The Phuket King's Cup Regatta has a truly global reputation and nowhere is its popularity growing faster than in Asia. This year sees a large number of crew from China and Japan and welcomes an Chinese crew in the Racing Class.
Hong Kong based sailor Frank Pong is a King's Cup stalwart who has become a permanent fixture in the Racing Class. This year for the first time he has entered two boats, Jelik III
and Jelik V
While Pong has been at the helm of Jelik III he has entrusted Jelik V
to the hands of experienced sailor Xiaqun Song
. The Olympic veteran, who is one of only a few female skippers in the regatta, is leading an all Chinese crew.
Song started out on the Zhejiang Provincial Sailing Team in 1995 and went on to join the Chinese national team in 2002. She originally made a name for herself sailing a 470 winning the national championships six times in the space of seven years. She also won a gold medal at the Asian Games in 2002, also on a 470. In 2008 she competed in the Rolex Miami OCR and the Olympic Games in the Yngling finishing eighth on both occasions.
When it comes to competitive sailing Song is highly experienced but she feels the King's Cup provides an altogether different challenge,
"The King's Cup is more relaxed and there is much less pressure than the Olympics. I really enjoy the race and the event and this island is beautiful. Every night there are parties, we have no parties during the Olympics!"
She has no qualms about being one of only a few female skippers and is proud to be leading an all Chinese crew,
"I feel great. Being a female skipper doesn't bother me, I am just doing my job. There is no pressure on me, I think there is more pressure on the men to beat me. The crew are doing a great job and we work very well together too. 10 Chinese boys handle the boat and the tactician is from Hong Kong. A couple of them have been here before with Jelik III including myself but for most it is the first King's Cup. They are all enjoying it and enjoying the parties,"
Pong, who only purchased Jelik V
earlier this year, has had to put the crew through a crash course in yacht racing,
"I only got the boat in April and started to form the team in June so they have only had a few months. They are all ex dinghy sailors and have no experience in big boat sailing but my crew have been working with them all summer and they have come a long way,"
He had no hesitation in putting Song in charge of Jelik V
and believes that it will be the first of many all Chinese crews to participate in the King's Cup,
"She has sailed with me before so I know she is good. Sailing is growing rapidly in China but the hindrance is the lack of crew because there hasn't been a sailing community like in Australia or New Zealand or England. There is always more crew needed. A lot of people in their 40s who have the resources and time are buying boats, mostly cruisers, and they need crew. In future I am sure there will be more people from China entering the King's Cup,"
Pong's faith in his female skipper has been thoroughly vindicated as she has led her crew to two third place finishes and an extremely credible second place finish. Despite the crew's lack of big boat experience they still managed to cross the line ahead of King's Cup veteran and series leader Ray Roberts on Evolution Racing
, who had to settle for third place behind Jelik V
in race seven.
The boats are both 52 foot TP52's but Roberts and his crew have been together for many years. For Song and her newly formed crew on Jelik V
to finish ahead of Evolution Racing
on corrected time shows how rapidly this group of Chinese sailors is improving.
Kevin Whitcraft, President of the Phuket King's Cup Regatta, is delighted to see an increase in the quantity of Asian participants,
"We are trying to introduce more Thai children to sailing with the Phuket Dinghy Series and are working to promote the sport in the region. This year there are crews from Malaysia, Singapore, Hong Kong, China and Japan as well as Thailand. There has always been a healthy contingent from Hong Kong but we are slowly starting to see an increase in interest from mainland China as well. The Asian sailors are always competitive and do the region proud,"
The first King's Cup took place in 1987 to mark the 60th birthday of His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyedej and the Regatta has been held in the first week of December ever since.
The Phuket King's Cup Regatta runs from 4 to 11 December 2010 under the Royal Patronage of His Majesty the King. The Regatta is organised by the Phuket King's Cup Regatta Organizing Committee under the auspices of the Royal Varuna Yacht Club, in conjunction with the Yacht Racing Association of Thailand, the Royal Thai Navy and the Province of Phuket.
Go to www.kingscup.com
for all the news from the King's Cup