shatoosh) said, “we come here to race because Phuket is a nice place and because the King’s Cup is fun. Is there another reason?”

IRC 1 provided the biggest fleet – seven boats. In October 2023 Nick Burns won the China Coast Regatta with a clean sheet, and was looking to do so again. However, Rolf Heemskerk’s crew on The Next Factor spoiled that little game, and Ramrod came close a couple of times, but Witchcraft still stormed the division with seven wins from 10 races. Burns reports that he has sailed every King’s Cup except one, and shows no sign of stopping.

With a little help from Tiffany Koo, Dean Peng skippered Dragonborn (or maybe Gragonborn, or perhaps the same boat with another name altogether) to victory in the Bareboat Charter class. This class used to attract up to 20 entries, but local reports are that during the covid years a large number of the usual charter boats were sold into private hands or left Phuket altogether. Mike Downard’s Piccolo, a Sydney-Hobart winner, and the most sold and re-sold boat in Asia (as Capt Marty liked to remind us, regularly) gave the Chinese visitors a run for their money, but came up well short on points.

The Monohull Cruising class was won, in style, by Philippe Dallee’s ineffably elegant Swan II, but second place went to Steve Maine’s Enavigo, who had come a long way to get to the start line – all the way from England in fact. The Maines have cruised their Grand Soleil all the way from the UK over the last eight years. “We’ve got rather a lot of gear on board for racing” said Steve, but they made a good showing of themselves for a’that.

The Multihull divisions – Racing and Cruising – were both reduced to two boats this year. Dan Fidock’s Parabellum, an Extreme 40, made short work of John Newnham’s Twin Sharks in a rather one-sided contest. Newnham claimed the two first places, but the black bullet took the rest. In the Cruising dept, Andrew McDermott’s trailer-tri, Trident, was dismasted in the practice race, but Corsairs are meant to be taken to bits. There was no damage, so a new shroud (or was it a stay?) was quickly fitted. Trident lost the first day’s racing, but bounced back to win the next five races and take the title.

So there we go: a good time was had by all. The weather was kind, the Race Management was excellent as always, beer at the Ska Bar was cold, and the spring rolls were hot. It even rained on the party at Kata Thani, which is practically a tradition in its own right. 122 dinghies contested 40 starts between them, and winners were duly awarded at Royal Awards.

The big ticket item, however, was the attendance of Their Majesties King Vajiralongkorn and Queen Suthida at the 35th Phuket King’s Cup, marking the very first time that members of the Royal Family have attended the event.

On Thursday 08 December, the King and Queen arrived via Beyond Kata Resort, and boarded a RIB off the beach. The Royal couple then went on board Vayu THA72, the TP52 belonging to Tom and Kevin Whitcraft (President of the King’s Cup Organising Committee). The King didn’t stay long, but Queen Suthida was there for a training session with the Vayu crew. PRO Simon James laid a start line and a short course for practice purposes. On Saturday 10 December, the Queen returned for the last day of racing of this year’s event, on board Vayu THA72. Before racing started, the Queen made a trip up the mast to the hounds, ostensibly to “look for some breeze” which at 09.00 was in short supply (but filled in rapidly thereafter - by Royal Command, perhaps?). Vayu won the last two races of the series, and Her Majesty declared that she would be “back for more” next year.

The effect of a Royal visit to – and Royal participation in – a sporting event in Thailand is hard to overestimate. Thailand is very respectful towards its monarchy, and the presence of both the King and Queen at the King’s Cup, and the return visit of the Queen to actually go sailing (not to mention making a trip up the mast of Vayu THA72) received smothering coverage on national news and of course social media. Queen Suthida has declared her intention to be back at the 36th King’s Cup next year, and as of now the regatta must be the most valuable sports ‘property’ in Thailand. The potential to stimulate sailing in Thailand, from kids getting into a boat for the very first time all the way through to the grown up end of the sport, is enormous. It was no accident that Her Majesty’s diminutive ‘coach’ on board Vayu THA72 was none other than Noppakao Poonpat, Optimist Class World Champion in 2010. This was a statement of encouragement for sailing, for kids, and for women and girls. Three cheers for Her Majesty!

Earlier today, we were looking at photos from some of the back of the numbers of the Phuket King’s Cup, when there were 20 boats in some of the classes, and it was necessary to run two race areas to accommodate the huge numbers of entries, and the parties ‘went on’ in alternative venues long after the official event had wound up. Those were the days. Can we get them back?

www.kingscup.com

For full Results, click here: https://www.kingscup.com/daily-results/

For a full gallery of photographs, go to www.guynowell.com

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