His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej, the King of Thailand, earned international recognition as a sportsman through his love for sailing. He has also greatly increased the profile of sailing in his own country. Previously, sailing had been a largely unknown sport in Thailand but through the feats of their King, the Thai people began to appreciate the skills and endurance required in the sport.
The defining moment occurred on April 29, 1966 when His Majesty sailed single handed across the Gulf of Thailand in 17 hours. The journey of 60 nautical miles was achieved in a 13ft OK Dinghy named Weka.
The King’s accomplishment was enhanced when in 1967, competing in the fourth South East Asian Peninsular Games (currently known as the SEA Games), His Majesty and Princess Ubolratana Rajakanya, his eldest daughter then aged 16, brought home the gold medal in the OK dinghy class in the sailing competition. His Majesty’s victory greatly increased the awareness and interest in sailing throughout the nation.
In 1987, His Majesty was awarded the coveted “Insignia of the Olympic Order” from the International Olympic Committee in recognition of the enormous contribution he had given to the development of sport in Thailand, and his expertise as an OK and Enterprise sailor. His Majesty is not the first monarch to be given this prestigious award, others include King Olav of Norway and the King of Malaysia, but he is the only one to have received it while still on the throne.
Thailand’s king is widely recognised as a man of many and diverse talents and skills. He is an accomplished carpenter, a craft he learned as a schoolboy in Switzerland. To accommodate his love of sailing and his skill as a carpenter, His Majesty created his own small private boatyard in the grounds of Royal Chitralada Palace where he built a number of dinghies which he sailed on a lake in the palace grounds.
The high costs attached to sailing initially resulted in the majority of Thai yachtsmen being serving officers in the Royal Thai Navy. It was natural therefore that sailing was concentrated around the waters of Sattahip Bay, close to a major naval base. The interest of these early Thai sailing pioneers developed into the establishment of small regattas to encourage a competitive edge to the pursuit. Over time, these regattas developed into full international events increasingly attracting greater numbers of overseas participants.
In 1987, His Majesty once again took to the water in his OK Dinghy, when he led his Royal Chitralada Yacht Squadron against a team from the Royal Thai Navy, a regatta his team won with ease. In 1986, a number of the yachting fraternity in Thailand met to discuss a way to honour His Majesty on the occasion of his 60th birthday on December 5 the following year. The outcome of this meeting was the first King’s Cup Regatta, held in December 1987 in Phuket.
The first regatta began with a variety of catamarans, lasers, keelboats and even some windsurfers. Since then, it has become the major event in the Thai sailing calendar, attracting teams from all over the world. His Majesty has been the regatta’s foremost supporter and serves as the Royal Patron of the event and donated the competition’s most prestigious prize, the King’s Cup Trophy.