Phuket pioneer: Andy Dowden 1952-2023
One of the driving forces behind the emergence of Phuket’s yachting scene, Dowden recently passed away but his work on the island lives on.
Andy Dowden, one of the stalwarts of the Phuket sailing and yachting scene, passed away on July 22. After a three-day funeral and a cremation ceremony, his ‘last sail’ was scheduled for July 27 as his ashes were scattered from a boat in Phang Nga Bay.
Dowden was involved in multiple yachting companies in Thailand since 1989, sailed in and helped organise many key regattas in and around Phuket, co-founded the PIMEX boat show and Phuket Raceweek regatta, and was one of the founders and co-authors of the Southeast Asia Pilot cruising guide.
Many tributes have been posted on Dowden’s Facebook page (click to visit), while his life and time in Phuket are outlined in Scott Murray’s 2012 article, Sailing the High Seas (click for original article). Excerpts of the article are reproduced below:
Friends pay their respects
From Somerset in the UK originally, Andy studied structural engineering at Bath University and worked for a decade in that business including time spent on the Thames Barrier.
In 1982, he embarked on a two-year around the world sailing cruise on his 46ft sloop Buccabu with his wife Jenny, business partner Reg and three others. They left from Poole in Dorset. Things went well until they hit the Red Sea, where near Elat they ran into engine trouble, a big storm came up and sunk their boat.
Two of the crew abandoned ship at this point. Luckily, the boat was insured, so Andy flew home and filled a container with parts he needed to fix the boat. The repair took eight months and then the remaining four crew (Andy, Jenny, Reg and Thelma) sailed into Port Sudan, where they spent the next four months operating a dive charter. Andy says the area has “the best diving in the world”.
From Port Sudan, Buccabu sailed down the Red Sea, eventually winding up in Sri Lanka where it stayed for a while doing sail and dive charters, mostly for friends who had flown in from the UK. Buccabu then headed off for northern Sumatra and wound up in Phuket in November 1984 with just Andy, Jenny and Reg remaining. They camped in Phuket for the high season, becoming the charter boat for the former Pansea Hotel (which became The Chedi then The Surin).
In April 1985, they set off again, heading down to Malaysia and Singapore before heading over to Borneo, Sabah and Sarawak and then to the Philippines and Papua New Guinea. In September, they landed in Cairns, did a bit of sailing in eastern Australia and the Barrier Reef.
Reg was ready to move on and Jenny wanted to go home and start a family. However, Andy wasn’t ready to go home, so the trio decided to sell the boat and put it on the market in Sydney around Christmas time.
After paying the import taxes, they found a prospective buyer, who put down a deposit on the boat, but the Aussie dollar tanked and Andy decided to keep the boat and buy out Reg. Andy and Jenny sailed back through Papua New Guinea (doing three months of charter there) and Indonesia before arriving in Phuket in November 1986, when Jenny returned to England.
Andy with Vincent Tabuteau (left) and Bill O’Leary in the early 1990s
Andy hired a crew and for the next couple years operated sailing charters out of Phuket, linking up with Jan Jacobs at Pansea Yacht Services. In 1989, Vincent Tabuteau and his company Asia Voyages wanted to build the Mekhala, a river boat based in Bangkok, so Andy took off to the ‘Big Mango’ for a year, where he built two Mekhalas.
Then Asia Voyages decided to start a joint-venture with Aman Cruises called Amanpuri Yacht Services, but they needed a place to service, store and fuel their boats so they decided to form a yacht management service with Pansea Yacht Services and Jan Jacobs and Andy.
The group formed Phuket Yacht Services, first in Bang Tao, in high season, then in low season they acquired some land in Laem Phrao, and this became their main depot (which is now Yacht Haven). They had a jetty, fuel supply, water supply, and workshop – it was the first marina in Phuket. In the beginning, there were four boats from Asia Voyages and six from Aman Cruises.
Andy (right) with friends
In 1991, Phuket Yacht Services became Sunsail’s representative and received seven new boats from the company. It was the first bareboat fleet in Thailand. In 1993, Sunsail sent over 12 used boats from another fleet in the Seychelles. As Sunsail had 19 boats in country, they decided to send their own man in, and in 1995 Kevin Quilty arrived to oversee their operation. Sunsail stayed at Laem Phrao until Boat Lagoon opened a couple years later.
In 1997, a Thai company decided to take over and expand the Laem Phrao marina, renaming it Yacht Haven, buying out Andy and Jan and the holding company Thai Marine Leisure. Andy moved down to Boat Lagoon and became their resident contractor for four years while Jan operated Charters with TML.
In 2002, Andy joined forces with Grenville Fordham and Image Asia, and they decided to stage a boat show in Phuket called PIMEX (Phuket International Marine Exhibition). The first one was held at Boat Lagoon in 2003, around King’s Cup time, and it went well, so the two decided to stage a regatta, Phuket Raceweek, first held in 2004.
Grenville eventually grew tired of the boat show, so he bought out Andy and kept the regatta, while Andy was left with the boat show. In 2007, his first year running the show solo, Andy moved PIMEX from Boat Lagoon to the Royal Phuket Marina, where it was held in December of 2007 and 2008, and January of 2010 and 2011.
In 2007, world-famous sailor Shirley Robertson interviewed Andy for CNN’s MainSail television programme and this tweaked the interest of the Informa Group, who among other things run the Monaco Yacht Show. Discussions ensued and Informa bought the show from Andy in 2008, leaving him with a paid salary to keep running it.
As of 2012, Andy was involved with many of Phuket’s regattas. Besides starting Six Senses Phuket Raceweek with Grenville, he has been the President of the Phuket King’s Cup (running the racing side of the regatta for many years), has been on the committee for the Bay Regatta and plays a key role in the Superyacht Rendezvous.
Andy’s two-year sailing sojourn turned into a full-time job in the marine leisure business, and the yachting community in Thailand has benefited immensely from his savvy and knowledge. Thanks for not going home, Andy.