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The azure sky, shimmering water, and forty-eight teams watched by a gaggle of spectators - all brought the panoramic landscape to life. Add the colourful sails and there was a vibrancy and expectancy in the air that was infectious. This, despite the fact that there were half the number teams compared to last year as some the ace yatchmen were down south competing in the other class races at the National Games.

The barge was a beehive of nautical activity as the motley crew of participants went about the nitty-gritty of sailing rigging sails, charting strategies to best overcome the course. Unbounded by size, shape and age, the teams had a smattering of women and teenagers lead to the fore, by the youngest participant Skindar Yadu.

Being the only women's team in the champion was definitely no smooth sailing for Shibani and Sunita from the Colaba Sailing for Club. Holding their own, these women are charged to weather the storm.. "Sailing has provided all major thrills for me!" said Shibani breezily. "I started sailing ten years ago, fell in love with the sport all because of a chance encounter with the only woman windsurfer in India," she enthused, describing her love affair with the sails. Even a nightmarish experience of being adrift on the treacherous seas of Bombay for hours together has not dimmed her passion for this sport. "As very huge wave came crashing against my sailboat, I kept telling myself that this was the end. What with the waves being about six to ten feet high, and the surface seeming like a dark black hole!" But the true dare devil that she is, Shibani was back at them for her boat and all set to sail!

"My sail snapped when I was sailing on the sea, with the unruly sea on all sides and no sight of the shore, it took all my tenacity, pluck and courage to reach the shore after a couple of hours. I was frightened but determined not to give up," he quipped like a true navigator.

Col. Khanna, the suave spokesman of the Protest committee explained the nuances of the race to us. Laying out the course, he told us of the point-to-point navigation chart that was plotted out. "since it is difficult to have all the boats standing in line at the same time, we have two poles at each ends. The setting up so different flags accompanied by the firing of the gun denotes the passage time for the participants to set sail. It is all very systematic and organised, though it might not seem so to a layman who does not, understand the intricacies of the sport," he informed.

The Protest Committee is another important and interesting facet of the championship that bears explaining. "A lot of decisions need to be made outside water as well. During accidents, the Protest Committee. Water tight in terms of fairness, the championship wore a festive look with eighteen new boats, synthetic sails and the aluminium masts. The pageantry on the water was formidable, with rescue boats on hand, the carpentry team standing by to plug leakages, refit masts and rehaul and repair all the boats. All in all, it was an organised affair indeed!

Sumit Patel, last year's champion seemed pessimistic about his chances to win this year's crown. Disqualification and an ill- favoured wind dimmed his hopes considerably despite winning two of the seven races. Fourteen teams participating from the city - NDA Cadet Corps and the PDBSA - also lent a strong local flavour to the event.

Jehangir and Jehangir, fondly called JJ by everyone, is known to be a pioneer of sailing in India. Describing his role as a race officer he said, "Initially, sailing was way too disorganised with sailors flouting rules and regulation without a care! So very experienced yatchmen, including my self decided to form an organising committee, tightening up the loose ends and setting the ship in order. We wanted to make it more organised, interesting and most importantly, fair. So as the race officer of these championships, Farokh Tarapore and I have our job cut out a long with the Protest committee!"

Commenting on the state of the sport JJ enlightened, "Though we have very good sailors in our country, the sport as of now is very stagnant. What we need is a crop of youngsters who can enjoy and appreciate this sport. Sailing is just about as scary as jumping off a diving board. The maximum that can happen, is that your boat can capsize and you might get a swollen head a couple of times," laughed the man who has written sailing history. Known for the gruelling nineteen and a half hours spent in water with his crewmen because of a fault in the buoyancy water light tank, of his boat, JJ is a man much at home with the sea.

 

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Farok Tarapore, the bronze medal holder of the world championships in the enterprises class also shared with us, the sailing minuate. "Nobody can sail, a perfect race. But the person who finished first is probably the one with the least number of mistakes. In a country lie our, there are not many sailors but the quality of your yatchsmen especially in the Enterprise category is very good. Though we have won a lot of medals and laurels for our country, in a cricket crazy country this has no meaning and have absolutely no recognition," he revealed ruefully. Having annexed the world championships many a time, Farokh pointed out, "What we need is to make sailing, a more spectator friendly sport. In order to play to the gallery, we have introduced the new concept of match racing wherein we have only two sailboats battling it out.

So the audience can cheer and get more involved. Though these new boats cost more than a crore, they will be of tremendous help in attracting the youth and making this sport more popular. Besides, this is a sport of the mind where sheer concentration and suave strategy can win the day despite the boat having capsized and can make up for the lack of physical attributes," avered the champ who set sail upon this enduring affair as a cadet at the NDA. As the championship drew to a close, Kamleshwar and his crew piped the silver medallist at world Championship, Ashwin Mongia and his crew to the post. Thus proving that the game is not won till the last race is over!

As we spoke to Sameer Kakade, the spearhead of the PDBSA, who also trains the cadets of the NDA, he glided over his pet subject with utmost passion. "Ours is the only charitable sailing organisation in the country", he began proudly. "Affiliated to the National Enterprise Association and the Yatching Association, we formed this organisation purely for the love and the enthusiasm for the sport," unwinded the computer engineer. Sameer and his friends set about windsurfing and sailing, learning it through trail and error and instruction manuals. They have come a long way indeed, having been appointed as consultants for water projects at Lonavala, Kihim and various others, the founder of the PDBSA revealed their plan to re-invest the money into acquiring land for their association. "Despite having garnered the equipment over a period of years we still do not have the land to practise sailing throughout the year. With land prices, at khadwasla hitting the roof, we at the PDNSA will need at least ten to fifteen lakhs to buy a plot of land." Though many a business have approached the PDBSA in order to lease the land for a span of two to three years, the scepticism at such offers is obvious.

"What happens when we take up such offers is that in our quest to popularize the sport, we also make the area popular. At the end of the lease, the businessman throws us out only to begin his own commercial sailing set-up to leave us high and dry. For some one who has not exposed to the right kind of training in the sport, it could also lead to loss of lives," disclosed the waterman who has obviously burnt his hands before with such a venture.

Charity they say begins at home. Housing the PDBSA at his own office, Sameer referred to the three weeks that are earmarked in not just his dairy every year." For those twenty-one days all the members cut themselves off everything and devote themselves off from everything and devote themselves to the camp." Organising two or three expeditions through the year to keep the members in touch with this fascinating sports, the zest that these young men have for this sports is obvious!

Informing us of the rigours of organising the camp, their yearly pilgrimage for this sport of the wind, Sameer enthused, "Our camps have been held over the last few years at Shantivan, a commercial place. Our main cost being transporting the equipment, boarding and lodging, our fee structure only aims to cover the very basic costs. We charge Rs.1,900/- for the week long camp. So on the whole, it is a profit no loss venture done with one mission to popularise the sport and make it affordable to all and sundry - allowing them to enjoy the thrill of the refreshing water spray, the whiplash of the waves, the sense of freedom." Twenty man hours are required to help the amateur sailors gain the know-how of this ancient sport, the only requirement is that the person should not be afraid of the water. Their day begins at six in the morning and ends at seven at the evening by which time the beginners are ready to drop dead. They also organise camps at sea at Ratnagiri which gives them an exposure of a different kind as a capsized boat would mean a dip in the salt waters of the sea. Besides it gives them a chance to deal with waves with a minimum height of one to one and a half feet.

 

 

 




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