A master yachtsman. An adventurer. An entrepreneur. A successful businessman. An ex-serviceman. A gentleman. A generous soul. Charming, principled, honest, selfless, no-nonsense, a fighter with impeccable style.
A dear friend to many who will miss him immeasurably.
Everyone has a story about Henry because he touched everyone he met in one way or another. All that knew him would no doubt agree it is very difficult to summarise or capture the very essence of the man in words alone.
He was truly unique, a shepherd among sheep in many ways.
Henry was born in Huddersfield, UK in March 1937. He spent the second World War as a child in North Wales and served his National Service as an active Platoon Commander combating the Malayan Emergency.
Later he was an extremely successful businessman, running a trading company out of Hong Kong specialising in watches, clocks, reading glasses and a full range of household gifts.
Sailing was his outright passion and saw him represent and captain Hong Kong in the 1968 Olympics in Mexico.
Henry contributed significantly to establishing the Royal Hong Kong Yacht Club (RHKYC) as one of the finest yacht clubs in the world as Vice Commodore between 1986-1988 and Rear Commodore (Sailing) between 1984-1986. He also served on the General Committee, Sailing Committee, Balloting Committee and the China Sea Race Committee.
The RHKYC paid tribute via their Facebook page saying, “Henry was one of those larger-than-life characters that all clubs need to promote unflagging interest, enthusiasm and participation in club activities.
“He displayed a military background in marshalling participants (prospective owners and crew) in the formation of Club Classes in the X99, Etchells 22 and Magic 24 fleets at various stages in his own successful sailing career.
“When he finally left Hong Kong and moved to Thailand, it was no surprise to hear of Henry pushing the expansion of the multi-hull classes in the Rajah Muda and King’s Cup Regattas, with equal success.
“Less known about was Henry’s behind the scenes organisation of sympathetic funding contributions to sailors in distress or in need of temporary support. He will be fondly remembered by the recipients for his caring thoughtfulness and generosity.
“Henry’s contribution to the Club and the sport of sailing in Hong Kong will forever be remembered by his friends and fellow club members,” it concluded.
A keen golfer and resident of Phuket since 2002, he continued with his sailing to great success aboard his yacht “Thor” in the Phuket King’s Cup and other regional regattas, racing until the age of 81.
He was instrumental in the promotion of the Firefly Class of Racing Catamarans in Thailand and helped build up the fleet in Phuket. He was one of the Founders of the King’s Cup in 1987 and helped promote yacht racing and sailing across the region.
‘Get a real drink in!’
“He was a larger than life, complicated and kind character,” his grand-daughter, Natasha Kaye Whiffin said. “Always exploring and off on an adventure, he lived many lives – as a tea trader in Sri Lanka, a watch salesman in Switzerland, a solider on the front lines in Penang and in his later years as the non-official ‘Mayor of Phuket’.
“He read a book a day, was always up to speed on the rugby scores and could drink any challenger under the table,” she added.
As chairman of the “Table of Knowledge” at Pepper’s Sports bar in Cherng Talay, Henry would often hold court with witty anecdotes of his past sailing endeavours and his razor-sharp insights into sports, excluding football of which he strongly disapproved!
What became regarded almost as his catchphrase, “Shut up lad and get a real drink in”, was always fondly received and will be sadly missed.
“A gentleman always prepared to help others in need who will be sorely missed by all that had the privilege of knowing him,” said close friend Grenville Wilson.
Another close friend, Grenville Fordham, recounted, “Although I was aware of the almost-mythical Asian circuit racing sailor, Henry Kaye, my first close encounter was at the gala closing party the year I organised Koh Samui Regatta.
“The extravagant garden party was rained off and, after frantic rescue of buffet spread and sound equipment, relocated to the hotel foyer. In far-from-perfect surroundings, I began the obligatory ‘thank you sponsors’ speech only to be heckled from the front row. ‘Get on with it, will you,’ shouted Henry, presumably impatient to tuck into the food and wine – or perhaps to collect his trophy.
“Over the nine years I ran Phuket Raceweek, I came to know Henry well. Never shy to coach regatta organisers, especially a racing novice like myself, on how to set the right courses (to suit his current speed machine, of course), his warm yet mischievous sense of humour was equalled only by his willingness to share his racing knowledge. A true champion for whom winning was the only acceptable outcome.”
‘He led by inclination and example’
Examples of his charitable soul are endless. He was renowned as being the first person to step forward and help those less fortunate on numerous occasions.
One such example was during the immediate aftermath of the 2004 Tsunami in Phuket. Henry’s home, located about a kilometre inland from one of the hard hit areas, became a refuge for tourists and residents alike.
He spent the following weeks in a state of exhaustion, working with rescuers and injured and those frantically seeking relatives in the wake of the tragedy. He also assisted with relief to both the Thai and expatriate residents of Kamala Beach, where he had maintained a house and lived for some years.
Such tales of generosity abound from his time in Hong Kong. Another close friend, Ian Dubin, recalled how, whenever one of the vast community that surrounded the Yacht Club and his other circles fell on hard times, Henry was there to support and assist.
“From friends who had had one too many and needed to be put in taxis home, to broke and injured sailors needing hospitalisation and airfares to the other side of the world, to retired Club Members who couldn’t make the rent, Henry was the man who whipped out his wallet for the ticket (and passed the hat around the rest of us, each according to his ability),” said Ian.
Another example was when Henry supported world famous yachtsman Charles (‘Chas from Taz’) Blundell. Henry had wagered a bet that Chas could not maintain three months alcohol free in an effort to help his friend control his alcohol dependency. Henry lost, Chas was revived and had to enlist a friend to help carry the rucksack of HK$5 coins, $10,000 (41,000 baht) worth in total, to the bank.
Ten years or so later, Chas’ very life was saved when Henry organised and largely paid his repatriation to Australia from the Philippines hospital where he was initially treated for a badly broken leg.
“There are dozens of similar stories and a long list of people who Henry has helped out one way or another over the years,” added Ian. “He has been an inspiration to many people and it is not uncommon to hear people, when faced with a choice as to how to proceed in a challenging situation, to ask ‘What would Henry do’?
“He led by inclination and example,” he concluded.
Despite his ailing health, Henry’s self-proclaimed warped humour held strong.
On his 83rd birthday (Mar 2) he posted on Facebook about how he had been evading the Grim Reaper, stating “if you see me racing down Cherngtalay High Street in a stolen Tuk Tuk with the little hair I have left standing on end – please grab the bastard pushing me, steal his scythe and pack him back off to Patong in a new robe.”
A twinkle in his eye until the very end.
The world will unquestionably be a poorer place without Henry in it – but we are all, without doubt, significantly richer having had the privilege of knowing him.
He is survived by his children Stella, Marty and Anna.
A service will be held at St Joseph’s Church, Soi 8 Pasak at 4pm today (Mar 13). There will be a reception at Bangtao Beach 2 afterwards and all are welcome.
An edited version of this story appears on the back page of this week’s Phuket News.