Adventurous monarch built his own boats and competed at the highest levels of international tournaments
Modesty. Untiring effort. Innovation. The virtues displayed by His Majesty the King also earned him sporting renown in the realm of sailing, where news of his exploits rippled from the shores of Thailand right around the world.
His sailing career was all the more remarkable for the fact that he built his own boats from scratch, testing the finished items in the lake at Chitralada Palace. In his workshop, he painstakingly pieced together sailing dinghies for three different classes: international enterprise, international OK and international moth.
His Majesty began work on his first boat, the enterprise class “Rajptain”, on December 7, 1964. After crafting it to international specifications, he raced it from Pattaya to Koh Larn against the Duke of Edinburgh during the British royal’s visit to Thailand in 1965. Construction of a second boat of the same class, “AG”, was begun on the same day.
He built his first international OK-class boat, “Navaruek”, in 1965. Many more were to emerge from his workshop, including “Vega 1”, “Vega 2” and “Vega 3”.
The King quickly turned his attention to international moth-class boats, designing and constructing nimble dinghies he named “Mod”, “Super Mod” and “Micro Mod” in 1966 and 1967.
His Majesty registered his design for “Mod” with the patent office in Britain.
Apart from being a designer and boat builder, the King’s great achievements in sailing were the result of several accumulative factors. He was an accomplished sailor and sportsman.
On April 19, 1966, HM the King sailed his single-handed OK dinghy, “Vega 1”, which had a length of 13 feet (3.9 metres), from Klai Kangwon Palace in Hua Hin, Prachuap Khiri Khan, travelling 60 nautical miles before arriving at Toey Ngam Beach in Sattahip, Chon Buri. The arduous journey across the Gulf of Thailand took an exhausting 14 hours.
A year later, His Majesty the King, in his own boat, and his eldest daughter Princess Ubolratana Rajakanya, then aged 16, shared the gold medal in the international OK dinghy class at the fourth Southeast Asian Peninsular Games (now called the SEA Games), hosted by Thailand. The gold medal was graciously presented by Her Majesty the Queen on December 16, 1967, and since then the government has decreed this date as National Sports Day to honour His Majesty the King’s sailing prowess.
In recognition of HM the King’s enormous contribution to the development of sports in general, and his prowess as an enterprise and OK sailor, specifically, the International Olympic Committee presented the prestigious Insignia of the Olympic Order to the King in 1987.
At that time, Thais who had access to sailing were mostly officers in the Royal Thai Navy because of the steep costs. The playgrounds for sailing, therefore, were around the naval base at Sattahip Bay, Chon Buri.
Not long after that, in order to turn sailing into a more exciting activity, local regattas were organised in the country. They gradually became international, with an increasing number of participants from several countries across the globe each year.
It was good news, indeed, for the yachting fraternity when, in 1987, His Majesty King Bhumibol was once again at the helm of his OK dinghy, leading his own Royal Chitrlada Yacht Squadron in a regatta against the Royal Thai Navy, and he made his mark by beating them soundly.
This regatta bodes well for the future of yacht racing in Thailand and the Phuket King’s Cup Regatta in particular.
The Phuket King’s Cup Regatta was first held in 1987. In 1986, a group from Thailand’s yachting fraternity gathered to discuss what they could do as a special tribute to His Majesty King Bhumibol on the occasion of his Diamond Jubilee birthday the following year on December 5.
After considerable discussion, it was decided unanimously to organise a royal sailing competition in Phuket, the first ever held in the sparkling waters of the Andaman Sea.
The inaugural Phuket King’s Cup Regatta was organised by Royal Varuna sailors including Commodore Chris King, Dr Rachot Kanjanavanit, Al Chandler and Adolph Knees.
It was yachting and Phuket aficionado ML Tridosyuth Devakul, better known as the renowned architect and developer Mom Tri, who placed the resources of his then recently opened Phuket Yacht Club Hotel at Nai Harn Bay at the regatta organisers’ disposal.
The regatta began with a mixture of keelboats, catamarans, lasers and even windsurfers. More recently the regatta has become a big boat event, attracting keelboats and ocean-going catamaran teams from around the world.
His Majesty had graciously donated the King’s Cup Trophy and was the Royal Patron of the Phuket King’s Cup Regatta.
The Yacht Racing Association of Thailand, which was established in 1964, was on March 31, 1987, taken under His Majesty’s Royal Patronage.