OK Dinghy sailors from around the world are gathering in Pattaya, Thailand for the 2013 Singha OK Dinghy World Championship, which gets under way at the end of this week.
Seven containers have arrived at the club over the last few weeks with 72 boats from nine countries entered for the championship. The first race is scheduled for Sunday 31 March.
It has been exactly a decade since the OK Dinghy class held its last world championship outside its traditional haunts of Europe, New Zealand and Australia. In 2003, the class held its first world championship in Asia, in Goa, India, and a return to the region has long been a dream of many in the class.
The OK Dinghy has a special place in Thai sailing history, as His Majesty the King of Thailand, King Bhumibol, won the gold medal in the OK Dinghy at the Fourth Southeast Asian Peninsular Games (SEAP) Games in 1967 in Phuket. This day has been commemorated ever since as National Sports Day in honour of his achievement. His Majesty the King sailed the OK Dinghy for many years, having built his own boat, and even travelled to Frensham Pond in the UK for some 'incognito' training in the 1960s.
There have been OK Dinghies in Thailand for more than 40 years, though these days they are mainly sailed by the navy personnel. The two strong Thai entries, Khun Veerasit Puangnak and Khun Manut Photong, bring a wealth of experience. Veerasit represented Thailand in the Laser class at the Sydney Olympics, and both Veerasit and Manut are ex-Thai Laser National Champions.
The fleet this year consists of a lot of newcomers to the class but also some deep experience, including five former world champions. The defending champion is Andre Budzien (GER). More famous for his Finn sailing he took the OK Dinghy world title in 2012 at the first attempt, but reveals he has been planning this trip to Thailand for some time. "The decision to compete in Thailand was born much earlier than last year. I heard about this World Championship two years ago and my family and I were very enthusiastic to make a nice holiday there with some sailing as well. So the decision was made before I knew I would be defending the title. Of course one of my goals is to defend the title, but also I hope to relax and have some fun there with my family and friends."
Budzien has changed his equipment since his win last year. "I have now bought a wonderful boat from Alex Scoles (GBR) with a wooden deck and a lot of nice features; this was and is my dream boat. I don't know which one is better and of course I was very satisfied with the Icebreaker I had before. The decision to change is more from a visual point of view, so, however the results go, the working place is very nice for me. I also bought a Finn with this wooden layout this year."
With the conditions largely unknown and a number of new faces in the fleet, it is hard to call a favourite. However four time world champion Nick Craig (GBR) heads the 12 strong British team, and should be in with a good chance at a fifth title.
"I'm hugely looking forward to the these worlds. It's been a long, cold winter here so the thought of sailing in 30 degrees and force 4 sea breezes has put a smile on my face already. I think it will be a very tough regatta - the strong Kiwi team are rumoured to be back in force and they have always had more depth of talent than any other country in OKs. The Danes were very fast last year after many hours training effectively as a team, and current champ Andre Budzien will be hard to beat, as will at least 10 others.
"I'm doing the least sailing I've done in over 30 years but hoping to still be in the action, and even if I'm not, it's going to be a whole heap of fun off the water."
And fun is going to be a crucial ingredient of the regatta. To say that the sailors are very excited to have the chance to race in Thailand is a gross understatement. The fact that there are 72 entries says a great deal about the anticipation felt throughout the fleet.
While there has been talk of trying to arrange a world championship in Thailand for many years it was really the work of OKDIA President Andre Blasse (AUS) that made it happen. "A few years ago on my way to compete in the OK Dinghy World Championships, there was a presentation on the screen of the Thai Airways plane for the King of Thailand's 80th birthday. It showed the King working on his wooden OK Dinghy, plus quite a few shots of him sailing. I thought to myself, wouldn't it be great to sail an OK Dinghy World Championship in Thailand.
"So I asked around at the regatta though I didn't really do much more about it until the 2010 World Championships in Wellington, New Zealand. The Chairman of the Jury was Rut Subniran from Thailand. I asked him a few questions about where he sailed from and discovered that his club, the Royal Varuna Yacht Club in Pattaya, had run the Fireball Worlds before, and he had helped organise them. So I asked if they would be interested in running ours; the answer was yes. At an AGM we put it to a vote, and everyone was very keen.
"The Royal Varuna Yacht Club is the sailing club endorsed by the King of Thailand and the organisers will send a letter to His Majesty the King informing him that OK Dinghy World Championship is being held in Thailand for the first time. I had a meeting with Rut at the Royal Varuna Yacht Club, just before Easter in 2012, at the same time we were proposing to run this year's Worlds. The weather was warm, the facilities and organisation top class. I was very impressed.
"OKDIA is very happy to have the Royal Varuna Yacht Club running our 2013 Worlds Championships, and I would like to thank the main sponsor "Singha Beer International". I know it will be a great event."
The race team will be headed by Kevin Wilson (AUS, IRO), while the International Jury will be chaired by Bill Bell (IJ AUS) and include Neil Semple (IJ GBR) Radm. Prasart Sribhadung (IJ THA), Omar Kwan (NJ MYA) and Rut Subniran (IJ THA).
The first sailors are already preparing their boats at the Royal Varuna Yacht Club. The practice race will be held on Saturday 30 March with a further 10 races scheduled from Sunday 31 March to Friday 5 April. Tuesday 2 April is scheduled as a lay day.