Rajesh Choudhary steals the show

Rajesh Choudhary... the laser standard champion.-PICS: R. RAGU

The Army Yachting Node ruled the roost in the laser standard and laser radial classes. K. Keerthivasan reports.

The sea isn’t bound by any rules. Sailing in the Bay of Bengal is an earnest battle between the sailors and the vagaries of nature. In fact, it’s the winds and the waves that decide the fate of the sailors more than their opponents. Sailing being a sport that depends fully on the ability of the sailors to navigate their boats in the unpredictable sea, there is an element of mystery associated with it. And that’s the beauty of the sport that has seen more youngsters of late getting hooked to it. The following for sailing has been truly increasing.

The Vestas National Laser Coastal Sailing Championship at the Chennai Harbour recently turned out to be a fascinating one as an ageing champion showed his dazzling skills in handling the conditions in the laser standard category (men only). And equally impressive were the youngsters of the Tamil Nadu Sailing Association (TNSA) who dominated the laser 4.7 class.

Rajesh Choudhary, 36, has been winning the laser standard section for more than six years now. In sailing circles, it is said that during an event most competitors follow Rajesh to learn how to manoeuvre their boats against the winds.

“We follow ‘Chou sir’ initially to understand the direction of the winds better,” said Jasvir Singh, Rajesh’s co-sailor in the Army Yachting Node (Mumbai). “He is experienced and has travelled quite a lot and that’s one of the main reasons for his domination in Indian sailing,” said Gajender Singh, another AYN sailor.

A bronze medal winner in the Asian Games in 2002 and 2006, Rajesh is looking forward to the 2010 Asiad in China. However, he is quite sad when talking of the future of sailing in India. “It doesn’t look bright,” he said. “Firstly, there aren’t many exposure trips for our sailors and then, proper training is not imparted in many clubs.”

Rajesh had applied for the Arjuna Award seven times through the National Federation but the powers-that-be haven’t found his case worthy enough. “Rajesh thoroughly deserves the Arjuna Award,” said Naresh Yadav, one of India’s most respected sailing coaches.

Naresh is of the view that India needs a foreign coach if it is to do well in prestigious competitions abroad. Rajesh concurred with him. “Every country you travel to, its sea and its weather are unique. It is important that somebody understands all this and communicates to the sailors. Indian coaches’ knowledge is just not enough,” he said.

Doing TNSA proud... Varun Thakkar (left), Swetha Sadanandan (centre) and Hussain Bhavnagarwala.-

However, despite having no coach, the Army Yachting Node has been ruling the roost in the National Championships in the laser standard and laser radial sections. With a training schedule that includes theory classes and workouts in the gym in the morning, followed by sailing in the sea in the evening, the AYN sailors turn out to be strong mentally and physically. “For us, it’s sailing all the time. Nothing works like practice,” said Rajesh.

“The sport requires extreme motivation. There is not much financial incentive in the sport and there is nobody to cheer you up during the competition. You have to be self-motivated to excel,” the champion sailor said.

The AYN sailors won all the top three places in the laser standard and laser radial categories. With the Army dominating the Nationals, will the civilians be able to have a share of the glory in the coming years?

“Yes,” said Ashok Thakkar, the Commodore of the TNSA. According to him, the civilians have the interest and the technique to excel, and all they need is practice.

“The AYN sailors practise full time, whereas, our sailors train only during championships,” Ashok said.

The one heartening aspect of the Vestas National Championship was the growing strength of young sailors from Tamil Nadu. Varun Thakkar, Hussain Bhavnagarwala, Shweta Sadanandan and N. Aishwarya did TNSA proud with their top four finishes in the laser 4.7 class.

A carefully devised programme by coach Munna Jamal with guidance from Ashok Thakkar ensured that the young TNSA sailors learnt the ropes quickly. The TNSA is one of the most active sailing clubs in India. With more and more youngsters excelling in sailing, the TNSA is planning to rope in more schools into their programme in the future.

Woman sailor Rohini Rau improved as the championship progressed. Finishing second in two races and third in another is no mean achievement considering that she competed against men.

Rohini emerged the overall champion in the women’s section and stood fourth overall in the laser radial category. With a wealth of experience, the sailor from Royal Madras Yacht Club is poised to scale greater heights.

FINAL RESULTS

Laser Standard: 1. Rajesh Choudhary (AYN, 12 points), 2. Jasvir Singh (AYN, 19), 3. B. K. Rout (AYN, 29).

Laser Radial: 1. Gajender Singh (AYN, 13), 2. Dharmendar Singh (AYN, 24), 3. Ramesh Kumar (AYN, 34).

Laser 4.7: 1. Varun Thakkar (TNSA, 12), 2. Hussain Bhavnagarwala (TNSA, 16), 3. Shweta Sadanandan (TNSA, 30).