The annoucement caused widespread outcry at the time and spurred Phuket-based Peter Jacops into action to ensure everything possible was being done to reinstate the sport into the Paralympic schedule.
The Belgian expat, an experienced marine surveyor and boat builder who owns Blue Peter Marine in Thalang, founded Disabled Sailing Thailand (DST) in 2015, initially in Pattaya and then in Phuket, at the Royal Phuket Marina (RPM).
In March 2017 Peter conceived and helped build a prototype for the first SV14 boat in Thailand, a unique, affordable boat designed for sailors with disabilities. The project was funded by RPM Chairman Gulu Lalvani and further developed by Alex Simonis and Marten Voogd of Simonis Voogd Design.
Back to the present day and disabled sailing is flourishing in Phuket. DST now have three SV14 boats, two of which are sponsored by Rotary Club guru Arnaud Verstraete with the other sponsored by the Masonic Lodge of Siam.
RPM have generously allocated one dock specifically for DST use where they have installed a crane which is used to lift para-sailors in and out the boat and where a dedicated rescue boat is on hand.
The group have weekly sailing expeditions on Fridays and Saturdays where crews of locals and expats head out just before high tide sets in to navigate around the channel from RPM and Cape Yamu. A trip usually takes 90 minutes.
“Our vision is to bring sailing back to the Paralympics,” local volunteer Manu Alders told The Phuket News. “We do that by bringing awareness of the fact that disabled people can go sailing too. We encourage people with a handicap to contact us and to enjoy a sailing trip.”
Volunteers are crucial to DST. They help operate the forklifts at the dock, help launch and clean the boats to ensure para sailors can enjoy the experience. However, attracting dedicated volunteers is a big challenge, admits Manu.
“I got involved through a friend who knew Peter well,” he says. “I was sitting at home during the COVID-19 pandemic not doing much so I thought, ‘Why not?’ There is now a team of us that thoroughly enjoy the whole experience.”
Their commitment is clearly paying off as DST is sending two of its team, Brit Paul Merry and Phuketian Kimmy Upatising , to represent Thailand at the Inclusion World Championship for Sailing on Aug 24 in Rostock, Germany.
The event is just one of many organised by the governing body World Sailing as it strives to grow the sport and ensure it is once again included at the Paralympics. Its 2023 strategic goal includes increasing worldwide participation to 45 nations on six continents, increasing youth participation (below the age of 30) to 20% of total athletes, and growing the number of female participants to 30% to, ultimately, achieve gender parity.
“In the last few years we have seen huge growth in Para sailing in Thailand,” Peter Jacops told World Sailing in October last year.
“While beginners just a few years ago, Thai Para sailors have since competed at world championships and have themselves become inspiration for a new generation of Para sailors,” he added. “We whole-heartedly support the reinstatement of sailing in the Paralympics and will continue to promote and grow inclusive sailing in Thailand.”
DST’s Phuket branch is proud that it is not only contributing to these efforts but also that any persons with disabilities can enjoy the freedom experienced in sailing in a safe, fun environment.
For more information please visit: www.disabledsailingthailand.org/