Field of Dreams

Malaysia's Monsoon Cup

The world's first purpose-built venue captivates sailing stars and the crowds in Malaysia, by Bob Ross.

REMEMBER the Hollywood movie Field of Dreams. An Iowa farmer played by Kevin Costner, in response to hallucinatory voices saying “If you build it, they will come”, carves a baseball diamond from a corn field, complete with bleachers and stadium lighting, to lay to rest the ghosts of disgraced Chicago Black Sox baseball players.

The ghosts emerge at night to play on the field and Costner's neighbours and friends flock to watch the games. Since, the film-set diamond has become a popular tourist attraction.

Hollywood, or perhaps more aptly Bollywood, could make a similar movie with it's theme of pursuing one's dream, now matter how much effort it takes, about the creation of the venue for the Monsoon Cup at Terengganu on Malaysia's east coast.

The dreamer here was dynamic young Malaysian entrepreneur Patrick Lim who persuaded the Malaysian and regional governments to support him in establishing the purpose-built match racing course area with attendant three-storied stadium-style clubhouse on the estuary of the Terengganu River.

It is associated with Lim's Heritage Bay six-star resort development with chalet accommodation and a 50-metre outdoor swimming pool on the sandy island of Pulau Duyong. Lim floated the idea of the Monsoon Cup to lift tourism to the east coast, which is renowned for its diving locations, local culture, arts and crafts and the spirits of the local people facing the gloom of the impending monsoon season with its constant heavy rain and high winds.

For the first one, in December 2005, Lim's T-Best Events organising company in only five months dredged five million cubic metres of sand out of the shallow estuary to create a course area for a fleet of eight Foundation 36s purchased from the WA Yachting Foundation and enough marina pens to house them and the regatta support boats.

They laid bitumen roads over the sandy Duyong Island only ten days before the regatta and ran the event, successfully, from two large air-conditioned marquees.

Lim, who went to school in Perth, through a friend of those days met the then current World Match Racing Tour champion Peter Gilmour and enlisted him to provide the sailing expertise and help attract the world's best match-racing sailors to the event.

Gilmour did that, with the lineup including other America's Cup skippers Russell Coutts, Chris Dickson, Dean Barker and Thierry Pepponet. Then, despite the long anxious hours he had spent helping organise the regatta, went out and won it, beating Coutts in the final.

For the second Monsoon Cup in 2006, Lim decided to fast-track construction of the clubhouse building, which includes an operation centre, media centre, viewing balconies, VIP lounges, competitors' rest lounge, gymnasium and physio room plus a large exhibition hall.

A team working around the clock in three shifts over three months completed the clubhouse and a second three-storied building associated with the Heritage Bay resort, housing a ballroom and restaurant. The cement was still drying and workmen were still laying tiled floors through the night, when the regatta began.

This year, the buildings were complete, long free of the cement dust and completely utilised not only by the regatta's participants but crowds of interested local people and VIPs including Prime Minister Badawi (has anyone seen an Australian PM at a regatta lately?), and the Malaysian royalty.

Kuala Terengganu, the capital of the state of Terengganu, has a population of around 350,000. Interested locals and visitors had many attractions to visit besides the sailing with food, art, cultural and heritage festivals, a concert, a golf tournament and a fishing competition which attracted about 6000 entries who lined the river banks from dawn. It carried a prize of 30,000 ringits (Aus $10,000) for the biggest fish.

But an estimated 40,000 of them also turned up to watch the Monsoon Cup over its five day span. After three years of listening to a barrage of non-stop commentary by the veteran Kiwi America’s Cup broadcaster Peter Montgomery in English and an even more fired-up version in Malay by a local “P.J” understudy, the Malaysians seemed to be getting a handle on what was going on.

They had a Malaysian team to cheer for, led by 23-year-old Tiffany Koo, a successful Laser Radial sailor inducted into international match racing at the 2006 Monsoon Cup.

Queues formed in the exhibition hall to have a try at hoisting a spinnaker and winding a halyard on a self-tailing winch. Well everyone did get a tee-shirt for doing it.

Out on the water, children sailed a fleet of seven Optimists, owned by the Heritage Bay Club, in a continuous series of short training races. The Foundation 36s are also for corporate events and a community-based youth training program developed by Peter Gilmour at a sailing academy, one of five new ones established all over Malaysia.

While Malaysia has 14 major marinas and yacht clubs, Heritage Bay is the first to be established on the east coast. With the completion of a breakwater under construction at the mouth of the river and with shipyard facilities already in place on the Terengganu River, it is also intended attract cruising yachts and be a host for offshore races.

The Malaysians are encouraging more marine-based industries to Terengganu. Prime Minister Badawi, after presenting the prizes at the Monsoon Cup, announced the signing of a memorandum agreement between local shipbuilder Destini Marine and Netherlands-based Conoship International to build 20 mega yachts, 41m in length.

The whole project is part of a government program to provide more economic opportunities to the people of the east-coast states, which have lagged far behind the pace of Malaysia's west. Improvements are already obvious in Terengganu, apart from Heritage Bay, like the new two-storied airport building, replacing the previous ramshackle single-floor one.

Terengganu's chief minister, Dato'Seri Idrus Jusoh says: “The Monsoon Cup, which was planned to be a catalyst for the State of Terengganu, has kept to its core and the benefits are already being seen today. What was once a sleepy town, Kuala Terengganu has been awoken to its true potential as a port city.

“We said right from the beginning, Monsoon Cup is not just for the sailors but the people of Terengganu; the people of Malaysia.”

The sailors, race officials and visiting media were well looked after with hotel accommodation, meals and transport to and from the venue in buses and large taxis, some of them driven in an eight-hour journey from Kuala Lumpur near the west coast, just for the event.

Double champion

The people at the 2007 Monsoon Cup saw an exciting double win to Ian Williams' Team Pindar. Williams, who is 30, in 2005 quit his job as a lawyer to go match racing professionally.

He has been a steady improver on the ISAF World Match Race Tour. He placed eighth in the 2005 Monsoon Cup; last year won the Bermuda Cup and finished third in the Monsoon Cup.

Williams went into this year's Monsoon Cup, last event on the 15-event Tour, in second place behind Mathieu Richard of France, who had won the previous two tour events: Bermuda Gold Cup and the Victoria Brazil Sailing Cup.

But he last qualifier for the quarter-finals after a disastrous last day I the round-robin series. He lost to Richard, Torvar Mirsky, 21-year-old Torvar Mirsky from Fremantle, WA and Staffan Lindberg (Finland). And he lost another on a protest by 22-year-old New Zealander Adam Minoprio for having a crewman hanging outboard from a winch handle inserted in a windward winch.

Williams and his crew, after a soul-searching session that night, climbed back from the canvas next day to win their quarter-finals match against Jesper Radich (Denmark) 3-0 and then gained an unbeatable lead in the world championship by beating Paolo Cian (Italy) in a 3-2 cliffhanger.

Cian, who beat Richard 3-1 in their quarter final was fast and his crew work was smooth, but Williams dominated the pre-start manoeuvres. Meantime Peter Gilmour, the defending world champion, went through to the final with a 3-0 sweep against Bjorn Hansen (Sweden).

Not content with being the first British sailor to win the World Tour since its inception in 2000, Williams and his crew ñ brother Mark on the bow, Mark Nichols trimmer, Simon Shaw mainsheet and American Bill Hardesty tactician ñ next day beat Gilmour 3-1 in the final to win the Monsoon Cup.

Williams had the edge on the foxy veteran in the pre-starts and was also faster in the last two races, with Gilmour suspecting he had picked up a plastic bag on his keel.

Gilmour congratulated Williams and his team as deserved winners. “I am full of admiration for what they have done this year. The team that will win is the team that handles the pressure best and at the end of the day it was very well done.”

First class

But Gilmour went home to Perth satisfied with his achievement on organising event praised by the competitors as being the best on the tour. Before it began he had already earned the Malaysians' recognition of his contribution with the title “Dato' Peter”, which means “Sir Peter, Knight of the Crown of Terengganu.”

Gilmour said: “If I put my event organiser hat back on, I couldn't be happier. The event has been superb. We worked very hard on trying to create local interest and I think we achieved that.”

The Australia connection to the event continues to be strong. Skip Lissiman, executive director of the WA Yachting Foundation, served as event manager. Helpers from Perth looked after the boats. Shane Borrell headed the umpires' team. David Tallis from Sydney was principal race officer and earned praise from the competitors for his course-change efforts to meet variations in the predominantly moderate north-east breezes.

The Monsoon Cup, with one million ringits (about Aus $342,000) in prize money, ended the World Match Racing Tour's first full season in the association it formed with ISAF in January 2006.

The tour's president Scott McLeod says it hopes to stage an exhibition at the Olympic sailing venue Qingdao, China, and there will be a new event in Asia on the ten-event schedule with the Monsoon probably again being the concluding event.
“I have been amazed at the increase in level of events and prize money through this last year. All of a sudden we have seen really strong interest from venues in hosting events at a very high level.”

He says the Monsoon Cup, showing what an event can achieve from scratch, had helped greatly helped the Tour attract new events with new sponsors. And it had a strong television/media package that reached a huge audience that offered sponsors a good return on investment.

“If an event wants to come in new, we really set fairly rigid guidelines and a level to come in at; we keep setting the bar higher as to what they need to deliver.”

Australia's ISAF Vice President David Kellett, who negotiated the international sailing body's association with the World Match Tour the MacLeod, was at the regatta.

He said: “This is my first visit here and I have been blown away by the facilities and the way all the volunteers and staff are working; it's sensational.

“The local minister and the Malaysian government should be very proud of this organisation and this facility. It is first class. I hope we can use this as an example for other countries to improve their facilities.”

Kellett said ISAF was looking forward to a long association with World Match Race Tour.

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