obert Deaves is the oracle of OK dinghy racing, having put together the definitive book on the subject, The history, techniques & sailors of the OK dingy. Recently, he and his brother Alistair, along with 72 other sailors from nine countries competed in the 2013 Singha OK Dinghy World Championship, held at the Royal Varuna Yacht Club in Pattaya. Robert was also the publicity officer for the event and commenting on the RVYC said, "There could never be a more perfect venue for a world championship." In the following article, we use excerpts from Robert's reporting at the event: Warming Up
It has been exactly a decade since the OK Dinghy class held its last world championship outside its traditional haunts of Europe, New Zealand and Australia. In 2003, the class held its first world championship in in Goa, India, and a return to the region has long been a dream of many in the class.
The OK Dinghy has a special place in Thai sailing history, as His Majesty the King of Thailand, King Bhumibol Adulyadej, won the gold medal in the OK Dinghy at the Fourth Southeast Asian Peninsular Games Games in 1967. This day has been commemorated in Thailand ever since as National Sports Day in honour of his achievement. His Majesty the King sailed the OK Dinghy for many years, having built his own boat, and even travelled to Frensham Pond in the UK for some "incognito" training in the 1960s.
There have been OK Dinghies in Thailand for more than 40 years, though these days they are mainly sailed by the navy personnel. The two Thai entries in the championship, Veerasit Puangnak and Manut Photong, bring a wealth of experience. Veerasit represented Thailand in the Laser class at the Sydney Olympics, and both Veerasit and Manut are ex-Thai Laser National Champions.
The fleet consisted of a lot of newcomers to the class but also some deep experience, including five former world champions. The defending champion was Andre Budzien (GER). More famous for his Finn sailing he took the OK Dinghy world title in 2012 at the first attempt. With the conditions largely unknown and a number of new faces in the fleet, it is hard to call a favourite. However four-time world champion Nick Craig (GBR) heads the 12-strong British team, and should be in with a good chance at a fifth title.
"I'm hugely looking forward to the these worlds," said Craig "It's been a long, cold winter here so the thought of sailing in 30 degrees and force 4 sea breezes has put a smile on my face already. I think it will be a very tough regatta - the strong Kiwi team are rumoured to be back in force and they have always had more depth of talent than any other country in OKs. The Danes were very fast last year after many hours training effectively as a team, and current champ Andre Budzien will be hard to beat, as will at least 10 others."
"I'm doing the least sailing I've done in over 30 years but hoping to still be in the action, and even if I'm not, it's going to be a whole heap of fun off the water."
And fun was going to be a crucial ingredient of the regatta. To say that the sailors were very excited to have the chance to race in Thailand is a gross understatement. The fact that there were 72 entries says a great deal about the anticipation felt throughout the fleet.
While there has been talk of trying to arrange a world championship in Thailand for many years it was really the work of OKDIA President Andre Blasse (AUS) that made it happen. "A few years ago on my way to compete in the OK Dinghy World Championships, there was a presentation on the screen of the Thai Airways plane for the King of Thailand's 80th birthday. It showed the King working on his wooden OK Dinghy, plus quite a few shots of him sailing. I thought to myself, wouldn't it be great to sail an OK Dinghy World Championship in Thailand.
"So I asked around at the regatta though I didn't really do much more about it until the 2010 World Championships in Wellington, New Zealand. The Chairman of the Jury was Rut Subniran from Thailand. I asked him a few questions about where he sailed from and discovered that his club, the Royal Varuna Yacht Club in Pattaya, had run the Fireball Worlds before, and he had helped organize them. So I asked if they would be interested in running ours; the answer was yes. At an AGM we put it to a vote, and everyone was very keen."
"The Royal Varuna Yacht Club is the sailing club endorsed by the King of Thailand and the organizers sent a letter to His Majesty the King informing him that OK Dinghy World Championship were being held in Thailand for the first time. I had a meeting with Rut at the Royal Varuna Yacht Club, just before Easter in 2012, at the same time we were proposing to run this year's Worlds. The weather was warm, the facilities and organization top class. I was very impressed."
The race team was headed by Kevin Wilson (AUS, IRO), while the International Jury will be chaired by Bill Bell (IJ AUS) and include Neil Semple (IJ GBR) Radm. Prasart Sribhadung (IJ THA), Omar Kwan (NJ MYA) and Rut Subniran (IJ THA). In the practice run, Roger Blasse (AUS) the 1998 World Champion took the race win from Mike Williams (AUS) and Andre Budzien (GER). After a thorough morning briefing by PRO Kevin Wilson (AUS), the sailors enjoyed a taste of the awesome week that lay ahead. But departing from tradition, the conditions were so good that most of the fleet completed the race. They came ashore exhausted but very happy they had made the decision to travel to Pattaya. The principal sponsor Singha not only provided evening refreshments, but also cold water bottles for the sailors, with further supplies available on race management boats. Staying hydrated was going to be crucial for success here.
Greg Wilcox (NZL), the 2002 World Champion who finished seventh said, "I think one of the key challenges here is going to be acclimatisation as you can dehydrate really quickly. Those who came out here early will have a clear advantage. It's taking about three days to just get used to the heat and there is respite on the water. A wave cools you down for about 10 seconds and then you are hot again." For each day over the last week the sun has shone uninterrupted on the sailors training, acclimatizing and racing, with temperatures in the low 30s and winds rising to 16-18 knots every day. A water temperature in the mid-20s has delighted the many sailors escaping from sub-zero European temperatures. No wonder they are all smiling; rather, grinning broadly and wolfing down great drafts of Singha.
"So many of us regretted missing the warm sailing off Goa in 2003 that an opportune crossing of paths with Thailand's Rut Subniran during his time on the jury at the Wellington worlds, and reflecting on the historical interest and involvement of the King of Thailand and OK Dinghy sailing in Thailand, led us to this point," said Mike Wilde, Vice-President of the OK Dinghy International Association, a participant at the event. "For this thanks must go to Rut and Andre Blasse, President of the OK Association, for providing the impetus in getting us to what seems to me can only be described as a sailor's Nirvana.
"You have a fabulous facility here at the Royal Varuna Yacht Club and as a class we are grateful for the opportunity to share it and for the kindness and support you have shown us thus far. No good event is complete without the support of a great sponsor. It would seem to me, and, by now, I say this with some authority, that we have in Singha an outstanding sponsor."
The championship was officially opened by Dave Littlejohn, Commodore of the Royal Varuna Yacht Club. He welcomed the fleet saying, "Sailing is a relatively small sport in Thailand but those that participate are passionate about it and this club plays a large part in encouraging sailing. The club dates back to 1957 and later received its royal charter from the HM the King of Thailand, who was a keen OK Dinghy sailor himself. Thank you all for coming and please make the most of this beautiful club."
The flags of all nine countries competing were hoisted on the club veranda facing the racing area and then with the ringing of the club bell the regatta was declared open and the sailors enjoyed a sumptuous buffet served on the club lawn as darkness fell.
Pattaya Mail special correspondent Peter Cummins pointed out that, "It is most appropriate that the OK Dinghy worlds comes to Thailand, for the first time, because it is almost a half century since our Thai King won a gold medal, helming his own-built OK Dinghy in the then South East Asian Peninsular Games – now the SEA Games. "Prior to that, in April 1966, the King established another sailing record, when he helmed his OK The Vega across the Gulf – west to east, from the palace in Hua Hin, to the Royal Thai Navy base in Dongtan Bay, Sattahip. It was recorded at the time that the 16-hour voyage was the longest transit in an open dinghy out of sight of land anywhere. The King donated the rudder of the OK as a permanent trophy competed for each year, as part of a Royal Thai Navy-sponsored regatta long-distance race sailed out of Hua Hin every July."
The Royal Thai Navy has been happy to join with the Royal Varuna Yacht Club, as well as other associations, in promoting yacht racing, sailing and, particularly, the training of junior in optimists, both here and at the Thai Navy base in Jomtien. Several decades ago the Yacht Racing Association of Thailand (YRAT) established the junior sailing squadron, with intensive training programmes, managing and financing successive Thai teams to compete in Optimist world championships at various locations world-wide. Two world champions and several Olympic sailors have been the endresult of this dedication.