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The Sailing Godfather of the Eastern Seaboard
Written by Administrator    Friday, 24 May 2013 17:54    PDF Print E-mail
William J. Gasson, better known as Bill Gasson, is a lifetime sailor and a founder of Thailand's three most prestigious yachting events, the Phuket King's Cup, Samui and Top of the Gulf regattas. He has spent 28 years in the marine service sector in third party inspection and has also built aluminum power cats and the Thai-produced Buzz8 sports boat. Originally from New Zealand, Bill now lives and operates from Ocean Marina in Pattaya, where he is a founding member. When did your passion for sailing start?A neighbouring farmer was building a 16ft trailer sailer and I was immediately hooked. It was all downhill from there! Apart from some Stiletto sailing in Auckland some years later, I did not start sailing seriously until I reached the Philippines. When did you move to Asia and become active in the yachting community? I came to Thailand in 1983 after six years in the Philippines. I started sailing Dragons in the Philippines in 1977 and moved up to a Sonata 8, followed by a Gary Mull three-quarter tonner.
I was already active in Race Management and served on the China Sea Race committees as well as participating in my first offshore voyage from Hong Kong to Manila. That nearly cured me of sailing! My 42 foot yacht Buzzard was designed by Rob Humphreys and built in the Philippines. The CHS (now called IRC) racer-cruiser won the Phuket King's Cup Regatta in 1989, 1990 and 1991.
I subsequently commissioned a 50ft racercruiser from the same designer which we named Big Buzzard, and had built in Fremantle, Western Australia.
Please tell us more about your involvement over the years in the region's regatta scene Starting as a co-founder of the Phuket King's Cup Regatta in 1987, officiating as the first principal race officer and winning the Racing Class four times, I then looked at new opportunities northwards, recognizing the potential of Samui Island which is far more accessible for fleets coming from the China Coast and the Northern Gulf. With a group of locally-based yachtsmen, I decided to launch the "Tropical Island Regatta," based at Samui. Like the Phuket King's Cup Regatta, Samui has been an outstanding success and continues annually, promoting the stunning sailing grounds and marine attractions of Samui and surrounds I then shifted my attention to my own locale, as I'm domiciled at the Ocean Marina, building boats and overseeing the development of the marine sector in the greater Jomtien-Pattaya area.
In addition to founding and being involved with the leading regattas in Thailand, I was also involved in the China Sea Race many years ago, assisting at the Philippines end and was involved in forming the Lipton Cup series and assisting with the Raja Muda Selangor International Regatta in the early years.
Related to the Regatta organization, in 1987 I introduced CHS (the precursor to IRC) to the Phuket King's Cup which was then quickly adapted by the Royal Hong Kong Yacht Club, and a few years later when Naval Architect Malcolm Runnalls moved to Perth to supervise the building of my Humphreys 50 ft cruiser/racer, IRC was adopted by West Australia and then later by the whole Australian racing fleets.
Tell us a little about the early years of the Phuket King's Cup Regatta, and how that lead you to start the Top of the Gulf Regatta nine years ago
In 1983, I was active at the Royal Varuna Yacht Club, but it was very much a dinghy club back then as it still is today. In 1987, after I had been hauled on board as one of the founders of the Phuket King's Cup, I scoured Phuket to find 13 Thai boats and had a few boats coming in from Malaysia, to actually get the regatta started.
We had some top name sailors from around the world competing and one year I had eight sailors onboard Buzzard who had sailed in Whitbread Round-the-World races, some of them had even done two or three. Attracting top sailors helped the regatta's early years to develop the competition, and as a committee we invited many of the top European nautical writers and photographers such as Rick Tomlinson to participate in the regatta which resulted in a lot of early international interest. This, together with the support of prominent Hong Kong sailors – some like Henry Kaye who is still competing today – was the foundation for the success of the Phuket King's Cup.
I won three regattas in a row. I had my old mates onboard, but I always had one or two guys who knew what they were doing.
The growing success of the regatta allowed the event to be extended to a week. It has been interesting to look at the changes to the event. The format has changed little, the event management has become more professional and the quality of the fleet continues to improve.
My experience in yacht racing, including the Phuket King's Cup Regatta and my knowledge of the wind and weather patterns, influenced me to establish the Top of the Gulf Regatta in 2005, knowing that sailing conditions, wind and accessibility, dictated an event for Jomtien, Pattaya.
How do you explain the great success of the Top of the Gulf in Pattaya?
My objective since the beginning has been to organize an international-standard yacht race in the Gulf of Thailand, in-line with ISAF rules, and with international race management.
For Thai juniors, we incorporated the Thailand Optimist Championships as part of the Regatta as an opportunity for Thai youngsters to compete alongside international sailors and develop their skills. This has proven very successful over the years and the Regatta has helped introduce many youngsters to the sport of sailing. Giving Thai youngsters a platform for international competition has helped contribute to recent Thai youth successes when in 2010 the Thailand National Team won the Team World Optimist Championships and Noppakao Poonpat was crowned the World Optimist Champion.
The Platu Coronation Cup is also incorporated in the Top of the Gulf Regatta and been one of the contributing factors to the success of the Top of the Gulf Regatta. This year the onedesign platu class looks set to be a record with some top sailing talent from around Asia and beyond coming to compete for the prestigious trophy.
In May 2012, the eighth edition of the Top of the Gulf Regatta was a great success with yet another record entry level – over 600 participants in 300+ sailing crafts, from more than 30 countries competed in 12 classes over four days of racing. A feature of the 2012 Regatta was the explosion of the very competitive 40 footers that provided breathtaking racing.
Each year the Regatta attracts top sailing talent from around the world. We have national and regional champions taking part, together with Olympic sailors, amateurs, cruisers and newcomers. All ages and abilities make the Top of the Gulf a very diverse, multinational event.
The 2013 Top of the Gulf Regatta will take place from the 3rd to 7th May. Hosted at Ocean Marina Yacht Club, racing will take place in the waters off the marina at Jomtien Beach, on the Gulf coast of Thailand. A new Shaw 650 Division of the popular Sports Boat class has been added this year, and a fleet of NeilPryde RS:One windsurfs are set to return following their successful inclusion in the 2012 Regatta.
There is also talk of having a radio controlled class to be run on one of the lakes at Ocean Marina.
The Top of the Gulf Regatta continues to develop and evolve, and after nine years all involved are very proud to see it continue to grow and put the Gulf of Thailand on the regional sailing map.
SEA Yachting has been a long supporter of the Top of the Gulf Regatta and sailing in the Gulf of Thailand, and wishes Bill and his team a successful 2013 Regatta.

SPONSORSHIP
Regattas simply don't work without sponsors. The 2013 Top of the Gulf Regatta would like to extend their thanks and appreciation to the following sponsors*.
TOG Regatta Host Sponsor Ocean Marina Yacht Club, and Presenting Sponsor of the Thailand Optimist Championships, Sansiri PCL. Co- Sponsors Boon Rawd-Singha Beer, Land Rover and Jaguar. Sponsors Thai Airways, Siam Winery – Mont Clair, Kingdom Property and Gulf Charters. Suppliers/Sponsors include Krungsri Bank, Minor Group – The Pizza Company and Dairy Queen, QBE Insurance, Coca Cola, Bangkok Hospital Pattaya, GFS foods, Lucaris Glassware, Sheraton Grand Sukhumvit, Buzzcats, Pure Na Jomtien and MRI-Media Representation International. Media Partners include Mix 88.5 FM, SEA Yachting, Pattaya Mail, The Big Chilli, Yachtstyle, Helm Superyacht Magazine and Guy Nowell Photography. Supporting Authorities Yacht Racing Association of Thailand, Royal Varuna Yacht Club, Pattaya City.
* Sponsor information correct at the time of printing.