Shipshape off samui

Posted on June 21, 2011

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When it’s regetta time on the island, intense competition never gets in the way of a good time and this year was no exception

Ten years since a group of friends convened for a fun week of sailing around one of Thailand’s most beautiful islands, the Sawadee.com Regatta Samui has evolved into a complete lifestyle event. While yacht racing is still at its core, this year organisers went to great lengths to ensure the event, held from May 30 to June 4, offered plenty to occupy all visitors, whether they had years of sailing experience or wouldn’t know a boom pole if it knocked them overboard.

“The event has grown beyond belief over the 10 years,” said Callum Laing, chairman of the regatta.

By including more than just sailing in the itinerary, organisers hoped to show off all aspects of Koh Samui, and demonstrate that the island is still an attractive destination during what is considered the low season, especially given the lower prices to be had.

“The key selling point of Samui is the pristine setting. This regatta showcases what’s available on the beach and just off it,” said Saipayom Somsuk of the Tourism Authority of Thailand.

For every day the sailors spent negotiating the wind, there was a corresponding night of music, drinks and good times, many of which were open to regatta visitors. The parties gave several of Samui’s top luxury spots a chance to show off their facilities, with the Centara Grand Beach Resort, Zico’s and Beach Republic among those that took turns hosting high-end parties. Drinks and conversation flowed freely, with the resorts’ chefs providing spreads of all manner of food: Thai, Western and in-between.

There were also daytime events, such as seminars on social media marketing, underwater photography and documentary making. On lay day, June 2, when no sailing was scheduled, there was an open golf tournament that allowed members of the public to try their hand against members of the various crews.

Although the regatta benefited greatly from the various sponsors on Samui, an event of such magnitude has a positive effect on the island as well.

“It works both ways. The regatta gives back a lot,” said Martin Heiniger, general manager of the Centara Grand. In addition to showing off many of the island’s luxurious venues, an effort was made to do community service during the event. This year participants took part in a massive beach clean-up. The regatta is also involved in a youth sailing programme that provides opportunities to local children, as well as some who study at the International School Samui. Some of the young skippers had the chance to test themselves at a junior regatta during the event.

Although much time and effort was spent on the surrounding events, the sailing occupied the focus of most of the people involved. The regatta was the last of 10 stops on the Asian Yachting Grand Prix circuit, which organisers call the premier event in Asian sailing. The tour champion is considered the top skipper in Asia, said Mr Laing. In previous years, the entire tour has come down not just to the final regatta, but the final race on the final day.

The competition this year was fierce. In the top-of-the-line racing class the two tour frontrunners, Neil Pryde and Ray Roberts, were given plenty of competition by Johannes Waimer’s Team Premier, who travelled from Dubai to compete. Waimer was a newcomer to the tour, and a lot of buzz surrounded him and his crew. They showed up at the previous event, the Top of the Gulf Regatta in Pattaya, as a complete unknown, and ended up shocking everybody by winning everything at the competition.

For the first two days, Team Premier looked on track to repeat the feat, winning Day 1 and extending the lead on Day 2. It was not to be, however, as Neil Pryde and his crew clawed their way to the top of the heap by the final day, with Waimer in second and Roberts down in fourth.

Pryde’s efforts were not quite enough to secure the tour championship though, as Roberts’ strong showings throughout the season took the overall crown and the title of Asia’s top boat.

Team Premier didn’t figure in the overall tour standings, but only because they entered just two of the 10 events. It’s unknown if they plan to compete next year, but the other crews will certainly have their eyes peeled for the newcomers from the UAE.

Meanwhile, in the IRC-1 division, controversy ruled. On Day 2, Matt Allan’s Ichiban, one of the favourites in the class, sustained a broken spinnaker pole during a collision with Kevin Whitcraft’s Won Ma Rang just as the race began. What exactly occurred and who was to blame would remain a controversial topic right through to the end of the week, with several heated protests being heard by the race jury. In the end, Ichiban had to settle for second place behind Marcel Liedts’ Elektra.

The winners circle was rounded out by Greg Coops and his boat Abraxas in the Cruising division, and Kirati Assakul’s (Nim) Bandara Sonic in the multihull class.

Even though the winners of the regatta received nothing but a trophy and the pride associated with the title, no quarter was given by anyone involved in the competition.

“These are the best sailors in Asia, and they take it very seriously,” said Mr Laing.

Next year’s tour promises to offer many exciting races, particularly in the IRC-1 class, where some of the sailors on the wrong end of the protest hearings let their dissatisfaction be known at the awards ceremony and are surely gnashing at the bit for a chance at redemption.

The end of the sailing was not the last of the week’s events.

Saturday evening saw an awards dinner for the sailors and a rooftop luxury party and bikini fashion show for visitors and media at the KC Resort.

Once again the drinks and music were plentiful, and the mood was festive, far removed from any results-based hard feelings.

Organisers are already looking forward to next year’s event and beyond. Partnerships with several local resorts have been extended for years to come and sponsors including Sawadee.com and Bangkok Airways are cooperating with resorts such as the Renaissance and Anantara to put together packages at several price levels for prospective spectators.

“This is just another beginning,” said Bangkok Airways spokesperson ML Nandkika Varavarn, of the regatta held for the 10th time this year. The airline is looking optimistically to the future. It plans to add more direct flights to the island, hoping that will make it a more attractive option for Asian tourists looking for short-term holidays.

According to Mr Laing, next year the regatta will feature the same 10 events, and is scheduled for May 29 to June 3. Organisers and sponsors alike are confident that, with the pristine setting and the friendly atmosphere, the regatta will continue to grow next year and going forward.

“Friendships have been created through many years. It’s like a family, and it’s growing,” said Mr Heiniger.

 

Source : Bangkok Post

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Posted in: Koh Samui