Skipper Niels Shares Sailing Insights from Phuket

Niels Degenkolw wins the IRC ll class at Phuket Raceweek 2018

Danish Skipper Niels Degenkolw shrugs his shoulders when reading this dramatic report from the last race day of the 2010 Six Senses Phuket Raceweek:

‘An enormous storm descended on Phuket bringing with it 30 to 35 knot gusts and lashing rain… descended over the race course and all hell broke loose in torrential rain and zero visibility.’

‘… Boats had already taken deep reefs in their mainsails and were carrying small head sails but the boats that couldn’t were completely overpowered and out of control on the race course.… brand new Phuket 8 Surf Patrol was the first casualty when the boat almost capsized in over 30 knots and in doing so, lost two crew members.’

‘Dismasted near the start line… they were attempting to sort out the mess of rigging and sails dragging in the water on their port side…’

In his opinion, the mess was not due to the weather – these kinds of conditions are by no means unusual in the West – it was because the boats had inexperienced crews onboard.

It was for this very reason that Niels cancelled to race his own boat, Phoenix, during this regatta. He was not able to find enough qualified crew. And with untrained sailors on board you often end up with damages to the boat, he says.

Qualified sailors welcome
Niels Degenkolw welcomes qualified sailors to join him on his boat in the many regattas taking place around Phuket and the Andaman Sea. However, only the experienced
sailors need apply. He takes the competition side of these leisure events seriously and is not in favour of too much partying each night of the races.

“The combination does not work very well. We’ve had problems before where I had to speak very harshly to crew members. They can party on the last day or in some regattas you have a lay day, so they can drink the day before lay day.”

“I think most people who come really for sailing they don’t really want to party but it’s more the sponsors who want to party cause they get something out of it there,” he adds.

Another issue with the regattas is when there are sometimes not enough boats in a race class and boats end up together that should not be racing against each other; big boats ending up with small boats etc

“You have to live with that here.”

Not much to write home about
As for sailing around Phuket it is not much to write home to Scandinavia about, thinks Niels Degenkolw. And with his strong track record sailing sailing in Phang Nga bay and the Andaman Sea, he is definitely the right person to talk to.

“Not in terms of wind which always shifts during high season due to high pressure over Mongolia. If the high pressure is very high there we have more wind here.”

“In a day there is very little wind; if one wants to sail here come in low season May to July, when you’ll get days with rain but with much greater chances of wind. The islands are fantastic and anchorage is very good.”

There is actually a guide book available showing all the anchorages and which one is good for the night in high and low season, says Niels who has more knowledge about sailing than most people.

With Phoenix he has attended regattas during the past four years after having found the boat in Malaysia and doing needed refurbishing. Among them he thinks the Samui Regatta is good and that Raja Muda in Malaysia is well organised: “you have only one night on anchor while the other nights are in a marina.”

Exciting odyssey
When meeting Niels Degenkolw, any sailing enthusiast will be thrilled to hear him recall his exciting odyssey on the seven seas. He left Denmark in 1993 on his First Vision, wanting to sail around the world. This boat was designed and also sailed by no other than Paul Elvstrøm – the legendary Danish Olympic sailor – initially winning all the regattas in Scandinavia with him as skipper.

Niels has not returned since and after lengthy sailing journeys and stays on various places around the world (including Brazil, Haiti, Trinidad-Tobago etc.) he arrived to Phuket in late 1999 with his then Brazilian lady and decided to stay on.
Before then he had built boats back in Denmark, working for Elvstrøm among others and in collaboration with shipyards in Poland.

The plan was to stay only two months in Thailand but there was no wind to continue the journey and having all the time in the world he decided to stay (though the Brazilian eventually returned home) and has been here ever since, except shorter trips to Malaysia.

Initially he successfully started doing charter for a few years on his own boat, getting a lot of Danish clients through a charter company. Following on that he started Vision Yacht which he still runs today doing repairs on bigger yachts and mega yachts.

“Meanwhile I raced as skipper. I had a lifestyle that was extremely good. I could go sailing all the regattas and my staff looked after work when I was away.”

His latest assignment was an extensive renovation of a 72 feet long Farr on which his skilled crew of craftsmen painstakingly replaced a couple of million baht’s worth of teak, in addition to other refits.

Going ashore
Having no intention to leave Phuket, at 65, his life is about to change in one aspect though. Having acquired some land overlooking Phang Nga bay he intends to build a house for himself.

“I think it’s time to change my lifestyle. I will still race by keeping the small boat. I still like the racing and as long as I can I will continue. One gets older… but it’s very difficult to get off because I lived on board First Vison for 24 years. It’s a big part of my life.”

The design of his forthcoming house will have a marine theme though, shaped as a boat, so he will still feel like if staying on the water.

About Joakim Persson

Freelance business and lifestyle photojournalist

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