‘Chou' all the way

The winners of the 25th Laser National Championships pose with their trophies.-PIC: K. RAMESH BABU

The Yachting Association of India's new coach Peter Conway couldn't help but gush with admiration for Rajesh Choudhary. To the Englishman, ‘Chou', as he is fondly referred to, was nothing short of a national treasure, endowed with every quality needed to excel at the highest levels. A. Joseph Antony reports.

Densely overcast skies welcomed sailors to the silver jubilee edition of the Laser National championships at the Hussain Sagar, Hyderabad.

The week-long fiesta, dubbed the Lake Fest, was blessed with favourable winds, steady in pressure most of the way, but pretty whimsical in places where they chose to blow. Conditions were conducive by and large to the highly demanding sport, the patter of rain quite often pock-marking the historic lake's surface and the sun making rare appearances from behind clouds, covering the great blue beyond like giant curtains.

The water from the reservoir, gradually recouping from years of pollution, hit the champion much harder than the competition combined. Nonetheless, from 19th at the first windward in the sixth race, the spotlight was invariably on the elder statesman of Indian sailing — Rajesh Choudhary. A mouthful of murky Radial set, the seasoned yachtsman climbed to third at the finish line, brought forward by the race committee to end at the leeward mark, depriving him of an entire leg to reach the top spot.

Undeterred by that stumbling block, ‘Chou' as he is fondly referred to, bounced back soon enough, as quickly as regaining the cockpit on the few occasions he was thrown overboard. To the keen follower, he was being the typically absent-minded professor, who'd let go of the main sheet, his mind pre-occupied with plotting another victory!

There were whispers after that sixth-race setback that the king had lost his grip, the competition was catching up and so on. His subsequent showing soon disproved these as mere rumours. By the end of the championship, his ‘figures' were by far the best — a perfect 10, after allowing him to discard two races from the dozen the fleet had sailed.

The Yachting Association of India's new coach Peter Conway couldn't help but gush with admiration for ‘Chou.' To the Englishman, Chou was nothing short of a national treasure, endowed with every quality needed to excel at the highest levels.

The sailing guru praised him as an extraordinary sailor, after he first watched Chou compete in the World Radial Championship at Largs, Scotland less than a month ago. India's sailing hope had arrived just a day before the event, had left his hospital bed in Mumbai, flown several hours and refused to cry off from competing with the planet's best.

“Chou's understanding of the winds is phenomenal,” said Conway, who hails from Manchester. “Through most of the race, you can see his craft is almost absolutely horizontal, the water displaced by its passage minimal and his sail steady — all distinct marks of a sailor in control.”

If Chou reigned unchallenged in the Radial fleet, Army Yachting Node (AYN) teammate Jasvir Singh, in the full rig, almost matched Chou in skill, zooming ahead of the rest till halfway through the series. Yellow-carded for the second time in the sixth race, Jasvir was banished to the bottom of the 33-man list.

Floored, no doubt, by that sledge-hammer blow from the jury, he rose from the ashes, hailed by the hooter no less than three times after that debacle. This sailor of huge potential needs more backing from the Laser Class Association of India (LCAI) in the form of increased exposure to international competition.

The predominantly male bastion of Indian sailing was breached by Rohini Rau of the Royal Madras Yacht Club (RMYC), who came third on the opening day of the Radial set. Mrinalini Santhanam of the Tamil Nadu Sailing Association (TNSA) did one better, finishing second behind Choudhary in the farewell race of the week-long meet.

Rohini emerged champion in the women's category, a crown she has worn for several years now. The third-year student of Government Medical College, Chinglepet, has quite expertly juggled thumping her heavy books with competing the world over, giving her invaluable experience sailing in all conditions.

Finishing third is not new to Rohini, as she clinched bronze in the overall category of the 2008 Coastal Nationals. Going by her zeal, the best is yet to come from her.

Rufus N. Patrick stood out in the 4.7 class. The curly-haired youngster, if challenged at all, competed with TNSA team-mate B. Hussain. If a team completely dominated the championship, it was the Army Yachting Node, the Mumbai outfit sweeping the honours in both the Standard and Radial fleets.

Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister K. Rosaiah, who was the chief guest at the valedictory function, gave away the prizes.


Boys: Youth under-16 years: Manu Francis (NSS) gold, Prince Noble (NSS) silver, Adil Currimbhoy (RMYC) bronze.

Under-18: Rufus N. Patrick (TNSA) gold, Hussain B. (TNSA) silver, Sachin Singha (NSS) bronze.

Girls: Youth under-16: Aishwarya N. (TNSA) gold, Meghanna B.T. (TNSA) silver.

Under-18: Shweta S. (TNSA) gold. Radial:

Youth under-17: Shweta S. (TNSA) gold, Manu Francis (NSS) silver, Aparya Mahule (NSS) bronze.

Youth under-19: 1. Avneesh Kumar (EMESA) gold, Sachin Singha (NSS) silver, Gaurav Pikale (RBYC) bronze.

Women: Rohini Rau (RMYC) gold, Mrinalini (TNSA) silver, Alekhya Sudam (SSC) bronze.

Laser Radial Open: Rajesh Choudhary gold, B. K. Rout silver, Dharmender Singh bronze (all AYN).

Apprentice Master: Rajesh Choudhary (AYN).

Standard: Youth under-21: Advait Deodhar (RBYC) gold, Harpreet Singh (CESC) silver.

Men: Gajender Singh gold, Sukhvir Singh silver, V. Hari Hara bronze (all AYN).

Apprentice Master: V. Hari Hara (AYN) gold.