The Link Between The Royal Varuna Yacht Club and The Phuket King's Cup Regatta
The Phuket King's Cup Regatta (PKCR) was founded in 1987, by the Royal Varuna Yacht Club (RVYC) with the blessing of His Majesty the King, who graciously consented to the institution of the event as an annual Regatta and bestowed his Royal Patronage on it. The initial organizing group included Commodore Chris King, Dr Rachot Kanjanavanit, Al Chandler, Bill Gasson, Adolph Knees and M.L. Tridhosyuth Devakul who placed the resources of his Phuket Yacht Club Hotel at Nai Harn Bay securely behind the Regatta for the first 10 years.
Established to honour His Majesty on the occasion of his fifth-cycle, 60th birthday on 5 December 1987, it has been sailed every year since over the week in early December which spans The King's Birthday.
It has always been sailed under the authority of RVYC, with extensive logistical help from both the Royal Thai Navy and the Yacht Racing Association of Thailand (YRAT). The Governor of Phuket and the local Phuket community, in both the public and private sectors, have always rendered invaluable support.
An early tradition was that the incumbent President of the Regatta Organizing Committee was a current or past Commodore of the RVYC. This tenet has been maintained throughout almost all of the subsequent years: Chris King (President, 1987, 1988, 1994, 1997, 2003, 2004), Peter Ole Herning (1990, 1991), Adolph Knees (1989,1995, 1996, 1998) Nigel Hardy, (1999, 2000, 2002), Santi Kanchanabandhu (2005, 2006, 2007), and Kevin Whitcraft (2008, 2009).
Bill Gasson, not a Commodore but a staunch member of RVYC was President through 1992 and 1993. The only exception was Phuket marine entrepreneur, Andy Dowden, who took on the task in 2001.
Varuna is founded
“There is nothing - absolutely nothing - half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats” the Water Rat opined in Kenneth Graham’s classic, “The Wind in the Willows”. It was certainly this imperative that gave birth to the Royal Varuna Yacht Club in 1957.
Indeed, the history of RVYC is, virtually, the history of yacht-racing, sailing and cruising in the Kingdom. One of RVYC's co-founders, HSH Bhisatej Rajani, could be regarded as the godfather of sailing in Thailand. In fact, his contributions go well beyond the founding of RVYC, for it was he who introduced the joys of dinghy sailing to our Royal Patron, H.M. The King.
Prince Bhisatej was one of 10 people who answered Walter Meyer's advertisement in the Bangkok Post in April, 1957, seeking boating friends to form a boating club. The elements for one of those nationality jokes were in place, as the group gathered, appropriately enough, at the then Cosmopolitan Restaurant in Bangkok: an Australian, an Italian, two Swiss and a Thai, amongst others, did not sit down to joke, however, for they had serious business on their minds.
By the end of that lunch almost 50 years ago, Prince Bhisatej Rajani, Sid Watkins, Robert (Rachiman) Gintzburger, Roberto Maestrini and Walter Meyer were the principal protagonists who launched the Varuna Marine Club, with the aim of promoting all water sports, including power-boating, water-skiing, scuba diving and, of course, sailing, cruising and yacht-racing.
The founders were all members of the Royal Bangkok Sports Club (RBSC) and proposed at first that the Marine Club could perhaps establish a boating section of the Sports Club. The RBSC in its wisdom, however, rejected this proposition on the grounds that the idea was unlikely to succeed and would, instead, prove a liability to the Sports Club.
Walter Meyer was elected Chairman of the Board (really, the first Flag Commodore) and called the inaugural meeting of the Marine Club committee, on 7 August 1957, where entrance fees (250THB) and monthly subscriptions (30THB) were set. The next decision was where to establish the club. Walter and his friends drove up and down a then little fishing village called Pattaya and finally a two-storey wooden sea-side house, with a beach ideal for sail-boats was chosen.
The Varuna Marine Club
The Varuna Marine Club was officially opened on the weekend of 15–16 February 1958, with a dinner-dance on Saturday night where jackets and ties were forbidden.
It was in fact a water sports club, with four sections: sailing, motor boating, water-skiing and fishing. Walter Meyer was the first Chairman of the board (read, Flag Commodore), but Prince Bhisatej was the first Captain of Sailing, since Walter had no interest in this particular sport, being himself a fisherman. (There continues to this day to be a friendly debate as to who was really the first Commodore of the club!)
The first national championship recorded in the Kingdom were actually the Enterprise Nationals, held at the Varuna Marine Club in 1964. US sailors W.A. Gleason and K.R. Thomsen became the first Thai national yachting champions, beating Rachot Kanjanavanit/Narong and Prince Bira/Princess Lom.
It was in March 1965 that the Varuna Marine Club membership was invited by His Majesty to the King's own newly established Royal Chitralada Yacht Squadron at the Klai Kangwol Palace at Hua Hin, to participate in a regatta celebrating the formation of the Yacht Squadron. There were - and still are - some 100 OK dinghies, kept in mint condition, housed on the spacious lawns of Klai Kangwol.
On the Saturday after the race, when all the sailors and supporters were gathered at the large reception hall of the palace, Prince Bhisatej Rajani announced that His Majesty had conferred Royal Patronage upon the Varuna Marine Club. Thus, a month later, on 26 April 1965, the Varuna Marine Club officially become the Royal Varuna Yacht Club, with His Majesty The King as Patron.
On September 14, 1968, The Royal Patron, His Majesty the King, accompanied by HM the Queen, the Crown Prince and the Princesses, officially opened the Royal Varuna Yacht Club. In the late afternoon it was announced that His Majesty would like to meet and talk with the members, who were told not to be shy but approach and talk to the King.
Club Treasurer Angelo Gualtieri still remembers the occasion well:
“Dr Rachot produced a large photograph of His Majesty sailing his OK. He asked the King to sign the photo, which he did with a felt pen. The picture has hung on the wall of the staircase ever since. Unfortunately the ink of the felt pen faded until it can no longer be seen. However, there is a photograph showing the King signing the picture”.
Since its small beginnings, the Phuket King's Cup Regatta has become almost solely a 'big boat' event, attracting keelboat and ocean-going catamaran teams worldwide, albeit with a growing sport boat class. As a principal fixture on the Asian Yachting Circuit, the regatta annually features upwards of some 90 boats and over 1,500 sailors, ranging from the Formula One of the sea lanes, the Racing Class, to live-aboard ocean cruisers, multihulls and Classics. International-standard race management has been combined with lively beach parties most nights, to create a world-renowned yacht racing event. Varunians have always been actively involved in its management, as well as participants, as they do today.
Excerpts from ROYAL VARUNA YACHT CLUB: A Glorious Half Century.
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