Eight Bells: Al Chandler

Published on October 30th, 2022

Life-long sailor, international juror, and lifetime member of the Royal Varuna Yacht Club in Thailand, Albert T. Chandler, 86, has sailed off into his final sunset.

If he had one message to those he sailed beside or sat aside (or across from) on an international jury, it would be to make sure you make it to the 2023 ILCA Masters World Championships to be held in February at the Royal Varuna Yacht Club (RVYC) in Thailand. Seriously.

Al left on October 25, 2022, after a seven-week journey that ended peacefully in bed in the early morning hours as the sun rose over the Sierra Nevada Mountains in South Lake Tahoe, California. Only the day before he had been asking about the number of applications to the 2023 ILCA Masters. Seriously.

Born in Oakland, California, attending UC Berkeley for undergrad and then Harvard Law School before his profession would take him to Bangkok, Thailand. His childhood was spent in the Sierra Nevada Mountains so it was a fitting site for his final days.

His family wish to thank the international sailing community, and especially the Royal Varuna Yacht Club, for giving him such joy in his life. Despite a very busy schedule as a lawyer, he always made time for the sport and the friendships he found around the world through sailing. His contributions will outlive him in so many classes.

Optimist Class
As a young American lawyer in Thailand in his 30s, he helped build the Optimist class through the co-founding of the Junior Sailing Squadron of Thailand in 1976, sponsorship of the building of new wooden boats for them, and teaching a generation of Thai and expatriate children to sail.

He organized the 1978 Optimist World Championship in Thailand, escorted a decade of Thai teams to the Worlds, and served as International Optimist Dinghy Association (IODA) President 1985-1989 at a time when apartheid in South Africa, the participation of expatriate youth, and the introduction of incentives to get more girls on teams were hot issues.

His goal was always to include as many sailors as possible, helping to build bridges for a better world.

Accustomed to Thais finishing in the bottom of the fleet at the time, he could never have imagined that in 2010 Thailand would sweep all four trophies at the event, the winner a young woman, and in 2022 another Thai would take the top prize. Nor that Thais would host a much larger Optimist World Championship and see another Thai representative elected president to IODA in 2017.

In the 1970s and 1980s, his secretaries served as IODA coordinators and registration assistants, his wife as photographer and magazine publisher for IODA, and his children were promoted to Junior Sailing Instructors in their teens, a title used to bribe them into helping with back-to-back youth sailing courses. Their cottage by the club was an Optimist storage space, with two bedrooms and a small kitchen accessible only by brushing past hulls, masts, and parts.

One of the family’s favorite tales from that time is of his ‘side-trip’, as IODA president, to Zimbabwe to decide if it was acceptable to host an Optimist World Championship (sadly, the lake venue was home to too many hippos to qualify it as a venue). He believed that one should travel to as many countries as one’s age. Sailing helped him achieve nearly that, with 77 countries visited in his life of 86 years.

Fireballs were his boat in the 1970s, his first wife Nancy not so impressed when gifted one for her birthday. His wooden boat remains at the Royal Varuna Yacht Club, one of the few not to have been lost in a fire in the boat storage area decades ago. Al was organizer of the 1978 Fireball Worlds at the RVYC and held onto the published programs through his life.

Hobie 16s
After spotting an ad for a Hobie 16 in a magazine, Al imported the first one to Thailand and, not alone in his interest in the boat, he soon set up a side business in imported boats and parts, his Chandlery an institution at the RVYC for many years. He sailed in the 1976 Hobie World Championships, although, as it was held in Hawaii, he admitted he probably spent more time in the water than on the boat, capsizes inevitable in the big winds and surf.

Among his legacies is the Chandler Classic, originally created for the catamaran class only. Held on New Year’s Day at the RVYC, it is not the most typical of races. It starts at the bar with a Bloody Mary, a run down the hill to the beach and boat, a race to the East Mark and back, ending at the bar with another Bloody Mary. Prizes these days are pewter mugs and other trophies collected by him in his younger days.

Laser / ILCA Class
Al’s first wife was much more impressed with the Laser class, adding Ladies Only sailing courses to the family’s beginner sailing programs at the club in Pattaya, the boat much easier to right than a Fireball or Hobie, and much easier to interest the hesitant to try.

Al meanwhile was more focused on racing when he got into the new class. He snatched the first national Laser champion title, but soon had to cede it to his teenage daughter Siri, who proved she was a force to be reckoned with on the race course.

Al chaired the Laser Class Association of Thailand for near two decades before another daughter took on the role and, in a mid-life crisis, with his help, committed to helping two Thais become the first to qualify for what turned out to be not just one, but two, Olympic Games.

Imagine his pride when, at one of them, it was female sailor Kamolwan Chanyim who walked at the front of the Thai procession into the Opening Ceremony. (By coincidence, her father had once accepted the national championship title in the Optimist from Al, the extended Chanyim family now a well-known name in Thai sailing circles.)

Al also kept framed in his office a photo of him on the cover of Beam Reach, which was the Laser class magazine in the 1980s. Amusingly, it shows him struggling with the mainsheet after what we believe was a capsize in big surf.

Roles with the International Sailing Federation
On the international stage, Al was active as a Thai representative of the Yacht Racing Association of Thailand in its early days to the International Yacht Racing Union (now World Sailing), contributing to the Racing Rules, Youth Sailing, Class Policy, and Organization committees.

He also became an International Juror, serving at, among other regattas, the SEA Games, the Asian Games, the 1983 pre-Olympic qualifications in Los Angeles, and the 1989 Barcelona Olympic Games Sailing Championship.

Among his proudest achievements was seeing others follow in his footsteps – Rut Subniran as an international juror, Kevin Whitcraft as IODA President, and Oat Vongrak as sailing coach and race officer at the RVYC.

Royal Varuna Yacht Club
A club commodore in the 1970s, Al remained a key member of the club throughout his life. He was partly responsible for the relationship that has enabled the club to maintain its current site on a relatively private beach on the Gulf of Thailand, negotiating time after time for extensions of its lease. For those who have never been, it is truly a special place. (Perhaps a reason to sign up for the 2023 ILCA Masters, just an idea…)

Among championships he helped the club secure were the Laser Asia-Pacifics in 1984, the Laser 4.7 Worlds in 2014, and his legacy will be felt at the ILCA Asian Championships in December 2022 (a great training opportunity for those interested in joining the ILCA Masters in February 2023, just saying).
For those who would like to leave comments, share a story or two, or just read more about Al Chandler, go to https://www.mykeeper.com/profile/ATC/

For those who would like to participate in the 2023 ILCA Masters World Championship, as Al did at least three times in his life, go to https://sailing.laserinternational.org/public/site/event-list

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