Life & Style

The wind among Kochi’s ‘Toppers’

The first Rainforest Sailing Regatta, held in Kochi, was a showcase of the city’s water-sports culture

“The winds begin to blow inwards — from the sea on to the land — only by noon. It’s the ideal time to lower the sail boats on the water. By evening, when the wind drops and changes directions, we return,” says OC Thomas, sailing enthusiast and founder of Global Sailing Club.

Situated in Cheppanam, Panangad, the club hugs a shimmering expanse of clear waters that are part of the greater Vembanad lake. On Sunday, it will host the Rainforest Sailing Regatta using Topper Class category boats on January 26.

“The Toppers are very popular world-standard sail boats. We are using the event to build momentum and have charted out a series of training programmes and camps till May for children, enthusiasts, newcomers and veterans to learn and enjoy the sport,” says Thomas. This event is being held for the first time with plans to hold it annually.

Karl Damschen chips in, “If we had half of these waters and such this weather in Europe, everybody would be out on boats.” The Swiss restoration architect and kayaker lives in Kochi with wife Annalise who conducts kayaking training at the club.

The wind among Kochi’s ‘Toppers’

The club, which has 85 members, has been working to build a water-sports culture since it was founded in 2012 but the response has been lukewarm so far. Abraham Thomas who owns two types of boats — Laser (Olympic Class) and Go Cat (Sailing catamaran) — learnt from his father at Kottayam Sailing Club. He sails regularly and rues the fact that there are very few people on the waters.

Training for this event has already begun. Six teenagers are learning the basics of sailing under trainer Rajesh D. “Sailing is only about wind power. There are no engines or pedals. It is about handling body weight, vessel weight and the wind,” he says.

Rajesh teaches beginners how to rig a boat, knot ropes and negotiate the winds. “The learners are taught everything. Practice is vital. Once in the waters, they must be proficient to handle any eventuality. Even if the boat capsizes, they can easily haul it back,” says Rajesh adding that the big race is a triangular circuit on the lake marked by a buoy with flag at three points.

  • The Ernakulam Sailing Association (ESA) was founded seven years ago by Joe Nejedly, proprietor Praga Marine and current president of the Association. “We have 30 boats comprising Lasers, sailing catamarans, Gocats, The Optimist and more. The optimist is for children and almost 80 % children who win medals start with The Optimist,” says Joe.
  • The club at Panangad is a site of hectic activity every weekend where 15-20 keen sailors assemble and set out. “We have life membership and also a sailing membership that allows for temporary experiences,” says Joe. The club has hosted three National Championships, the last one being a 60-boat regatta in Cherai in 2015.

The Toppers, he explains, is a cross between an advanced category boat and a beginner’s boat, perfect for a tyro.

Thrissur-based entrepreneur Varghese James Cheeran, 43, is a kayakar who has been training regularly. The sailing experience is very different, he says. “ It needs a lot of application, an understanding of the winds, practice, co-ordination and is much more fun.” He adds that ideally the technique should be learnt when young as it requires fitness and flexibility.

Retd. Commodore TK Ashokan, the club’s president, says that the club has invested in top-class equipment, trainers and facilities to promote water sports. “We are serious about kayaking and sailing and are looking for sporting excellence. There is a general lack of both awareness and facilities. Such events help bring more people onto the waters.”

So far there are six registrations from children and two adults, one each from Thrissur and Kottayam; people can also sign up for beginners class. People can watch the race from the coast around the lake in Cheppanam.

Karl says Kerala has ideal conditions for water sports. However, Thomas points out that many parents who object to these activities due to fear, and thus nurture a phobia for water. Cdr Sam T Samuel, co-founder Kalypso Adventures, agrees adding that white water rafting begun by his company too had few takers because of this fear factor. “The priority for us is to perform well only in academics; niche sports like this will suffer,” he says.

  • Round the year sailing and watermanship events of the Indian Navy are held in Kochi, (at all the training establishments under SNC), which include races in Enterprise and Laser Class boats and newer 29 Er, 49 Er and Hobbie cat boats. They also conduct coaching camps for children and unit level events for service personnel and families.
  • The Ocean Sailing Node set up at INS Mandovi, Goa in Aug 2016 with the aim to foster ‘ocean sailing’ amongst naval officers has a branch in Kochi. Routine sailing activities such as “away sail boats” and “whaler” sailing expeditions are conducted periodically for keeping the sailing skill alive amongst naval personnel.

Nevertheless, the club is gearing up for D Day. Rajesh, and co-ordinator Syam Mohandas, are busy with the participants readying them to enjoy a day of sailing.

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Printable version | May 26, 2020 6:36:17 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/life-and-style/the-wind-among-kochis-toppers/article30663574.ece

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