The Tamil Nadu Sailing Association's Masters Regatta attempts to bring veterans back to the sport

The sport of sailing abounds in myths. First, all those glossy photographs of perfectly-tanned people in crisp clothing, leaning languidly on the sails, every hair in place, makes you wonder if it really is a sport. Then, you believe that you sail only after you've made your millions, and can smash a champagne bottle on your own boat at her christening.

Not really. Steering your boat over the stubborn ocean waves, three people manoeuvring in space barely enough for one in a swift choreography of movements takes endurance, and every ounce of your stamina. Secondly, the Tamil Nadu Sailing Association's been trying to open its doors wider, and bring more people into a sport that doesn't pollute, and celebrates the sun and the sea.

“But here's the thing — the world over, there are so few opportunities for the veterans, almost no competitions for seniors. And, their numbers are growing,” says Sarath Reddy, an executive committee member of the TNSA. And so was born the Unifi Capital Masters Regatta, a place for sailors aged over 30 to meet, and compete.

It also becomes a place for prodigies to gather. Soli Contractor, the first Indian to have represented India at the Olympics in sailing about 40 years ago, was there. So was Malav Shroff, who went to the 2004 Olympics; Lt. Gen. IJ Singh, president of the Laser Class Association of India; and Vice-Admiral Anup Singh, Flag Officer Commanding-in-Chief, Eastern Naval Command.

“These people haven't raced in more than 20 years,” says Sarath. “And, it becomes more than just about competition — it's about creating fellowship, a camaraderie amongst the seniors, because they are the ones who decide the policy, infrastructure and fate of sailing in India. The sailing of the juniors will depend on it. Eventually, we want to create all the necessary conditions for India to win an Olympic medal.”

We set out from the Chennai Port, passing the ominous skeletons of ships long lost to the sea. The Regatta had one race for the Keel boats (which Vice-Admiral Singh's team won), and another for the smaller dinghies (taken by Deep Rekhi and Nikhit Ashok). Silver sails taut against the winds, on six-foot high cobalt waves. Water topped with foam. The winds are steady (though we aren't, as we flounder on our nascent sea legs); and though sailing at the dog's peak of summer had sounded suicidal, it is unexpectedly cool.

“Except for the monsoons, Chennai has good, strong winds, perfect for sailing. We also have fairly challenging wave conditions — which means that once you've mastered these waves, you're good enough to compete internationally,” says Sarath. “We're hoping for a marina soon, a place to park our boats. The Regatta will return next year as well.”

It is fascinating to watch as the sailors match sinew and strength against the sea, bodies bending and swaying to hold their own against the winds. There's something to be said about emerging from the aquamarine waters, laced with stinging salt, burnished gold by the sun and laughing. It's also about returning to some ancient memory, of those who first set out to the end of the horizon, guided by nothing but the stars.

Keywords: Adventure sport