|Simon James - the Regatta Wizard|
Simon James, the CEO of Regattas Asia, is so good at multitasking that he could have been a professional juggler. Luckily for the regional yachting community he chose not to join the circus, but rather organize and run regattas instead. "Officially, there are certain procedures you have to follow to run a regatta," Simon explains. "Sailing around the world is controlled by the International Sailing Federation (ISAF) and each member country has its organization associated with ISAF – in Thailand its YRAT (the Yacht Racing Association of Thailand). So to stage a regatta here, we first apply for permission to YRAT to get a license to run the regatta, then with something like King's Cup, we also have to send an official letter to the palace. "Once we get that permission, the regatta's organizing committee (in Regatta's Asia case, its Simon and his partner Kae Wattana) form a racing committee who plan all the logistics on the water. Then, there's also a team handling land logistics and sponsorship.
Simon says that for any major international sailing event you must start planning eighteen months beforehand in order to have the best chance for sponsorship and government endorsement.
A good venue is a key to any successful regatta and on Samui, Regatta Asia is currently working on a 5-year deal signed with the Central Grand Beach Resort in 2012. Simon considers Centara the home of the Samui Regatta in much the same way the Evason was the home of Phuket Raceweek for many years and the Cape Panwa Hotel is today.
"My rules for running a successful regatta is when everyone comes off the water, they all feel like that they had a chance to win, they got a t-shirt that fit and the beer was cold. That keeps most sailors happy. Going through the process of providing that is a bit more complicated though," Simon says.
"Once we decide on the dates, we start putting together the media packs and presentations, deciding on which media partners to work with. An example of a good media partner would be Go Yachting whose video summary of the 2012 Samui Regatta was shown on 140 million TV screens.
"You need an good team on the water, to set up your course and manage it, because an individual sailor may be paying US$400 to race in an event and some of the big boats may be paying as much as US$250,000 by the time they bring the boat over and ship their crew, so they expect experienced people and value for their money.
Regatta Asia's equipment is normally stored in Phuket at Boat Lagoon and at Simon's house, where the flags and electronics are kept. In total, the equipment has a value of close to one million baht. Just before the regatta starts, Simon's team packs up everything that will be needed into a truck and ships it to the event where it is needed. The equipment include 14 anchors that will be used, plus 3 spares (20kg each), and all the anchors come with chains ranging from 5-10 kg, so each anchor and chain weighs approximately 30kg.
Regattas Asia also has 14 mark buoys, which come in different shapes, colours and forms, and they must prepare advertising on these marks and on the committee and start boats when necessary.
"We have to decide on class flags, depending on the number of competitors and the splits we have for classes. We also use boards, which provide better visibility because one of the problems we have in this part of the world is the wind tends to go light, and flags can be hard to see."
Simon figures he needs a week to have everything set to go to stage a regatta. People forget that in Southeast Asia once an event is over because of the moisture you can't just roll up the flags and put them away, they have to be laundered and dried out before they can be put away. After the last race of any regatta, everything comes to shore, the marks get deflated, the branding is taken off, and everything is checked and loaded onto a truck either that night or the next morning.
Regattas Asia does all the organization on and off the water for the Bay Regatta, the Samui Regatta and the King's Cup (it has been doing the on-water management of the King's Cup for the last 13 years). It does on-water management at the Langkawi and Phuket Multihull Regattas as well as Phuket Raceweek, assisting with on-land activities at these regattas as well. Simon is also an official consultant and the PRO at the China Cup (set for Oct 24th this year, it is the biggest keelboat event in Asia) and the Hainan
Round the Island (which take place for three weeks in March) and he's also on the jury for the Top of the Gulf Regatta and Sail Sydney, which takes place right the after King's Cup and right before Sydney-Hobart. He promotes the Samui Regatta while travelling and working Downunder. He's also a PRO for Kiteboard Asia, and will be RO at the IKEA World Course Racing Championship n Boao, Hainan, November 18-24. He's also set to be part of the management team for the Asian Sailing Games in South Korea in 2014.
Regattas Asia has a year-round office in Phuket and an office in Samui from March 1 until the finish of the Samui Regatta; they use many student volunteers, who plan to work in the travel business giving them invaluable experience working with farangs for the first time.
On dealing with sponsors, Simon says, "It's difficult to manage their expectations, especially if it's their first experience at a sailing regatta and most of the action takes place three miles offshore. Many need help marketing their brand properly."
But what makes the Samui Regatta unique? "It's the only regatta in the region staged on the beach, we have only one offsite party, and everything else is on the beach, even the awards presentation. And that's what people who work in Singapore and Hong Kong want. And this year, we introduced the Stand-up Paddleboards (SUPs) to try and get more of the crew and even the media involved."
The Samui Regatta had only twenty-two boats this year; Neil Pryde is still recovering from hip operation, many boats changed ownership, and after the infamous King's Cup beaching a couple years back, insurance is a problem for many. Numbers from up Pattaya way were down as well as unfortunately Peter Herning died, Amanda had gear box problems and Dynamite's owner was changing jobs, and his sponsorship ran out.
"We had five boats come over from Phuket (by water that's 1,250 miles, about the same distance as travelling from Hong Kong) and others travelled the 750 miles from Singapore as well. The reality is that when it comes to crew numbers the big boats are getting bigger and the small boats are getting smaller; generally numbers are down about 20% in regattas across the world. The biggest problem we have in Samui is that we don't have a proper marina to service the boats; we have to actually fly the sails out to Phuket or Langkawi if they get damaged."
Last year ten boats from Samui took part in the Regatta, but only two participated this year (Mick Grovers Moonshadow & Nic k Smith's Freewind) Frustrated by the lack of local participation, Simon says, "A lot of them are involved in the tourism and marine industry and they would rather earn money off the regatta than take part in it."
Summing up, Simon says, "We concentrate on three or four main events each year, much of it is formulaic, and we just keep it up to date. You must remember that the sailors are your customers and you must adapt what you do to them. The regattas that get themselves in trouble are the ones that don't."