Phuket is an increasingly popular destination for the super-yacht crowd. Photo: Bangkok Post
Phuket is an increasingly popular destination for the super-yacht crowd. Photo: Bangkok Post

A hop and a skip from some of the world’s most extravagant private vessels, the well-heeled attendees of the inaugural Kata Rocks Superyacht Rendezvous – the highlight of an almost month-long yachting showcase on Thailand’s Phuket Island – punctured the evening air with the sound of popping champagne corks.

Long one of Thailand’s major boating destinations, Phuket boasts several yacht clubs, and harbors designs on being a regional yachting powerhouse. Kata Rocks is an upscale resort that sponsored various super-yacht events before launching its own major regatta this December 10-12.

Sadly, the weather didn’t cooperate. December normally brings glassy seas to Thailand’s top tourist island, which hosted the prestigious King’s Cup Regatta from December 3-10. Following right after the Kata Rocks event were the Thailand Yacht Show and the Asia Superyacht Rendezvous, both from December 15-18.

This was the 30th anniversary of the Phuket King’s Cup Regatta, but celebrations were noticeably somber following the recent death of the beloved King Bhumibol Adulyadej, who spent 70 years on the throne. Thailand remains in a yearlong period of mourning, putting a damper on the usually festive gala finale.

Things picked up a notch at Kata though, as invited local guests mingled with jetsetters, and indeed yachtsetters, drawn by the heady mix of beach parties, boating excursions and nightly performances. Organizers billed the glamorous three-day celebration as a kind of social networking extravaganza for the super-yacht crowd.

Turnout was strong, with 15 enormous boats – almost double what had been expected. Most are regulars on the Mediterranean-Caribbean cruise circuit, but many were making their first jaunt to Asia, according to Olivier Badri, who handles sales and chartering for Titan Fleet, a provider of yachting management services.

Badri was on board Lauren L, an ultra-luxurious 90-meter boat that accommodates 36 guests in 20 staterooms. He rents it for US$ 700,000 per week, “not counting expenses.”

Potential customers were spirited aboard, and there were outings around the island to shindigs at supporting resorts, such as the stylish Surin Beach Resort, which commands a serene cove on Phuket’s northwestern shores.

Badri welcomed the opportunity to reach out to cruise aficionados not only in Thailand, but also in the whole increasingly affluent region from Singapore to Shanghai.

Besides the huge super-yachts, there were several old-school sailing craft, including the 51-meter Dunia Baru, a picturesque custom-built wooden craft based in Indonesia, and the Dallinghoo Schooner, a 30-meter sailing vessel operating around Southeast Asia but increasingly focused on the hot new destination of Myanmar’s Mergui Archipelago.

Thomas Bruning, the German captain of the Dallinghoo, said the event would increase awareness of charters. “Phuket is a growing market and events like these really help.”

The Kata Rocks event boasted dozens of partners, from yacht operators and outfitters to high-end luxury brands – fitting for a chic, all-white resort that is carved into cliffs and affords idyllic views over offshore islands to the south. The development’s 34 villas, all clean white lines and sail-like canopies, shade private pools and expansive outdoor terraces.

Richard Pope, a developer from the United Kingdom and Kata Rocks’ CEO, bought the property in 2007, then spent nearly six years tunnelling and building on the difficult terrain. Another of the group’s partners brought experience from Monaco and of European yachting.

“We realized we could bring super-yachts to Phuket and really put on a high-quality event,” said Pope. “Boats want to come here and have the exposure to clients, not just in Thailand, but throughout Asia, and China.

“These boats typically sail through the Mediterranean and Caribbean. This is the natural next place.”