During the recent silver jubilee National Laser regatta at the Hussain Sagar, two young boys made quite a splash. Manu Francis and Prince Noble clinched the gold and silver medals respectively in the 4.7 class under 16 years category.
What was truly remarkable about them was that they hail from the remote village of Munammban, Vypeen, in Kerala's Ernakulam district and from the fishing community. The duo, still dazzled by the medals well after the prize distribution ceremony, had upset many calculations by stunning far more fancied rivals.
That the pair had pulled off the feat just two years after their introduction to this complex sport made their achievement all the more praiseworthy. They got a feel of the sport for the first time during a sailing awareness camp in the backwaters of Cherai, Kochi organised by Suresh Pillai, Director of the Kerala Yachting Association (KYA) in 2008. The event was the first of its kind in the state where, despite a long coastline, the sport had next to no presence at all.
The whole exercise was viewed with scepticism by Noble and Francis Tonson, local fishermen, who earned their livelihood with their Chinese nets. Often their sons Prince and Manu would help them after the boys had finished school for the day.
After much persuasion about the possibilities of medal prospects from their boys, considering their proximity, if not familiarity with the ways of the wind and water, the parents allowed the children to take up the sport more seriously. The lads were however overjoyed to be engaging in this strange sport that called for careful reading of the wind and the waves.
The twosome didn't take long to learn the ropes and left the entire fleet in their wake during the inter club regatta held as part of the Volvo Cup race at Kochi in December 2008. So taken up was young Manu by the sleek Volvo boats that he made a replica. The boys had grasped the basics so well that they shone during a National level event organised by the KYA at Cherai.
Madhu Puthuvakkal, Coach of the National Sailing School (NSS), Bhopal, who's incidentally from Kannur, also in Kerala, was quick to spot the potential of these two and had them enrolled in the academy located in Madhya Pradesh's capital.
It took them a while to adjust to their new environment but before long they made themselves at home and found their feet on this new ground. Under the guidance of Madhu, himself a seasoned sailor, they bloomed.