Samui Wining & Dining
Week-long Sail

Samui’s annual regatta keeps going from strength to strength.

 

16Samui’s quite a small place, really. In many ways, it’s still almost rustic, unlike the more built-up conurbation of Phuket. And so to discover that a prestigious and internationally world-renowned event is held here every year might come as a surprise to some people.

 

If this was golf or cycle-racing then you’d probably not even know that it was happening. But there’s no way you can overlook the colourful spectacle of 100 yachts parked-up in Chaweng Bay. And not just sitting at anchor, either, but chasing each other hell-for-leather around the island. This is the Samui Regatta, held every year over the first week of June. But what makes it so significant is that it’s also the final and deciding event in the ‘Asia Yachting Grand Prix’ series. Which means that international trophies can be won or lost depending on what happens on Samui.

 

This year sees its 10th anniversary. In the early days, it wasn’t really much to write home about: in 2001, just 11 boats took part. But from little acorns mighty oaks do grow and three years later the event had achieved international status and was attracting competitors from overseas. This year there’ll be around 400 participants coming from as far afield as Hong Kong, The Philippines, Singapore and even Australia – a truly international event and one of the island’s proudest.

 

Phuket is somewhat ahead of Samui in this respect. They too enjoy the spectacle of an annual regatta, more than one in fact, but they’ve been at it 14 years longer than we have. Each July sees the ‘Six Senses Phuket Race Week’ and then again in December they host the ‘Phuket King’s Cup’; both events being part of the 10-race schedule of the overall Asia Yachting Grand Prix. Phuket is Thailand’s leading sailing venue, with a lavish marina and a plethora of associated back-up facilities and services.

 

At the moment Samui can’t match this, although plans for a marina have been on the cards for a while now. But what we currently lack in dedicated facilities is more than made up for with our dedicated enthusiasm, particularly when it comes to the junior events. In the annual rivalry between Samui and Phuket, the Samui Juniors more or less wiped the board in their dingies back in March, once again winning the ‘Island Trophy’ and taking the first four places in a field of 34 competitors. Thanks and a great deal of respect here goes to the Samui International School for their enthusiasm and team-spirit, although the fact that the Samui Juniors are also coached by the Thai Royal Navy Fleet Team can’t be ignored! And it’s undoubtedly significant that Head Coach, Petty Officer Wiwat Poonpat, is related to Thailand’s finest-ever sailor, young Noppakhao Poonpat, a 14 year-old girl who last year finished fourth in the (Optimist) World Championships in Brazil.

 

Needless to say, 400 boats plus their crews, friends and supporters add up to a substantial number of people. And Samui’s resorts have been busy trimming their jibs and getting everything ship-shape in readiness for the week. A number of them are actively sponsoring the event, perhaps the most notable of which is Centara Grand Beach Resort, towards the southern end of Chaweng Beach Road. Although the first race isn’t until the 30th May, registration for the event begins here on the 28th and you can expect to see the bay filling up with competitors’ boats even before this date. ‘Centara’ and their nearby Brazilian nightclub/restaurant, Zico’s, figure prominently on the week’s itinerary and are staging parties and seminars, as well as holding the awards’ ceremony for the overall Asia Yachting Grand Prix on the final day.

 

Although the format of each day is straightforward – race in the morning sunshine and then party at night – there are some diverse and thoughtful variations. The most noteworthy of these is on Thursday June 2nd when there is a ‘lay-day’. This is not only a well-earned day off, but includes a morning ‘Beach Cleanup’ organised by the Samui International School and also a ‘Regatta Golf Day’ hosted at Santiburi Samui Country Club in Maenam. And anyone feeling a little under par after all those parties could sit-in at the alternative property exhibition at Centara instead. Or … could go down to Chaweng’s Tradewinds Resort and support the juniors racing. In effect, this is a ‘gap day’ to allow the youngsters to strut their stuff, and there’s a whole day of competition for them which sails away at 10:00 am.

 

But, although this annual festival is centred on some fierce and competitive sailing action, there’s a lot going on behind the scenes. This regatta has evolved into one of Thailand’s major lifestyle events with fashion, fine-dining, music festivals, exotic parties and luxury property expos all being knitted-in.

 

In 2008, the Bangkok-based British entrepreneur, Callum Laing, took over the helm of the regatta with the aim of developing it into an event that would not only be of interest to top sailors and spectators but that would attract brand names from around the world, too. “The aim is thee-fold: to increase tourism; to raise awareness of sailing; and to encourage and support youth-education and sporting activities. But, for me, it is equally about the overall experiences that we can provide for those who come to soak-up the now-famous atmosphere of the regatta,” he explained, “as well as for our partners and the ways that they activate their brands.” And, specifically, partners in this case are well-known names, such as: The Four Seasons Hotels & Resorts, Centara Hotels and Resorts, Hertz, Neil Pryde, Carlsberg and Nikki Beach, as well as local businesses. And if I mention that last year the Samui Regatta generated over 300 million baht (almost a million US dollars) for the Thai economy overall, you’ll realise that this is a serious week of activities!

 

But even if you’re not in the region of Chaweng Beach during this week then you won’t fail to notice that there’s something big going on, particularly on Friday June 3rd. Even a chrome-plated scooter turns heads on Samui. Thus there are likely to be some pretty sore necks around Chaweng’s Anantara Lawana Resort & Spa, as a ‘Supercar Rally’ will start off there before touring around the island. And let’s hope that the rivalry is not too intense, as at the same time there’s going to be a BMW motorbike rally doing much the same thing but congregating initially at Ibis Resort in Bo Phut. Take care crossing the road on the 3rd!

 

Rob De Wet

 


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