Teens’ involvement amazing

The winners of the National 420 sailing championship (from left): Sarad C. Singha-Aman Vyas (youth), S. R. Rout -Sandip Jain (open) and Pallavi Shanbhagh-Rohini Rau (women).-PICS: R. RAVINDRAN The winners of the National 420 sailing championship (from left): Sarad C. Singha-Aman Vyas (youth), S. R. Rout -Sandip Jain (open) and Pallavi Shanbhagh-Rohini Rau (women).

Despite having a sizable number of achievers at the Asian and the World level, sailing is still hovering at the bottom, in terms of corporate and public support, writes K. Keerthivasan.

Sporting casual wear, Ashwini Nedunchezhian decided — out of the blue — to partner Ayesha K. Lobo in the dinghy boat. The last race of the Vestas National 420 sailing championship was well and truly over and Ashwini, who was in a Gemini boat as an onlooker, crossed over midsea to the competition boat as she and her younger sister Aishwarya Nedunchezhian, the youngest sailor of the championship at 13 years, switched ends. “I have never raced in 420 before,” said Ashwini, with a demure smile before jumping over.

With the Gemini motorboat cruising ahead, there was no sign of Ashwini and Ayesha. Aishwarya wanted the men handling the Gemini boat to slow down so that her sister could catch up with them. “She shouldn’t have gone like that. Since she has done that, I am sure she’ll be back to the shores safely,” assured another young sailor Benjadeed, much to the annoyance of Aishwarya.

Ashwini came back safely, enjoying her ride, and later Aishwarya won the Match Racing championship beating the likes of Sandip Jain and Rohini Rau.

The teenagers’ growing interest in sailing is amazing. For them, the water is like a playground. Be it Aman Vyas from Bhopal’s National Sailing School whose drive to excel is legendary or Aman Acharya (Mumbai) who is sailing in a dinghy boat for the first time with his father D. K. Acharya. Fourteen-year-old Aman Acharya took part in all the 10 races despite the rough sea and with the gusts of wind sometimes measuring 30 kph. Then, in a packed Royal Madras Yacht Club’s Hall at the Chennai Harbour, 10 sailors, most of them in the age group between 14 and 19, listened with rapt attention to two-time World champion Farokh Tarapore’s words of wisdom.

More than anything else, all these trends definitely provide hopes of a bright future for a sport which is struggling to get sponsors’ attention. Despite having a sizable number of achievers (see interview with Farokh) at the Asian and the World level, sailing is still hovering at the bottom, in terms of corporate and public support.

For Sandip Jain (crew member S. R. Rout) there is no time to think about the never-ending debate. One of India’s top guns in dinghy sailing, Sandip and his partner won nine of the 10 races with élan in the 420 Nationals. The Army Yachting Node (Mumbai) duo was a notch or two above the rest. “I keep telling (Rout) not to get complacent with this win. Our target is the 2016 Olympics. Of course our immediate priority is the World 470 championship to be held in August in Denmark,” said Sandip.

Born and brought up

The irony is that Sandip didn’t sail in the 420 class for almost 11 months, after he clinched the title last year in Chennai as a crew member with Muthu Rajan. Sandip is extremely busy training in the 470 category, a higher weight category of dinghy sailing. “It’s a lovely class (470). People who drove it, know it.” As a helm (captain), Sandip has been sailing in the (470) class for the last three years.

How has it been partnering S. R. Rout, a quiet young man? “He’s a quick learner,” said Sandip. “Sometimes I have to shout to make him understand a point. But he takes everything in the right spirit.” Patiently listening to what Sandip had to say about him, Rout replied in Hindi, “He has to be aggressive — shout and get the best out of me. Otherwise I will get complacent.”

The daily routine at AYN is not for the faint-hearted. Quite a few sailors have shifted base unable to bear the workload at AYN. It includes two hours at the gym in the morning, running, exercises, working out with the boats followed by theory classes. “We are used to it,” said Sandip, who is a Non-Commissioned Officer.

Reflecting on sailing having given him name and fame, Sandip said it has also helped him think continuously. “See I have my own business (he is a dealer of a clothwear brand). I am doing my B.A. in Tourism Studies. It’s because of sailing that I am able to manage everything well,” he said.

The results:

Overall champions: Open class: 1. Sandip Jain-S. R. Rout (AYN, Mumbai), 2. Yaduraj Lad-Azhar Sheikh (AWSA, Hyderabad), 3. K. Yakobu-M. Girish (AWSA).

Women: 1. Rohini Rau-Pallavi Shanbhagh (RMYC), 2. Ayesha K. Lobo-Aishwarya Nedunchezhian (RBYC), 3. Sidra Sabir-Shaila Charles (NSS, Bhopal).

Youth: 1. Aman Vyas-Sarad C. Singh (NSS, Bhopal), 2. Ayesha-Aishwarya, 3. Shivam Shrivas-Sachin Singha (NSS, Bhopal).

* * * Professional nonpareil

There is little to suggest that he is 46 years old. Fighting fit, the reigning National Match racing champion, Farokh Tarapore (in pic, middle), can match the young or the experienced sailors anyday. He was Chairman, Protest Committee, in the Vestas National 420 sailing championship. As there were hardly any protests during the championship, the self-effacing and dignified two-time World champion chose to spend his time interacting with teenagers. Farokh came across as one who genuinely wanted the young sailors to realise their mistakes. When he found that very few used the spinnaker (third mast) during downward wind, he spoke in detail about its merits. “His knowledge about sailing is amazing. You should see him when he sails. He is so perfect that nobody can point a finger at him,” said Benjadeed, one of the young sailors.

A three-time Olympian in the 470 class (1984, ’88 & ’92) and two-time World sailing champion, Farokh said the urgent need for Indian sailing is good professional coaches. “Good coaches are not cheap. In Singapore, there are 50-odd coaches and of them 17 are foreigners.”

Refusing to criticise anybody for the poor patronage of sailing, Farokh said, “it’s the responsibility of the whole nation.” He further said corporates should look at sailing more seriously and offer full support. “I am not making this statement out of thin air. This is made after making calculations. Sailing requires Rs.100 crores for the next 10 years. Anything else will be a compromise.”

Farokh doesn’t agree with the notion that the sport doesn’t have icons for youngsters to follow. “We have a world champion in dinghy class — Nitin Mongia — Homy Mothiwala, world champion in Enterprise class and myself. I am talking only about gold medals. We have more idols than in any other sport. It’s just that they have not been used well.”

K. Keerthivasan