Eleven-year-olds Mahesh Balachander, Venkat Krishna, Navin Kumanan and Aniketh Rajaram, four of a five-member sailing team, won the Optimists class in the recent International Sailing Regatta at Doha
For close to a quarter of an hour on a warm Saturday afternoon at the Chennai Port, four diminutive 11-year-olds tried to strike a pose on a single-handed sailing dinghy meant for one. The waters were still, yet the vessel wavered — more due to the imbalance in weight — as the photographer tried to capture in shallow waters what generally happens in deep sea.
In those 15 minutes, one could see a leader taking charge, two others following the instructions and handing out some of their own, and the fourth, a reluctant hero, who after bemoaning the impracticality of the idea soon fell in line. The camaraderie among the four was very evident as they got the dinghy to stabilise. The man wielding the camera finally gave a thumbs-up.
The kids were Mahesh Balachander, Karumanchi Venkat Krishna, Naveen Kumanan and Aniketh Rajaram, part of the five-member team which won the gold medal in the Optimist class after pushing favourites Norway to second spot at the recently concluded International Sailing Regatta in Doha. (The fifth member, Vishnu Areekara Sujeesh, was unavailable).
“The competition was tough,” says Mahesh, who is the captain of the team and also won a bronze in the Optimist fleet racing. “The wind was light; around eight knots. I have never really sailed in light wind. It was a nice experience.”
While the Doha outing might have been a happy one, sailing, at least at the outset, is far from being nice. Left to fend for oneself, overcoming fear in the sea amidst all the turbulence can prove unnerving.
“I didn’t quite like it in the beginning. It was terrifying,” says Aniketh who has been sailing for three-and-a-half years. “But now it’s fun and I am enjoying it,” he says.
If fear of the sea is the bane, then the next hurdle is academics. With kids as young as six taking to the sport (Mahesh started at age seven and has already toured Europe, Korea and Malaysia), the school’s and parents’ support in striking a balance between the class room and the sea is of utmost importance.
“My school has been supportive,” says Venkat Krishna who studies in Bhavan’s Rajaji Vidyashram and took to sailing around three years ago. “They encourage us and give us some extra time but catching up with the others is something that we need to manage,” he says. Aniketh and Naveen who study at Vidya Mandir and Krishnamurti Foundation India (KFI) concur too.
On a typical training day, the kids ride the sea for close to five hours. In months when there are no competitions, this happens only during the weekends. Thomas, an international sailor from Ireland, is the official coach who pays a visit around four times a year and before every Regatta. Mahesh’s father Balachander helps them too.
Having stepped into testing waters at such a tender age, how long do the boys wish to continue? “I want to continue sailing,” says Naveen, who started only a year-and-a-half ago and is a relative newcomer. “If it doesn’t work out, then may be I’ll become a doctor,” he says innocently, a trait common to the bunch.
Venkat Krishna wants to be a businessman associated with sail manufacturing. Mahesh and Aniketh both want to be lawyers — something that has more to do with their fascination for the sailing jury where protests are decided in the lawyers’ presence than anything else.
But for now, the energies of these 11-year-olds seem channelled towards their forthcoming competitions where they aspire to sail to much bigger and greater successes.