<I>"This year the Phuket King's Cup Regatta has the best Racing Class ever,"</I> said Hannes Waimer of Malaysia-based hi-tech yacht manufacturer DK yachts, whose company counts at least nine of the Racing Class contenders amongst his clients.
With 74 entries confirmed as of 27 November, and around 5-6 'probables', this year's regatta, which kicks off with the first race on Monday 2 December at Phi Phi Island, is set to be bigger than last year.
"We feel that's quite an achievement, given the factors that have ranged against us this year,"
said President Andy Dowden. The factors he referred to included, of course, the Bali tragedy earlier this year that has discouraged a number of potential competitors from bringing their yachts to the region.
On the question of security, Dowden said recently, "The superintendent of Chalong Police (whose area of responsibility includes regatta host venue, Kata Beach Resort and all other Phuket venues) assured me that strong measures will be in place to ensure security at the regatta venues. He declined to give specific details of what those measures will be, however he did stress that as this event is held under His Majesty's patronage and attended by HM personal representative, security was a serious issue for them."
In a separate statement, Dowden confirmed that the regatta organizers themselves are taking additional steps, which will include the presence of uniformed Securicor personnel and thorough bag searches at the entrance to all parties held in Phuket.
Another blow to King's Cup entries was the more recent 'Rajamuda factor' which has seen at least one popular contender withdraw. The Rajamuda Regatta (held in Malaysia shortly before the King's Cup) ran into heavy storms which saw former King's Cup winner Gotcha! Lagi suffer lightning damage, and Classic Class contender, Eveline, sustain damage to its boom.
Then there were the Beach Cats. A fairly complex arrangement to bring 12 brand new cats, en route to the Philippines, to Phuket to enter the regatta fell apart within just days of the start of racing. This valiant effort to 'bring back the cats' was just not to be. They sit now in their containers in Bangkok, awaiting onward shipment.
Another new class for 2002, Sports Boats, suffered a similar fate. Introduced to cater to a new design of boat being built in Phuket, production lagged behind the King's Cup schedule. There are simply not enough boats completed to form a viable class. Entries that were on board have been absorbed into Racing Class.
However, with around 80 boats competing, the move back to the dramatic setting of Phi Phi Island for the first time since 1999, and the superb Racing Class line-up, the King's Cup is set to maintain course as Thailand's biggest and best annual sporting and lifestyle event.
Amongst that Racing Class line-up there's one worth watching - an entry that could well upset the traditional regional competitors' hold on the trophy. Last year, 'Linklaters Mandrake' won the 65th Hoya Round the Island Race (Isle of Wight, UK) - the biggest and most popular yacht race of its kind in the world.
Competing in the UK against 15,000 people in a 1,735 strong fleet, the race's second largest number of entries ever, 'Mandrake' completed the circumnavigation in 5 hours and 45 seconds to win one of the most coveted prizes in yachting - The Gold Roman Bowl.
'Mandrake', originally a Farr 50, was significantly redesigned by yacht designer Mark Mills in 1999. The combination of tactics by owner Peter Morton, Adam Gosling on helm, and navigation by Tom Schnackenberg, universally considered the brains behind Team New Zealand's America's Cup Challenge, proved an unbeatable force.
Mandrake has been shipped from the UK specifically to race the King's Cup and is entered by one of the regatta's founders and its first President, Chris King, together with his partners in Linklaters.
Amongst the crew will be tactician Peter Morton. Peter, who runs Farr International UK, was tactician on board during the Hoya victory. Other notable crew members include Volvo Round the World skipper Matt Humphries, Gerry Mitchell and Damion Duke, both part of Mandrake's regular complement, and Simon Clarke who runs both 'Team Tonic', the very successful UK-based Farr 52, and 'Bounder', the well known IC 45.