LANGKAWI: The just concluded sixth Royal Langkawi International Regatta (RLIR) witnessed the coming of age of Malaysian sailors in the racing class categories.
Although the local sailors are more comfortable competing in the smaller dinghy, optimist and sports boat events, the ability to take on the big boys in the racing classes has begun to take root.
Despite their modest preparation, the Royal Malaysian Navy entrants Zuhal and Navy Janda Baik managed several top-five finishes over the five-day Racing Class competition. They were sixth and seventh respectively in the nine-boat overall standings.
Joyful: Quantum Racing skipper Ray Roberts (sixth left) and crew lifting the Prime Minister’s Challenge Trophy on Friday
But it was the performance of the all-local Mata Hari crew in the IRC class that made heads turn.
Skippered and funded by Vincent Chan, the Mata Hari crew, made up of seven men and two women who are all former national sailors, were in the hunt for the IRC overall title till the very end of the final race.
Although they faltered at the crucial moment to settle for third spot, their courageous display could herald the start of a new dawn for keelboat racing among Malaysians.
Among the Mata Hari crew were 2002 Busan Asian Games medallists Andrew Yeow and Looi Sing Yew.
Said Vincent: “I am surprised with Mata Hari’s good performance. My crew only took up keelboat racing seriously about three years ago, and we cherish the experience of competing against the top yachts.
“But Malaysian teams are at a disadvantage because of the lack of competitive practice in the country. Right now, there are only two regattas (Royal Langkawi and Raja Muda Selangor), and both events are held between November and January. It leaves the local racing yachts idle for the rest of the year.
“Thailand host four regattas a year, and local competitors would benefit if another regatta is held in the middle of the year, preferably in the East Coast.”
Apart from the two local regattas, Malaysia also hosted the Monsoon Cup challenge in Kuala Terengganu, contested in a one-on-one race match format and featured mostly foreign participations.
The Miri Yacht Club in Sarawak also hold an annual regatta, but its location failed to attract entries.
Zuhal skipper Lt Commander Malik Sulaiman agrees that Malaysian racing yachts could make a bigger impact if they are exposed to more competitions.
“Malaysian teams are still inexperienced in the racing categories. Teams like (RLIR overall champions from Australia) Quantum Racing compete in about 20 regattas a year, while we only take part in two. The best way to improve is by competing more often against world-class opponents.
“It costs a lot of money to manage a crew and transport the yacht to an overseas tournament. Even competing in a local regatta costs a team about RM15,000. We plan to compete in regional regattas, but we need the approval of the Malaysian Navy’s Sports Club who fund our expenses,” said Malik.
On the organisation side, the RLIR organisers’ decision to bring forward the annual competition from February to January was a masterstroke.
The RLIR is now sandwiched between the Phuket King’s Cup and the Singapore Straits Regatta, allowing more yachts to stop and compete in Langkawi while heading south from Phuket to Singapore.
Due to the rescheduling, this year’s competition in the blue riband Racing and IRC classes managed to attract some of the top competitors in the region.
The decisions to introduce an under-25 sports boat youth category and host races close to the Kuah Jetty to get the public interested in the competition were also plus points for the RLIR.
Sydney-based Quantum Racing skipper Ray Roberts believes that the RLIR is catching up with the popularity of the King’s Cup as the best-organised and most competitive regatta in South-East Asia.
Prime Minister’s Challenge Trophy: Quantum Racing (Aus)
Royal Langkawi Yacht Club Commodore’s Challenge Cup: Sofa So Good (Bri)
LADA-IRC Class Challenge Trophy: Phoenix (Jpn)
Langkawi Sports Class Trophy: Raimond Land (Aus)
Malaysia Multihull Challenge Cup: Motor Inzi (Bri)