LANGKAWI: Six months ago, an idea was mooted to have a Malaysian racing yacht with an all-Malaysian crew to challenge for top sailing honours in the region.
The Miri-registered Ulumulu, painted in the Sarawak colours of yellow, red, black and white, is making heads turn in the ongoing BMW Royal Langkawi International Regatta (RLIR).
What makes Ulumulu different from the other premier racing class yachts is the team owner's boldness in providing opportunities for untested young Malaysians to race against battle-hardened international sailors in top level competitions.
The Ulumulu crew have 19-year-old 2001 SEA Games optimist class gold medallist Nik Ashraf Nik Azizan as their skipper and he is the youngest at the helm in the RLIR.
The idea to have an all-Malaysian racing boat and crew was mooted about six months ago and I am proud to say that the Langkawi Regatta is Ulumulu's fifth competition thus far, said owner and team director Troy Yaw.
Our aim is to spare no effort to expose talented young sailors in the country to high-level competitions. We want to show these boys, who come from different states like Kedah, Perak and Sarawak and also Langkawi, that sailing is not just a rich man's sport but can be enjoyed by everyone.
The yacht, which is registered with the Miri Yacht Club, competed in the inaugural Borneo Cup Race, Ko Samui Regatta, Raja Muda Regatta and the King's Cup in Phuket before sailing in Langkawi waters.
We are out to prove that it is not a dream for a yacht manned by a local crew to win top honours in sailing competitions. The feat is achievable, and Ulumulu is moving in the right direction to achieve this, said Troy.
Although the Ulumulu crew still lags behind the big-name yachts, including leaders YO! and SonnenKoenig in terms of experience and handling skills, the consistent third-place finishes in all three races thus far make them the team to watch out for in the future.
Team manager Bruce Chai said: We are losing out in terms of teamwork and the lack of communication during the race because our present crew have only been together for four days now.
We have no regret on the results because at present, being able to assemble a young Malaysian racing yacht team is an achievement in itself.
Nik Ashraf, who sailed with the Royal Malaysian Navy's Kapal Diraja Pelanduk II in the sports boat category in last year's RLIR, is still on cloud nine as the skipper of the team.
I have always dreamt of being the skipper of a big boat since I was a small boy. But the position comes with big responsibilities, said the teenager from Manjung, Perak.
There is still much improvement to be made, especially in the understanding and communication among crew members, before we can start thinking of winning titles.
After the races in Langkawi, Ulumulu will sail in the home regatta the Second Borneo Cup Yachting Challenge, which will be held in Labuan and Miri from April 18-24.
Today is a rest day at the halfway mark of the RLIR. Two races are scheduled for tomorrow and the final one on Saturday.