Fronting both the Pacific and Indian Oceans, Thailand has over 1700 nautical miles of tropical coastline to entice both racing and cruising sailors, writes Fiona Harper.
Whether your interest is sprinting around the buoys, or cruising among the thousands of dramatic islands that make up the Kingdom of Thailand, this is a sailor?s paradise. Consistent winds, competitive local and international fleets and great food washed down with fresh tropical fruits are a heady mix that entices sailors each year. With the lusciously sweet aroma of frangipani and coconut oil drifting across the sea, Thailand has something for everyone, including a rich cultural mix.
With 2008 being the Year of the Rat, it's a good time to consider a trip there. In Western cultures, the Rat is reviled as little more than a disease-carrying pest. In the spiritual East, however, the Rat is revered as a symbol of good luck and prosperity. With over 14% of Thailand?s population being of Chinese descent, the wealth, charm, and just a little bit of aggression associated with the Year of Rat will be welcomed during 2008. Beneficial traits indeed, that will be advantageous for those intending to sail in Thailand?s hectic Asian Regatta Series.
Capt Marty Rijkuris, who hails from Darwin but is now based in South East Asia, first contested Thailand?s Kings Cup in the early ?90s. After managing high-profile yachting campaigns over 25 years, including a number of Sydney?Hobart?s, and logging over 100,000 miles, Capt Marty?s managerial focus is driving the South East Asian yachting scene. Australians have long been strong supporters of the diverse Thailand scene, made particularly easy with regular air services.
Thailand is also heartily frequented by cruising yachts enroute around the world. For some, who arrived on a one-month cruising visa, the temptations were too delicious, and they?ve never moved on. According to Capt Marty, sailors have always been attracted by the four Ss: sun, sand, sailing and sex. It?s still a compelling attraction. While some ex-pats have since settled into the Phuket lifestyle and set up successful charter, boat-building and design businesses, Australian sailors are still firmly enticed by the social nature of Thailand regattas.
For those itching to get away to this sailors? heaven, here?s a round up of events, so you can start planning the year ahead.
Andaman Sea Rally (Jan 2008)
Once the last trophy has been handed out at the Kings Cup in December and the beach sand has been brushed from your deck shoes, it?s time for adventurous sailors to head west in the Andaman Sea Rally.
Unusually, this is an ocean-crossing rally for both power and sailing yachts. Cancelled in 2005 and 2006 due to the Boxing Day tsunami of 2004, last year's event was also cancelled as sailors decided to stay away. Event organisers are hoping that 2008 will see enthusiasts returning to this unique event that incorporates a challenging offshore race with splendid tropical island cruising in the Bay of Bengal.
Vessels start the 400-mile passage race from Phuket, to Port Blair, the main town in the Andaman Islands of India. Busy Port Blair is, according to The Andaman Sea Pilot, a quaint, dirty, crowded and friendly Indian town that looks as though it has been ripped out of the colonial 1930s and dropped into the 21st century. After the arrival festivities and trophy presentation, participants then go their separate ways, cruising among the 300 or so pristine, predominately deserted islands.
The World Heritage listed Andaman?s boast superb diving, snorkelling and surfing along with exotic jungle wildlife and primitive hunter-gather tribes, who are unaccustomed to visiting yachts. The guidebook does advise caution when obtaining Customs clearance at Port Blair. Don?t swim when anchored near the port: since the 2004 tsunami, crocodiles have moved into the harbour and have been eating the local fishermen.
Phang Nha Bay Regatta (7-10 February 2008)
Celebrating the Year of the Rat, the Phang Nha Bay Regatta kicks off just in time for Chinese New Year. This four-day regatta is essentially an excuse to combine fun-filled beach parties with some not-so-serious yacht racing. Perfect for families, cruisers and laid-back racers, a different beach venue each night ensures that a lively social atmosphere takes priority over the racing. Races take place among the spectacular island scenery of Phang Nha Bay and Krabi, north east of Phuket. The dramatically sheer limestone cliffs that jut vertically out of the emerald green sea, and form part of the course, starred alongside James Bond in the movie Man with the Golden Gun.
Top of the Gulf & Coronation Cup (1-5 May 2008)
With the start of the south-west monsoon season from around May, the focus switches to sailing on the east coast and the Gulf of Thailand. Hosted by Ocean Marina Yacht Club, near Pattaya in the northern Gulf, this is another regatta steeped in Majestic history. Incorporating the prestigious Coronation Cup, as well as the Thailand Optimist Nationals, the regatta is timed to commemorate the Coronation of His Majesty.
Organisers are keen to attract larger yachts to the keelboat class entered in the nearby Koh Samui Regatta and offer free berthing arrangements for cruising yachts as an incentive. Nine hotly contested classes in 2007 saw over 200 yachts entered, with Australians well-represented, from Optimist dinghies and beach catamarans, through to keel boats and ocean multihulls.
Koh Samui Regatta (May-June 2008)
With race headquarters housed at Central Samui Beach Resort on Chaweng Beach, this regatta is billed as five days of offshore racing and five nights of tropical island parties. Racing is a mix of round the buoys and passage races, competing for both the Koh Samui Regatta Trophy and Asian Yachting Grand Prix Trophy. The intense racing focus belies the relaxed location. The resort island of Koh Samui is home to some of the classiest resorts on the eastern peninsula, ensuring plenty of tantalising social events.
This event is well-supported with local and international competitors who return each year. According to Marty Rijkuris, it is his favourite, as it is the climax of the coveted Asian Yachting Grand Prix Championships. It?s a top class yachting event, organised by Image Asia Events, who also run Phuket Race Week,
Phuket Race Week (July 2008)
Now in its fifth year, the fleet continues to grow each year, with 29 yachts on the start line in 2007. With racing over five classes, including multihulls and charterers, 2007 saw many first-time entrants mount the winner?s podium. Held during the often lively south-west monsoon, the regatta is held off Phuket's breezy east coast. Billed as Asia?s Windiest Regatta after consistently strong breezes for three years running, the 2007 regatta was distinct for its unusually light and shifting breezes, which caused much angst among organisers.
This is a lively regatta with race headquarters at the delightful Evason Phuket & Six Senses Spa on the south-east coast. The program advises entrants to be prepared for four days of racing and five nights of parties, with most yachts anchoring off the beach outside the resort.
The Ao Chalong Yacht Club welcomes international sailors to this relatively new ?Green Season? regatta. They actively encourage Australian bareboat charterers, and can recommend reputable local charter companies.
Kings Cup (early December 2008)
The Phuket Kings Cup was first held in 1987 to honour His Majesty, The King of Thailand?s birthday, with the 2007 regatta celebrating the King?s 80th year. In fact, this year the whole of Thailand is celebrating with their King, a gold-medal-winning sailor in the South East Asian Games, as they honour His Majesty King Bhumibhol?s Diamond Jubilee.
The Kings Cup regatta has grown to become South East Asia?s premier sailing event, and was last year voted Yachting Event of the Year for the second consecutive year, at the annual Christofle Asia Boating Awards. Phuket?s position as a superior yachting destination also attracted accolades, with the award of Asia?s Maritime Capital.
The 2006 event attracted over 100 yachts and the organising committee expects to attract a phenomenal fleet again this year. This really is an international regatta with widespread appeal, with 10 classes ranging from IRC Racing through to Bareboats, Multihull and Ocean Rovers. In addition to the strong Asian contingent, entries have come from as far afield as Australia, Dubai and South Africa. Hosted by Royal Varuna Yacht Club, this regatta is also popular with bareboat charterers who depart from the Phuket Boat Lagoon Marina.
If you were in Phuket for Race Week, it would be remiss not to attend Thailand?s premier boat show. Held at the prestigious Royal Phuket Marina, with on and off-water displays, from 6-9 December 2007, the Phuket International Marine Expo is growing in stature every year.
The dry season on the east coast?s Gulf of Thailand is generally from November to April, when the winds are predominantly light to moderate NE. During this North-east Monsoon (known locally as the Chinese Monsoon) season, expect dry, cooler days, with sunshine predominating. The South-west Monsoon (or Indian Monsoon) from May to September is when you can expect warm, cloudy days with rain, particularly on the west coast. The southern isthmus is generally hot and humid year round.
Yacht Racing Association of Thailand www.yrat.or.th
Asian Yachting for general regatta information and news www.asianyachting.com
Charter World www.charterworld.com
Sunsail Yacht Charters www.sunsail.com.au
Visitor facts – Kingdom of Thailand
Capital City: Bangkok
Area: 517,000 sq km
Population: 65 million
Time zone : GMT/UTC +7 ()
Languages: Thai (official)
Religion: 95% Buddhist, 4% Muslim
Currency: Baht (Bht) $1=28 Bht
Electricity: 220V 50HzHz
Country Dialling Code: 66
There are a wide choice of flights from most major cities in Australia both to Bangkok and other cities, including direct flights to Phuket. Airlines include Thai, Qantas, BA, Aeroflot, Emirates, Phuket-Air and others.