By Peter Cummins
It was 16 December, 1967, when world sporting history was established right here in Thailand: it was an occasion that probably will never be equalled. At the National Stadium, on that day, His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej and his eldest daughter, Princess Ubolratana, mounted the winners’ podium, to receive a gold medal from Her Majesty Queen Sirikit. The occasion was the Awards Ceremony of the Fourth South East Asia Peninsular Games (now known as the South East Asian (SEA) Games). King Bhumibhol, racing OK dinghy number 27 and Princess Ubolratana sailing OK 18, finished equal first in the OK Dinghy Division of those Games.
It was only in the last race where the Princess, trailing father, with the late Dr Rachot Kanjanavanit in the lead, spotted a slight wind-shift, tacked on it on the last beat to the finish line. Although with her light frame, she was overwhelmed by the 20-knot north-easterly, the Princess compensated by displaying incredible sailing skills – and she was all of 16-years-of age. The Princess crossed the fleet, to finish first and equal on points with the King who still trailed Dr Rachot, in third place.
When a father and daughter finish equal first in an international yachting competition, it is history. But, when the equal winners are a King and his daughter, the Princess, it is immortal. That day, 16 December, thirty-seven years ago, has now been enshrined as Thailand’s National Sports Day, in honour of the occasion.
It was actually M.C. Bhisatej Rajani who introduced the King to sailing – perhaps by default. In early 1963, the King was rowing off the Klai Kangwol Palace, when he passed Prince Bhisatej sailing along – VERY SLOWLY.
Upon arriving back at the beach, the King examined M.C. Bhisatej’s boat and thought there must be a way of sailing faster. That started the interest and together they built a number of boats in a room at the Chitrladr Palace in Bangkok, using the Palace ‘moat’ to test some of the dinghies.
King Bhumibhol and Prince Bhisatej sailed the King’s Enterprise, “the Rajpatan” and, later, in April 1966, in the single-handed OK dinghies they had also built, they sailed across the Gulf from Klai Kangwol to Toey Harbour, Sattahip.
This gruelling crossing has been commemorated each year as the “Vega Rudder” race, so named after the King presented the dinghy’s rudder, as a perpetual trophy.
During the 1960s, the Royal family often went to sail at the newly-formed Varuna Marine Club at South Pattaya and many there, including such visiting Royalty as UK’s Prince Philip and the then Danish Princess – now Queen Margrethe II – enjoyed the hospitality and camaraderie of the Thai Royal Family.
In recognition of the late King’s prowess as a dinghy sailor – and his great contributions to sports, generally – at the time of his fifth cycle, 60th birthday in December 1987, the International Olympic Committee awarded the “Insignia of the Olympic Order” – the only reigning Monarch ever to receive such and honour.
That was also the occasion of the inaugural Phuket King’s Cup Regatta, now entering its 33rd sailing.
We were, indeed, very fortunate when His majesty agreed to become the Regatta’s Revered Patron and, each year, through His Personal Representative, His Majesty graciously bestows the handsome permanent King’s Cup Trophy to each year’s winners.