ohn Stall or Cap'n Squall or "Squally"' as he is affectionately known is a living legend in these parts, and probably best known for cofounding the Samui Regatta. But how did he end up in Thailand the first place? Well, Mad Mike Hoar, a mercenary, set up a company in Singapore called Coastal Surveys, and recruited Aussie technicians because American ones were too expensive back then. Or so says John, a Perth native, who became one of those technicians. He had just spent nine years in the Australian Navy, leaving in April of 1968, when he jumped on a boat called Nomad and headed for Singapore; ending up in Loyang, the base for rig boats and Coastal Surveys; the Changi Sailing Club happened to be right next door.
John was based in Singapore for four years, and during that time spent four years working on seismic survey boats, among them Western Geophysical, Delta Exploration and Eastern Marine who had a converted freighter that measured seismic activity while cruising the Fly River, which he entered from Daru, in Papua New Guinea. Their guide was a well known crocodile hunter George Craig with a ferro cement supply boat named Nardi Pelican and over the years he had amassed one of the world's largest collections of primitive art. George later moved his collection and most of his largest crocodiles to Green Island off Cairns. In 1970, he started building his first boat Songkran out of ferro-cement (the craze at the time) at Singapore's Hoe Ah Lam shipyard.
At the same time, Harold Stephens was building The Third Sea out at Jurong with the help of Peace Corps volunteers with the same material. John says that some of the other characters with ferro-cement yachts back then were Bob Stevens who was building ferrocement yachts at Prapadeang in Bangkok and Jack Hargreaves a Kiwi with a beautiful 55-ft Herreshoff, a copy of Ticonderoga. (Jack, by the way, sailed into the Caribbean port of St. Martin one evening, spotted the mighty Ticonderoga, stealthily tied up alongside creating an uproar the next morning when the harbor awoke to see the two lookalikes side by each.)
The boat was completed in August of 1972, fitted with a Perkins diesel sold to him by visiting adventurer John Calvert, the seagoing illusionist who was installing larger engines in his motor yacht. You may recall John Calvert was washed up on the beach during Cyclone Tracy on his schooner Sea Fox with a bevy of Philippine actresses and singers. John sailed Songkran into Pattaya in November of that year. For the next decade or so, he did daily tourist trips to Koh Larn though an embassy or international school might rent the boat for a week at a time. If he was ever short on cash, he'd take Songkran down to Singapore for a proper haul out and then do some work for Coastal Surveys, or other seismic companies.
John, however, never registered his business officially, so in 1977, Thai officials told him his fun was over and he would have to start paying taxes like everyone else. John decided to sell the boat instead for US$20,000 earning back his investment, but not much more.
John was then approached by his Thai friends Manat and Rachanee Saiyud to start a tour company, called Pattaya Ocean Tours. John took the money from the sale of Songkran and bought two Thai sailing junks (Pla Luang 2 & Den Dao Sakorn ) and four 50-ft motor boats and the company set up an office in the Pattaya Palace Hotel. With a couple of other friends, they opened a restaurant on Haad Tien on Koh Larn, and the tours would stop there every day, so the restaurant could expect an average of at least 40 people a day. The company had a mini bus, a tour bus and even did country tours. John started the Koh Si Chang tour, an island he compares to a Greek island, and he had an English sheep farmer named Farmer John take tourists on a tour of the island. Farmer John raised mutton for Muslims in Bangkok and his father had been the warden on a Thai island prison on Koh Pai.
In 1990, he started importing four 40-ft containers of sail boats (Prindles from Santa Ana, California, and Nacras and Lasers from Australia), introducing three new sailing classes to Thailand. He would sell them out of the Royal Varuna Yacht Club (RVYC), who held races on the weekend. When he wasn't working on the tour company, or selling boats, John would race setting a record of 7 hours and 45 minutes while delivering a Nacra 5.0 from Pattaya to Hua Hin without accompaniment (John and his wife Wunwelai represented Thailand by sailing Prindle catamarans in World Championships in South Carolina & Hawaii and a Laser in Sardinia).
In 1982, John and his wife purchased some land in Samui and built four bungalows. But the island was somewhat lawless then and a group of nine thugs took over the property brandishing M-16s and hand grenades. John's wife's uncle happened to be the governor of Surat Thani province, so he helicoptered in and with 5 jeep loads of commandoes, who took the property back. The problem was that if John and his family wanted to stay on the property they would have to live under armed guard. John's wife had just given birth to a daughter (today she works in the American Embassy in Bangkok, while John's son works in the British embassy) and the couple decided it would be better to raise her in Pattaya.
So Samui settlement plans were put on hold and John leased the property to another couple for a decade who totally rebuilt it (there was only five beach resorts on Chaweng Beach back then). They then returned in 1997, when John handed over his Pattaya business, which included a chandlery, to Gary Baguley, who had set up Blue Sea Watersports at the RVYC.
In 2002, John who been racing in regional big boat regattas this whole time decided that it would be terrific if Koh Samui staged its own international regatta. So with help from his buddy Bill Gasson (who would later go on to form the Top of the Gulf Regatta) they set up the Samui Regatta, staging it in late May because there was a gap then in the regional regatta calendar, strong westerlies prevailed and the anchorages were good. Gary Piermain from Coconut Land & House came on board as the principal sponsor and the Centara Grand Samui Resort & Spa (with GM Jacques Mury), which became the base of operations from the beginning.
A number of people have managed the regatta over the years, but John feels he's finally found the man to do it properly in Simon James, who with his Regatta Asia crew did a superb job of organizing and running the regatta this year.
There are enough stories floating around out there to fill a book about Squally. Whether it's been starting a regatta, exploring unchartered waters, racing competitively around the world, dealing with armed thugs, John Stall has certainly lived an action-filled life and he shows no