To youngsters K. C. Ganapathy, Varun Thakkar, Varsha Gautham and Aishwarya Nedunchezhiyan, the beauty and challenge of the sea are irresistible. They say it’s their passion for competitive events and teamwork that’s behind their medal-winning performances

They saw the dazzling dolphins jump out of the sea. Then they held their breath as the stunningly striped sea snakes zipped past. This is a world where beauty tangos with danger.

The endless water world is familiar to K. C. Ganapathy, Varun Thakkar, Varsha Gautham and Aishwarya Nedunchezhiyan. They stare at the big waves and find a way through, their indomitable spirit as strong as their boats, carrying with them tales of survival.

Not surprisingly, when the four watched the much acclaimed movie Life of Pi that brought to the fore the complex relationship between living beings and the vast ocean, a couple of them went to sleep.

Says Varun matter-of-factly, “We have seen it all before.”

Varun and Ganapathy made a splash this year when they won the silver medal in the highly competitive Dutch Youth Regatta 29er sailing competition. Importantly, the duo leads EuroCup 2013 with 23 points. Poised for greater glory, the two certainly are.

Excellent showing

Varun remembers the excellent showing in the Dutch Regatta. “It was very cold and windy. The conditions were challenging but we were able to adapt.”

Their Tamil Nadu Sailing Association (TNSA) team-mates Varsha and Aishwarya, who train with Varun and Ganapathy in the waters of the Chennai Port, do not lag behind either.

They tested the boys in the recent 29er Sailing Nationals in Chennai, finishing second overall and even winning a race. “We are together six to eight hours a day, practising going out into the sea,” says Aishwarya.

Indeed, this group from Chennai is tightly-knit. Says Ganapathy, “We take the load off one another, help one another out, and connect person to person.”

It’s teamwork all the way. Ganapathy and Varsha sail their respective boats. Varun and Aishwarya lend stability.

They do make fascinating viewing on the fast 29ers. On endless stretches of silver, with the sea reflecting sunlight, the sight of the slick two-man boats, manoeuvring through the wind and slicing through the water, is compelling.

On view are pace, skill, ability and Nature's changing shades. Crucially, the Chennai quartet dares to dream.

Aishwarya notes it’s about enjoying the sport. The high-velocity gusts and an angry sea notwithstanding, a sailor had to win the battle within and then tame the field. It's a hard task, but then these sailors are a tough lot.

Sacrifices

There are sacrifices to be made and the four — all aged between 15 and 18 — are continuing their education through the National Institute of Open Schooling, foregoing school and college life. Their passion for sailing shines through.

It has been a difficult but immensely satisfying journey so far, and Varun, Ganapathy, Varsha and Aishwarya acknowledge valuable inputs from British coach Peter David Conway and Amish Ved, an Indian pilot by profession.

Varsha, who did her early schooling in Coimbatore, cannot forget the contribution of Captain Ravikumar and his wife Shantha in encouraging her to take up the sport and then guiding her.

And Varsha expresses herself through the quick 29er boat that is growing in popularity. The surface of the boat is flat and it uses the ‘apparent’ wind.

The young Chennai sailors will soon have to move to the senior ranks and shift to the 49er boats. In this context, the Asian championship next year will be a fresh peak to conquer.

This takes us to the funding of the boats themselves. At present, the 49er boats cost around Rs. 20 lakh of which the government gives around Rs. 15 lakh and the rest is shelled out by the sailors themselves.

Then there is the cost of travelling and accommodation, and this sport with enormous potential urgently requires sponsors.

The elements of the sea can pose searching questions to a sailor’s courage and skill. If the swells and the choppy waters do not get you, the winds might. Add to the scenario, dark clouds and rain, and the protagonist not only has to beat his adversaries but also take on Nature as well. The trick is in the mind — Varun, Ganapathy, Varsha and Aishwarya comprehend this well.