Sails take wind in Puducherry waters

The buzz created by the Pondicherry Sailing Regatta, an Indo-French bilateral event, is palpable.

Sailors participate on the final day of the ‘Sailing The East Coast’, an Indo-French Sailing Regatta, held on Beach Road Coast in Puducherry.   -  S. S. Kumar

It was the final day of the inaugural Pondicherry Sailing Regatta, an Indo-French bilateral event made possible by Bonjour India, and the excitement among the fisher-folks, our volunteer guide for the day, was palpable. They had never seen a sailing boat, hardly a surprise given the steep price of each. An optimist class boat, meant for beginners, costs between ₹1 and ₹2 lakh.

The Pondicherry Sailing Association (PSA), with the help of the state's Tourism Ministry, is out to break this class barrier and make the sport more easily accessible. “Last June, the Tourism Minister (Malladu Krishna Rao) was instrumental in coordinating with local fishing community and bringing in 55 kids as part of the summer sailing camp held over three weeks,” S. V. Balachander, Treasurer of PSA tells us.

The association is planning another camp this year and Balachander is hopeful that the kids would return. In 2011, the Ministry of Sports and Youth Affairs subsidised 75 percent of the cost on optimist boats. “The association has bought five optimist class boats at 25 percent of the cost to train the kids,” says Balachander.

‘Part of our lives’

India has participated in sailing only six times in the summer Olympics, where 10 gold medals are at stake. Whereas, land-locked central European nations – like Austria (eight medals) and the Czech Republic (two medals) – have fared much better. “Sailing is a part of our lives,” says Pavel Polasek, a Czech Republic racer at the regatta. “We sail in lakes and rivers since we don’t have any seas around. People in Czech build their own boats.”

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Former Olympian Felix Pruvot, who was invited as a guest for the regatta, says conditions in India are favourable for sailing and it just needs the right push.

The establishment of the National Sailing School (NSS) in Bhopal in 2006 has helped the cause. Harshita Tomar, 16, has recently been adjudged the 'Best Sailor' in the country and is preparing to qualify for the Asian Games in August, where once again 10 gold medals will be up for grabs. She has been with the NSS over the past four years with other sailing aspirants.

Harshita, who was the winner of the Laser 4.7 category at the regatta, says, "the academy takes care of your fitness, accommodation and nutrition."

Balachander is optimistic that the buzz created by the regatta can kick-start sailing in Puducherry. “I don't think many people were aware of the sport in Pudicherry. We are trying to sail past the coast so people can see for themselves. Hopefully, this could drive people to take up the sport,” says Balachander.

(The writer was in Puducherry on invitation from the Pondicherry Sailing Association)

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