By U Tint Swe
It was a beautiful day and a beautiful Sailing event at the Yangon Sailing Club on Inya Lake. On all Sailors of the classic Rater Class sailboats met and sailed around the lake in a procession, which was led by the Commodore of the Club. This was a first on the lake and was named ‘Rater Stay’ by the Clubs Captain of Boats. For readers who are not familiar with Yangon Sailing Club or Raters, the wording “Rater Stay” might be confusing, therefore we include a brief history and explanation.
The Yangon Sailing Club, a jewel of a Club, is situated on Inya Lake in the heart of Yangon, Myanmar. Historically, the Yangon Sailing Club was founded by a group of sailing enthusiasts who met at the house of a Mr. D. F. Thomas on Inya Lake back in 1924 and enjoyed sailing and socializing. As this became more popular, the land where the present Club is located was acquired and the Club officially formed in 1925. The Club was always quite active except for the period during the Second World War when Japanese occupied Myanmar. By 1940, the Club had about 20 Raters, plus a number of 10 ft and 15 ft dinghies. The Raters were and still are the backbone of the sailing fraternity and traditionally, were owned, outfitted and equipped by private owners. After 1961, the Raters were purchased by the Club and since that time, have been chartered (in other words, leased) to senior and experienced sailors.
The Rater, as it is called, is based on the Linton Hope designed Half-Rater. This boat was built for a Mr. H.C. Tower and the original boat was named “Black Cap”. Thus, the boat also became known as the Black Cap Rater. Initially, 8 boats based on the “Black Cap” design were procured and shipped from Cochin, India to Yangon, Myanmar. As the Club as well as Rater sailing became more popular, additional boats were built in Yangon following the lines and construction detail of the original boats. During the Second World War, most of the Raters were sunk in Inya Lake by their owners with the intent to prevent them from being exploited or destroyed by the Japanese occupying forces. It was only after the war that these boats were found, raised, and returned to their owners. A total of twelve Raters were salvaged whereby some of them were in very bad condition or even beyond repair. In addition, the Clubhouse was destroyed.
In June 1945, all the original Club members gathered to decide if it would be worthwhile to rebuild the Clubhouse and start repairing the boats. With much enthusiasm, the vote was a clear “yes” and they started immediately to rebuild the Clubhouse. On 1st September 1945, a formal meeting of all the Club members was called during which the Club’s Bye-Laws were drafted and approved. It is worth noting that the original Club Bye-Laws from this time, with the exception of some minor changes, are still in full effect at the Club today. Major General Symes was elected as the Club’s first Commodore and Peter Waine was elected as Captain of Boats and was tasked to repair all boats and to extend the fleet as applicable. Peter Waine’s immense efforts in this regard were rewarded by the Club and an Honorary Life Membership was granted to him when he had to return back to England. When he arrived there, he was so enthusiastic about the Raters that he searched all over England for the original “Black Cap” Rater (mentioned earlier in this article). Indeed he found the boat, but like the Raters in Yangon immediately following the Second World War, it was in very bad shape and needed significant repairs. After restoring the “Black Cap”, he sailed the boat all over England and even at sea. When he finally retired from sailing in 1983, he donated the boat to the famous Maritime Museum in Greenwich, United Kingdom where it still remains today.
The Yangon Sailing Club has not only been an active sailing fraternity, but also a place for many social engagements of families and friends whereby this tradition has been maintained up to the present day. Besides the weekly Club races and main regattas held by the Club locally, there has
always been a tradition of
participating in International events, especially in the 1950s and early 60s. There was a strong
international showing by Myanmar in 1956 Melbourne Olympics in Australia and again in the Olympic Games in Rome in 1960. The Myanmar Olympic Sailing Team at both events were led by Commander U Khin Pe Gyi, who was the first Myanmar national to become the Commodore of the Yangon Sailing Club.
The 2nd SEA Games was hosted by Myanmar whereby the sailing event was held in Ngapali Beach. At the time, Myanmar
was the first country to introduce the sport of sailing at the SEA Games and the Rater was one of the main classes raced during the competition. Myanmar won two gold medals in the sailing event at the time, one being in the Rater Class.
In 2013, Myanmar again hosted the SEA Games whereby the sailing event was held at Ngwe Saung Yacht Club located in Ngwe Saung Beach. In honor of the history of Myanmar introducing sailing to the SEA Games and the Rater being one of the Classes then, the President of the Myanmar Yachting Federation, who himself is a Rater Charterer and Life Member of the Club, proposed to all participating nations if they would agree to sail the Rater Class again in memory to all Sailors who participated in the 2nd SEA Games. All nations agreed to honor the tradition and brand new Raters were built specifically for the 27th SEA Games using the craftsmanship and experience of the Yangon Sailing Club boats department foremen and carpenters. The traditional lines of the Raters were kept, however, due to new international safety regulations, some changes were implemented to improve the boats buoyancy as well as ability to be ‘uprighted’ and continued to be raced by the sailors themselves in the event of a capsize. The 27th SEA Games was a very successful and memorable event (the last time it Myanmar had the opportunity to play host was over 50 years ago) whereby Myanmar won the Gold medal again in the Rater Class, with Thailand winning silver and Singapore winning bronze.
Raters continue to be sailed frequently during the year and remain the backbone for sailing at the Yangon Sailing Club. The racing involves regatta type series races, monthly challenge cup races (once a month), outright cup races (on special public holidays), and not to forget, the moonlight sailing races hosted once a month during the full moon. The moonlight races are literally sailed at night with only the moonlight providing light to guide the sailors and their crews. Moonlight sailing is certainly more geared towards families and loved ones also getting on the water and has a huge social aspect. Some Rater Sailors simply take out their boats on their own or with their families just to enjoy being on the beautiful lake without the pressure of racing.
There is a long history, tradition, and love for the Raters in the Yangon Sailing Club which resulted in what is now called the “Rater Stay” day. The name was simply created by the fact that whatever happens, “Rater Stay”. The English come, the English go, the “Rater Stay”. Commodores come, Commodores go, “Rater stay”. Members come, Members go, “Rater Stay”. Foreigners come, Foreigners go, “Rater Stay”. Hardly all existing Raters are sailed at the same time, since some Sailors might be busy during scheduled races days, or some boats may be dry-docked and undergoing refurbishment works in order to keep them in pristine condition as good seamanship requires. As a result, the Rater Fleet Captain, Captain Holger Rolfs, himself a devoted and passionate Rater Sailor, asked for permission from the Club Committee to organize a day where it would be compulsory that all Raters have to sail. The main intent was to honor all Rater Sailors, who since 1924, put their love and efforts towards keeping the Rater Class alive.
The Club Committee unanimously approved the request. On the actual “Rater Stay” day, a skipper’s meeting was held in the morning whereby it was decided to sail the boats in an “orderly manner”, similar to a procession. The Commodore with sail number “1” would lead the Rater Fleet, with all other Raters following respectively with their sequence sail number in a distance of about two boat lengths, which resulted in an impressive long line of Raters sailing in Inya Lake. A Rater is of course driven by the wind and has no brakes like a car, therefore keeping the line formed required very good sailing skills. It was certainly very challenging at times for the Sailors to maintain their exact position due to the constantly shifting wind and changes in pressure, however, not impossible whereby the attempt was completed successfully. Last, prior to returning to shore, it was decided that all Raters will do a so called “Pass-by”, which at some Clubs sailing is still a common tradition undertaken once a year. The Commodore’s Rater was moored and all other Raters would form a single file line to Pass-by and show their respect and honor the Commodores for his leadership during his time of service. Upon immediately approaching the Commodore’s Rater, sailors on other Raters would remove their hats, bow, and wave at the Commodore, and some adding a “thank you Commodore” in full view of the Club members who also attended the event, however, remained onshore. The event was wrapped up with an appropriate ending involving all Rater Sailors gathering to start with what in the Club is called “Bar Sailing”, a phrase invented for Club members who are either afraid to sail or don’t do sailing for health or other personal reasons. Former Rater Sailors were invited whereby everybody enjoyed the drinks as well as the BBQ prepared by the Boats Department. All Rater Sailors decided to maintain the event as a tradition of the Club which is to be repeated every year going forward and held during the month of and prior to the Club Annual General Meeting.
U Tint Swe / Sr. Management Advisor (SMA) / MPRL E&P Pte Ltd. / “Build through Excellence – Lead with Integrity”