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Andrew de Bruin

General Manager at Multihull Solutions Asia, Andrew describes how a sailing adventure launched 15 years ago landed him in Phuket, where he’s made a career in the island’s emerging yachting scene ever since.

March 2014

Where are you from?
Originally Sydney, but I grew up in Adelaide, South Australia.

What were you doing before you came to Phuket?
I started sailing with my dad on dinghies, and then I got bored with sailing with my father, so started doing a bit of ocean racing and windsurfing, and continued on to spend a few seasons in the Mediterranean as a charter skipper. I’d work in the Med for the summer then come back to Australia to save money to go back again. I did that for three seasons then came back to Australia and worked as captain on a few boats. Eventually I worked for Hamilton Island Charters, which then became Sunsail in Australia. That’s when I met Mark Elkington, the principal of Multihull Solutions.

About 15 years ago my wife and I set sail from Sydney and spent three years sailing around Southeast Asia until we ran out of money. After more work as a boat captain, we arrived in Phuket. I found a job with the yacht brokerage Lee Marine, where I worked for 10 years.

Tell us about your current work with Multihull Solutions.
Multihull Solutions is an Australian company with offices in New Zealand and the Pacific. We opened our first branch in Southeast Asia in Phuket at Boat Lagoon this January. There’s a definite need up here for a specialist in multihulls. I know this area, so I’m comfortable doing this here, with a view to opening branches in other countries in Southeast Asia in the next 12-18 months.

For new boat sales, we have six main brands, and we also have 50+ brokerage pre-owned boats both here and in Australia. So when it comes to multihulls, both new and pre-owned, we can offer a service that none of the other brokers have. They might have only one brand of multihull, whereas we're able to offer a better range of options.

We’ve already agreed to be Title Sponsor of the Ao Chalong Yacht Club's Multihull Regatta in July this year.

You were recently at the Phuket Boat Show. How did that go?
Great. We sold a boat on the first day to an expat living here in Phuket and made loads of really good leads. In the coming month we’ll find out how good or bad these leads are, but from previous experience the quality of the people we talked to at PIMEX was good.

Are you seeing any effects from Thailand's political turmoil?
We haven’t been open that long to notice anything, but in my experience these things come and go in Thailand. There’s always an effect, hotel numbers are down, with several countries issuing travel advisories, but Phuket is insulated from what happens in Bangkok. But the announcement in January by customs officials that yachts will have to register every two months instead of every six months is having more of an effect. Many people are saying they’re taking their boats out to Langkawi because the two-month rule just makes it impossible to keep a boat here.

You’ve worked in Phuket for more than a decade. What advice would you give to other expats planning to work and do business here?
Come with a well honed sense of patience. Thailand’s a great place to do business. It really is. There are so many opportunities here, especially in the marine industry. But you do have to have some patience and understand that not everybody does things the way they do back wherever you’re from. You need to be flexible. But having worked here for all these years, there are many moments when I’ve sat back and thought, “Wow, that ended up being way easier than I thought it was going to be.” This often happens just after you’re pulling your hair out wondering why it isn’t working – things have a way of sorting themselves out.

Tell us about your family. My wife,
Donna Stephens, teaches at British International School – she’s the primary librarian there. We have two sons, Finn, who was born in 2001 here in Phuket, and Songkran, a Thai boy we’ve adopted, who’s four. Everybody calls him “Ikki”. Donna wrote a book, Phuket for Kids, about eight years ago and the book is now a website, Phuketforkids.com. As for all websites it requires a lot of work, and she’s also doing a masters in teacher librarianship. She’s a million miles an hour.

Where do you live?
We’ve lived here in Boat Lagoon for 12-13 years. We keep threatening to move because we’d like to live at a beach, but we find it’s just so convenient with great facilities.

What do you do in your free time?
Sailing, play squash, eating out, read books, go to movies. I still have the boat that I sailed up here on, a Swanson 36 named Awatea – it’s a New Zealand Maori name that means “new start” or “new dawn”. That was the original name when I bought it in about 1992 on Hamilton Island. I’ve actually sold it and bought it back three times now.

What do you like best about living in Phuket?
Being able to enjoy the sailing so easily. It’s fabulous. The racing at Ao Chalong Yacht Club, the various regattas, the whole family do that.

What’s the most challenging thing about living here?
Probably how frustrating it is to get little things done, like replacing a window in the house. The number of times you have to chase everything up. Those sort of things I find frustrating – in the end it works out fantastically because you get jobs done for half the price than you would if living in Sydney, but it can be frustrating getting to that point.

Actually, the most frustrating thing I’ve ever done in Thailand is to adopt a child. Just because of the paperwork and the delays. It took us four and a half years, including two years after getting approved. I understand why it takes a long time to get approved, but then to have to wait for another two years is just crazy. It’s a bizarre system. But anyway it’s all worked out. We have our son now, and he’s great.

Are you involved in any local charities, clubs or associations?
The ACYC, we’ve supported its learn to sail and youth sailing, and we’ve always supported Phuket Has Been Good to Us foundation. We do some fundraising for the orphanage in Nakhon Sri Thammarat where we adopted our child. When you see the kids at the orphanage, you realise how fortunate you are.

What do you think the future holds for you?
We’ll be staying here in Phuket for a while with this new venture. We’re still undecided whether we’ll retire to Australia, but that’s years away and plans change. When we first arrived iwe were only planning to be here for a year or two … and we’re still here 13 years later.

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