Well, not quite, but Grenville Fordham’s rise from novice crew member at the 1998 King’s Cup to Commodore of the Ao Chalong Yacht Club (ACYC) has been remarkable, nonetheless. Grenville came to Phuket back in 1998. He was working in Bangkok as the editor of Living in Thailand magazine and was contemplating a move to either Phuket or Samui, when he was offered the job as editor of PHUKET Magazine. He took it, but nine months later, after undergoing a sharp learning curve on Phuket publishing, struck out on his own to form Image Asia, whose titles today include Where to Eat, Shop Window on Lifestyle, Southeast Asia Pilot, the definitive Map of Phuket and Phuket’s first detailed street directory, Streets of Phuket.

Although Grenville did not come to Phuket as a sailor, with Andy Dowden he founded both PIMEX (Phuket’s International Boat Show) and Six Senses Phuket Raceweek and his latest venture, boat builders Composite Catamarans, founded in late 2009, has already built four Andaman Cabriolet fast cruising cats, including Niña (below, Grenville in yellow) and Da Vinci, both regularly seen on the Phuket racing scene.

nina a

Grenville’s life before he hit Phuket’s shores is a whole other story (penned by Bruce Stanley in the Phuket Gazette in March of 2009), but he seems to have the gift of getting things done.

So how did he get into a sailboat in the first place? Seconded by Phuket Magazine to the King’s Cup committee in 1998, he met Andy Brennan at the regatta’s opening party. Both hobby pilots in their former lives, Andy convinced a reluctant Grenville that if he could fly, he could crew – and persuaded him to get aboard his 32ft monohull Jenzminc­ – his first time ever aboard a sailboat. (Ed: Jenzminc – Andy went out to buy his wife Jenny a mink coat but came home with a yacht…).

A few years later in 2003, Grenville and Andy Dowden started PIMEX under tents at the Boat Lagoon – an endeavour that many thought foolish. At about the same time, they both began to distance themselves from King’s Cup committee work, yet were missing the excitement of running a regatta. Looking for a slot in the Southeast Asian racing calendar, they picked mid-July and turned heads once again when they launched Six Senses Phuket Raceweek in 2004. At the beginning, Raceweek predominately catered to local yachts, but over time has seen more yacht entries from Malaysia and Singapore, and crew from all over the world. This year’s objective is to entice more charter and cruising entries.

In 2006, Grenville was approached to run the Koh Samui Regatta with an option to own it but, after successfully running the 2007 regatta, decided that an event on the other side of Thailand was too much strain on company resources.

He had originally planned to develop an Events Division within Image Asia, but soon realized how difficult it was to merge the workload into his core business; so he decided to stick with publishing, his bread and butter. Andy wanted to keep PIMEX going, so they decided together to dissolve their partnership in 2007. While Grenville kept Phuket Raceweek, Andy took over PIMEX, moving it to Royal Phuket Marina and subsequently selling the show to the Informa Yacht Group.

At about this time, Grenville (seen celebrating above) got tired of spending time on other people’s boats and decided he wanted one of his own. From that small beginning, together with a new partner and surrounded by experts in their fields, he launched Composite Catamarans and started building the fast cruising 39ft ‘Andaman Cabriolets’, based on Alan Carwardine’s Stealth 11.5 design. They bought the hull moulds in Australia and shipped them to Phuket, where skilled Swiss craftsman Roger Diggleman went to work on them as the hands-on building contractor.

The Andaman Cabriolet takes about seven months to build; Nina, the prototype, was launched in July of 2009, just missing ACYC multihull regatta but in time to win Six Senses Phuket Raceweek’s Multihull Racing Class. Da Vinci was launched in July of 2010, just before the same regatta and took second place. The latest boat, Jabberwocky, was launched in March of this year and is already in its new home at Pattaya’s Ocean Marina. The fourth cat is underway.

Grenville was a founding member of the Marine Alliance of Thailand (forerunner of the Thai Marine Business Association) which among other things won the abolition of import duty on yachts in 2004. What does he think the Thai government needs to do to further boost the marine leisure market here? “They have to get serious about marinas,” he says. “They make it so hard to build marinas because of the environmental impact issues. For example, an area with no mangroves and no coral is treated the same as a pristine environment. This makes it difficult to build a structure out into the sea, which is why two of Phuket’s four marinas (Boat Lagoon & RPM) are inland with tidal access problems.” Grenville says Phuket’s west coast is in dire need of a good marina, and notes that if they were to extend the airport’s runway out into the sea that would lend itself to a concurrent marina construction.

On April 1 this year, Grenville moved from ACYC Treasurer to Commodore, succeeding Mick Kealy who oversaw the club’s move to new premises. The club, which has a vibrant social scene, has been at its current beachside location for three years and recently added a floating jetty, sponsored by Da Vinci. ACYC has about 150 members, but non-members are more than welcome. The annual membership fee is Bt5,000 plus a Bt2,000 joining fee. The club has recently started running RYA navigation and seamanship courses and is the only RYA accredited shore-based training centre in Phuket. There is also a fun, yet competitive, racing schedule throughout the year which welcomes non-members, visitors and guests for a fun day out on the water – much less serious than the regional regattas – while ACYC hosts its own multihull regatta, the SEA Property Multihull Challenge, in July each year. A medium range plan is to stage more rallies open to both sail and power boats to encourage the latter to get involved with the club.

These days, Grenville lives in the centre of Phuket Island with his wife Jiab and 9-year-old daughter, Nina. He’s made quite the journey, from lowly crew to regatta and boat show organizer, sailing guide publisher and now boat builder, there seems to be no limit to what Grenville is prepared to have a go at. The ACYC must be hoping that he hasn’t run out of steam yet.

THE EARLY YEARS

Grenville was one of the youngest hotel managers in the UK when, at age 20, he ran a hotel in the Midlands. He went on to get a degree in Hotel, Catering and Tourism Management at Surrey University and spent a year with the Intercontinental Group, before deciding that being a hotelier wasn’t what we wanted to do with his life. He then took a job with the Rawlplug Company and spent eight years travelling the world marketing construction fastenings, ending up as the company’s director of international sales and marketing before setting off on a two-year expatriate stint in Singapore to explore the ‘Asian potential’. He left that firm in 1986 to start his own business, renovating and converting period houses in and around London. His home and business base was the house in Surrey where HG Wells lived and wrote his classic, War of the Worlds.

The money rolled in fast and thick for three years – and disappeared even more quickly in the UK property crash of 1989. He then went back to school and studied journalism at Birbeck College, London and gained a TEFL (English teaching) qualification as backup. He was undecided whether he wanted to live in Mexico or Thailand (he spoke Spanish but not Thai); Thailand won the coin toss and he arrived in Bangkok in 1995, securing a number of journalism jobs before landing his position with Living in Thailand.

Contacts:

Phuket Raceweek: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.">This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. / www.phuketraceweek.com

Southeast Asia pilot: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.">This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. / www.southeastasiapilot.com

Ao Chalong Yacht Club: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.">This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. / www.acyc-phuket.com

Image Asia: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.">This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. / www.image-asia.com

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