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RAI of hope

Gulshan Rai, who went round the world in his yacht, cannot swim, discovers PRIYADARSSHINI SHARMA

IN THE OFFING: Luxury yachts parked off Bolgatty Island during tourist season. Ideally located, Kochi is the perfect choice for a marina. Photo by K. K. Mustafah

BELIEVE IT or Not! Gulshan Rai, the Arjuna Award winner and the man who was conferred the Padmashri for circumnavigated the world in his yacht, Jaykus II, does not know how to swim. Rai, for all his victories on water, cannot swim. "You don't need to know swimming to sail or to be in yachting. Yachting is a cerebral sport. You need to judge the winds and manoeuvre. It is a test of mental strength and does not need 100 per cent physical fitness. In fact, the physically and the visually challenged can also do it." `Sail ability' is the term, he informs, that is used in yachting for people who are physically challenged and tells about a journalist suffering from haemophilia and disabled who sailed with him in Jaykus II.

On the occasion of the India International Boat Show in Kochi, held recently, he said, "We don't have a yachting culture and though Kochi has an ideal location for developing a marina, a parking lot for yachts, a determined effort towards it is required."

For a man familiar with Kochi, having served as Deputy Commissioner, Customs and Central Excise in 1991-92, he knows it best. "Having a marina here will generate tourism all over the country. Between England and Australia, the two major yachting nations, there is only one marina, at Galle in Sri Lanka. If Kochi becomes one it will get a huge response, as it is at a vantage point.

Adventurous waters

Recalling his tryst with yachting on the high seas and how he drifted into it, "unplanned," as he says, " I learnt to sail in Chandigarh and when I came to Bombay the Chairman of the Central Board of Excise and Customs J. Dutta was instrumental in my taking to this sport. He supported the whole project right from the start and that is why all my yachts are named Jaykus, J for J. Dutta and `Kus' for customs. My first expedition in Jaykus I, a 27 feet sailing yacht, was a disaster. We were shipwrecked on the Red Sea and had given up hope as we lay in a life raft for four days before help reached us. In Jaykus II, a 31 ft sailing yacht, I sailed from England to India. Psychologically, this was a milestone in the history of adventure sport for which I was awarded the Arjuna for ocean sailing. That was in 1981.


Then came the round-the-world trip in Jaykus III, a 32 ft, sailing yacht." And it was this adventure that brought him the Padmashri. "It is indeed a shame that we do not make any sailing yachts. Sri Lanka makes them and exports them to England. We can easily do so. A fibreglass sailing yacht is after all a mould and factory line production can take place."

Does he plan an encore? "Not really. I had a patron who was strongly behind me. The Govt of India, Customs and Excise Department, Department of Sports and Youth Affairs, Bombay Port Trust and many other bodies funded the entire project."

Swimming may not be prerequisite, but there are other qualities that become imperative to make a fine yachtsman. "You need a lot of skill, navigational planning, seamanship. Then there are the vicious gales to counter, the equatorial heat to experience. The Red Sea is terrible. I got boils on my back. Such difficulties have to be anticipated. It took me two years to go round the world."

And this was surely an unforgettable experience. "The strangers I met in the harbours were very kind. You meet nicer people on water than on the land," says Rai, with that gentle smile.

The waves, the surf, the gales, the salt have not managed to take the winds out of his sails as he still is into active yachting in Jaykus II, his yacht, hoping to see India on the international map for this sport.

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