AYN has mastery over the sea

DARK skies and mighty winds, huge swells and rocking boats, the Bay of Bengal appeared in no mood to tango with man.

S. DINAKAR

DARK skies and mighty winds, huge swells and rocking boats, the Bay of Bengal appeared in no mood to tango with man. There had been a storm warning at 1.15 p.m., with the wind speed touching 50 knots and the waves rising up to 25 feet.

V. Harihara and N. S. Johal emerged triumphant.-K. PICHUMANI

Watching nature's fury from the Chennai Harbour, a sailor said, "It is a perfect day for sailing." He had also travelled to the heart of the sport — it's all about enjoying the challenge. The high-velocity gusts and an angry sea notwithstanding, a sailor had to win the battle within and then tame the field. It's a tough ask, but then these sailors are a hardy lot.

There were just two races on the third day of competition in the Tamil Nadu Sailing Association (TNSA) Indian Oil Coastal Nationals — one each in the Laser Standard and the Laser Radial categories.

On view was an amalgam of velocity, ability and nature's changing shades. N. S. Johal and V. Harihara finished first in the Standard and Radial sections that day, and in several respects it was fitting that they emerged the overall winners. It was also the maiden Coastal Nationals victories for the two sailors from the Army Yachting Node (AYN). Both Johal and Harihara had dared to dream.

It was only three and a half years ago that the 26-year-old Jullundur-born Johal had seen the sea for the first time. And the 39-year-old Harihara, after winning golds in the kayaking and the rowing Nationals, started sailing only five years back.

The AYN continues to dominate — it has a well-rehearsed programme for producing champion sailors and also gets the latest equipment. Johal clinched five races to three of his AYN-Mumbai compatriot Rajesh Chowdhary in the Laser Standard section. At one stage, he trailed Chowdhary 1-3. Harihara won four races to finish ahead of his AYN compatriot P. Madhu. Chowdhary and Madhu will accompany Johal and Harihara to the World Sailing Championship in Brazil later this year, if a second Indian berth is approved.

"Chowdhary is a worthy opponent and to defeat him is the most satisfying part," said a beaming Johal. "The sea calms me down," said the man whose confidence is his strongest ally. His wife Meenu, a competent sailor herself, continues to be his inspiration. For Harihara, "Sailing is a big adventure." And he enjoys his conversations with water.

If the third day was rough, the other days were more pleasant for sailing.

On endless stretches of silver, with the sea reflecting sunlight, the sight of one-man sailing dinghies, manoeuvring through the wind and slicing through the water, was a compelling one. On the trapezoidal course, where the sailors had to travel upwind, across and downwind, each race ranged between five to eight nautical miles. The Standard dinghies have a larger sail of 6.7 square metres.

The sailors zigzagged through the waters, striving to find the path of least resistance, since it is impossible to travel in a straight line upwind. Downwind, they rode the tide, jumping from wave to wave to maintain the momentum.

And each time a sailor touched the `marker,' he had to do a 360-degree turn of his dinghy. Interestingly, one of the hoardings at the harbour read, "Wanna try a 360 degree with me." These words, actually, journeyed to the soul of a sport known to be a great character builder; the sailors had to be ruled by their conscience.

Johal and Chowdhary, both top-notch sailors, kept shifting the direction of their sail that constantly flapped as the wind gathered pace. Johal is stronger physically, but the smaller-built Chowdhary, a silver medallist the Busan Asian Games, is a clever sailor. The tussle between them was engrossing.

The two are also good mates. Johal says, "I learnt a lot about sailing from Chowdhary." For Chowdhary, Johal is a quick-thinking sailor with ambition.

As they explored the sea, staring at the big waves and then finding a way through, the spirits of these two men appeared as indomitable as those huge anchored vessels, that carry with them tales of survival.

On days of milder winds and waves, sailing in the Bay of Bengal required a different set of skills, but Johal and Chowdhary made the required adjustments to dominate the proceedings. Harihara sailed smartly too. INWTC's Amit Arvind, who finished well with two wins on the final day, would have stretched him, but for his disqualification from races one and two on the first day. INSA's Abilash Tomy prevented an AYN clean sweep of the first four places in both categories.

Royal Madras Yachting Club's 16-year-old G. Sandeep showed it was never too early to dream, bagging a fourth placed finish and finishing eighth overall among the much bigger boys in the demanding Laser Standard class.

Other young contestants like Chennai's Ajay Rau strove, despite not sailing in the latest of dinghies. Sunita Jamal, the lone women in the fray, performed creditably.

Race Officer Colonel G.S. Julka had words of praise for the TNSA, just three years old, after the completion of the event. Major General Kamal Kumar, who gave away the prizes, appreciated the TNSA for its efficiency.

An Indian Oil open event, with a prize money of Rs. 10,000 for the winner, was held after the Nationals. Chowdhary nailed the race on a Radial.

A celebrity contest featuring, among others, Test cricketer Lakshmipathy Balaji and film actor Revathi, was also conducted.

Coast Guard ship `Varaha', with valuable support in the search and rescue operations, donned a key role in the successful conduct of the event.

The Results (final): Laser Standard: 1. N. S. Johal (AYN) 9 points, 2. Rajesh Chowdhary (AYN) 11, 3. D. P. Selvam (AYN) 19, 4. Sukhvir Singh (AYN) 27; Laser Radial: 1. V. Harihara (AYN) 12; 2. P. Madhu (AYN) 18; 3. Bijay Rout (AYN) 30; 4. Abilash Tomy (INSA) 34.