There are only a handful of moments when Thailand has made an impact on world sporting history. On December 16, 1967, a dinghy race among the choppy waves off the coast of Phuket would become one of those storied memories.
On that day, during the fourth edition of what would eventually become known as the Southeast Asian Games, His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej and his eldest daughter, Princess Ubolratana, trailed the late Dr Rachot Kanjanavanit in the final OK Dinghy Challenge of that year’s sailing competition.
With Dr Rachot’s victory seemingly sealed, the Princess noticed a slight shift in the wind by 20 knots northeasterly. Seeing that her competitors were unaware of the change, the Princess tacked on the shift and accelerated with incredible speed.
Her dinghy rattled and shook as the 16-year-old royal struggled to handle the power of the daunting coastal winds. In a display of racing skill that still drums up chatter from enthusiasts to this day, Princess Ubolratana conquered the powerful gusts and zipped past Dr Rachot to cross the entire fleet in a heart-stopping finish that left onlookers stunned.
She ended the day equal on points with her father, and Thailand’s sailing history changed forever.
For the first time in history, father and daughter, King and Princess, stood on the podium together – a day that has since been crowned Thailand’s National Sports Day. It was the moment when the country’s modern love of boat racing was born.
Until then, sailing was an activity reserved for the affluent and powerful – a game of naval officers and honoured royals. But the tide had changed, and sailing became forever ingrained in Thailand’s rich sporting history.
The number of local regattas increased quickly, with enthusiasts from all over the country migrating to the coast for competitions year after year. In 1987, the Phuket King’s Cup Regatta was born in honour of His Majesty the King’s Diamond Jubilee birthday celebrations.
That same year, His Majesty led his Royal Chitralada Yacht Squadron in a regatta against the Royal Thai Navy, winning easily and further solidifying his place in Thailand’s sporting lore.
In recognition of his achievements, the International Olympic Committee bestowed His Majesty with the “Insignia of the Olympic Order” – a testament to his prowess as a sailor and great contributions to sports in general. Through sailing, and the events of 1967 onward, King Bhumibol established his international reputation as a passionate sportsman.
No one could have predicted how a single dinghy race in 1967 would change the sporting culture of a country forever, but it did. The King’s Cup Regatta – which celebrates its 30th anniversary this year – remains one of the greatest competitions in Southeast Asia’s historic sporting culture, and is considered one of the most challenging events on the Asia-Pacific racing circuit.
Each year, His Majesty the King’s contributions to the sport, and his birthday, are honoured with a sail pass and salute from the Royal Thai Navy to commence the first day of racing.
Organised by the Phuket King’s Cup Regatta Organizing Committee under the auspices of the Royal Varuna Yacht Club, the Phuket King’s Cup Regatta 2016 promises to be yet another thrilling entry in the pages of Thai history.
Held just off Kata Bay from December 3-10, the renowned international event will see around 150 boats and over 1,500 of the world’s best sailors vie for top spots in their respective racing classes.
Each year, the King’s Cup Regatta is an essential part of the Phuket events calendar, creating a noticeable bump in tourism numbers and international attention focused on the island.
In addition to global recognition from the racing world, the event continues to be an exciting platform for Thai brands to gain worldwide exposure.
The event features some of sailing’s most competitive racing classes, including dinghies (international class), keelboats, catamarans and the famed multihulls. This year will showcase another talent-rich field with teams from the United States, Australia, England, Japan, Russia, Singapore, Malaysia, Cyprus and China, and even greater international representation amongst the crews themselves.
The event culminates with the presentation of the King’s Cup Trophy, graciously donated by His Majesty the King during the inauguration of the competition 29 years ago.