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Mumbai: Sail la vie!

Mumbai is the city by the sea – and yet, Mumbaikars have been determined landlubbers. No longer, though. As more people are beginning to realise, anyone can sail – right here.

india Updated: Jan 29, 2011 17:49 IST
Mignonne Dsouza

Mumbai is the city by the sea – and yet, Mumbaikars have been determined landlubbers. No longer, though. As more people are beginning to realise, anyone can sail – right here.

There are three myths about sailing
1. It is glamorous
2. It is expensive
3. It can only be done in exotic locales abroad, like the Mediterranean

We’re happy to report, then, that while sailing is indeed glamorous, it is neither expensive nor something you can only hope to do on a foreign holiday. It’s possible to both learn and pursue the sport right here in the city, at an agreeable cost, and without being obliged to buy a sailboat.

SailingThen why don’t more people know more about the sport? According to Bejon Madon, an avid sailor since the age of 11 and training coordinator at the Colaba Sailing Club (CSC), this may be because sailing is not a public spectator sport. "Most of the time, we have many people racing, and only one or two spectators – sailing does not always interest the general public," he explains. "However, the clubs now all have websites – this initiative was started a few years ago to create awareness about the clubs and the sport. The CSC has around 700 members now."

Driving Force

Madon himself joined the Sea Cadet Corps (run by Commodore Rabi Ahuja) in 1955, following in the footsteps of his cousin, and stayed there for 34 years, finally retiring as an instructor. Now, he initiates new members of the club into the joys of the sport. According to his book, Sailing for Beginners, the best method is to learn the theory, in stages, and then actually practice under the watchful eyes of an experienced instructor.

"When you know the technicalities, you will want to apply them," explains Madon. "Every day, you will face a different scene, as sailing is heavily dependent on the weather – including the sea, tide and wind conditions."

Usually, the sailing season in Mumbai runs from October to May, generally ceasing during the monsoon when the sea can get very choppy. According to Marcin Kupiec, operations manager and senior instructor at Aquasail India, a private firm that teaches sailing as well as rents and sells sailboats, beginners need to focus on ‘wind awareness’. "That’s because the wind is your primary driving force," he explains. "Next, the different ropes and the rudder help you control the speed and direction of the sailboat."

According to Madon, the direction of the wind can be gauged from telltales – wooden threads attached to wire ropes on the side of the mast and the burgee – a small flag on top of the mast.

Next, learners are made aware of the boat’s centre board or keel. The centre board sticks out from the bottom of the boat and prevents it from sliding sideways or toppling. In a keel boat, the keel is the heaviest part and keeps the boat upright.

Madon adds that the sails must be raised and trimmed (made slack or tight with ropes) or lowered as their relative positions help determine the boat’s speed.

Most sailing in the harbour is done without the use of any advanced equipment, as the instructors use landmarks sighted on the horizon for navigation. The boats usually set out in the morning (between 7 and 8 am) and get back into the harbour before sunset (around 5.30 pm). However, advanced courses, says Shakeel Kudrolli of Aquasail India, teach beginners the use of the compass and GPS devices, so that they can navigate at night.

Kudrolli adds that he aims to teach people to become competent enough to take out a boat on their own. "Some of my students have gained enough confidence to rent sailboats when they holiday in Europe," he says. "Another student bought a sailboat for his family to use on a sailing trip to Lakshadweep."

SailingMake a splash

While such boats allow you to eat, sleep and cook aboard, most of the sailboats available for rent are smaller craft without many frills. "There’s no loo aboard, so you have to wait until you land or go behind the sail," says Rashida Savliwala, a member of the CSC for 13 years now. "Understandably, most women prefer to wait, even though a trip to Mandwa can take three hours."

Luckily, there are a lot of distractions. "Even if you don’t take an active role in sailing the boat, there’s so much to look at," explains Savliwala. "You pass a lot of big ships in the harbour, and get a close look at some of the private yachts as well. Fish sometimes fall into the boat, and if you’re lucky, you can even spot dolphins. Once you reach Mumbai, you can observe landmarks like the Gateway of India and the Taj Mahal hotel from the sea."

"Sailing is also an environmentally-friendly sport, and one that a family can indulge in," adds Kudrolli. Kupiec explains that when he teaches adults and children together, he finds that adults need to understand something before they can do it, while the reverse holds true for kids. "Even a child of six can start to learn sailing," says Kupiec, "It’s not about physical strength, it’s about their attention span."

For families who take to the sport, Kupiec promises a very rewarding time and the joy of enjoying the open space of the water.

"It’s also a good way to overcome a fear of the water, which a lot of people have," he says. "Also, it’s not necessary to know how to swim to become a sailor. I learned to sail at eight, and to swim at 17."

Finally, both Madon and Kupiec can’t stop singing the praises of the sport. "Once it gets into your bloodstream, your entire DNA structure changes," laughs Madon, while Kupiec confidently states, "I never had a student who hasn’t liked the sport once they were introduced to it."Sailing‘It’s fun to cruise with the wind’

We were first introduced to sailing when a friend of ours invited us on a day sail to Mandwa. She asked us to meet her near the Gateway of India at 7 am. Instead of racing across to the other side in a big craft, we found ourselves being ferried by a dinghy to a small boat in Mumbai harbour, and then we helped pull on ropes and lower and raise sails as the small Seabird used the power of the wind to sail across to Mandwa beach.

Sailing doesn’t mean that you have to own a boat and shell out vast amounts of money. We never knew anything about boats or the water, except for knowing how to swim in the sea, but you need not know anything about the sport to enjoy a sail. While there are courses that teach you the sport, the actual learning comes through practical experience. Your sailing instructor will always be there with you (and the boat), when you are sailing and you can be rest assured that you are in safe hands. You just have to listen to them and trust them.

We feel good about sailing because we are doing something something out of the common. Sailing has lots of charm, and it is fun when you cruise with a favourable wind. It can get boring when you are in the middle of the sea with no wind, and it’s scary when the sea is rough. In all, it’s an experience and better than watching TV or movies or social networking.

The feel of sailing itself is so different. Getting into the boat, opening the sail, controlling the tiller and then cruising with the wind – and it becomes better as you enter the middle of the sea when the water starts splashing all over the place. You get better control of the boat with multiple sails, depending on the wind. And standing in the tip of the boat may not rival what Kate and Leo did in Titanic, but it’s better because you are closer to the waves and can actually feel it when the boat cruises through the water.

Each sailing trip is also like a nature trail – you get to see a variety of fish and birds – some of our friends have also seen dolphins. It’s also wonderful to see land from the sea – usually it’s the other way around. You can also reach beaches and islands off limits to others, like Khanderi. And on a sail, there’s always time to break out a picnic. Unlike driving, you can eat and drink and sail at the same time. Finally, reaching the shores of your destination, you feel like you have won one more battle – and definitely completed one more voyage.

— Arindam Basu and Allwyn Rodrigues
(The authors are members of the Colaba Sailing Club)

Kinds of sailboats

A look at some of the boats used by private firms and clubs in the city
Laser Pico: This plastic boat is the most popular craft used by sailing schools across the world to teach children sailing. It is designed so that if a child capsizes the boat, and you right it, no water is left in the boat – it drains away because of the way the cockpit is designed.

Laser Funboat: This is an extremely easy and quick beach dinghy that is ideal for first timers and learners.

Hobie Cat: This is a fast trapeze catamaran ideal for beach sailing.

Hobie Bravo: This beach sailing dinghy is ideal for training people in sailing.

Hobie Beach Catamaran: This particular boat is a forgiving beach catamaran. Since the boat does not have a keel, it is very suitable for beach sailing and can be pulled right up on to the beach. It can also go very fast, as the whole boat does not touch the water – only the two hulls.

First 7.5: This is a 25-footer boat with a full open cockpit, which allows a group of an instructor plus six to seven people to get involved in sailing the boat. This boat is used in the Asian Games for match racing.

First 34.7: This sailboat also allows many people to sail as a group.

Optimist: This is the boat used by the three sailing clubs (the RBYC, BSA and CSC) to teach kids the sport of sailing. It’s a safe boat that is referred to as a ‘small bathtub’.

Seabird: Also known as the ‘Bombay Duck’, this small boat can be used for harbour sailing and accommodates five people.

Lightning: This international racing class boat is built locally and can accommodate four people.

(Info and pix courtesy Aquasail India)

Where to learn sailing
The three clubs that promote sailing in Mumbai – Royal Bombay Yacht Club (RBYC), Bombay Sailing Association (BSA) and Colaba Sailing Club (CSC) – allow only members to take out sailboats from a shared pool of 14 Seabird and Lightning boats. They conduct training sessions in sailing twice a year. You can also participate in club activities by going along as a guest of a member. Alternatively, private firms offer a wider variety of boats and flexible instruction, including learning as a family. They operate clubs and a number of activities through the year.

Royal Bombay Yacht Club
This is the club with the most impressive pedigree. Founded in 1846, the RBYC is housed in an impressive heritage structure in Colaba. Besides sailing, the club offers members other facilities, including reciprocal memberships at clubs around the world. Permanent memberships are on offer at R7 lakhs. Details of other categories of memberships can be had from the club.
Tel: 2202 1880 / 6752 7200

Bombay Sailing Association
Despite its name, the BSA clubhouse is actually located in Mandwa beach. In addition, members can also book two other bungalows owned by the club. Memberships of the BSA range from R35,000 for those aged 18 to 25 years and goes up to R1 lakh for members aged 31 to 35 years. Permanent membership is R3 lakh.
Tel: 2288 2788

Colaba Sailing Club
Founded in 1936, the CSC is the youngest of the three civilian clubs. Membership varies from R20,000 for permanent membership (plus annual fee of R3,000), to life membership at R66,000.
Tel: 2288 2788

Mumbai Yacht Club
This is the only club not situated in Mumbai. The Belapur-based club was founded in February 2010, and has 40 to 45 active members. The club regularly conducts training sessions for those wishing to pick up the ropes of sailing (costs vary from R3,500 to R7,500) in Belapur. The club boasts a fleet of 10 Optimist boats, three 29ers anchored at Belapur and two boats, a 49er and 29er, moored in Mumbai. It is in the process of buying more boats, says a spokesperson.
Tel: 2781 4805

West Coast Marine Yacht Services
This private company rents and sells sailboats and also runs sailing courses on request, prices from R2,800 for a weekend course to R8,273 for a more comprehensive sailing course. It also offers a ‘Boating Force’ membership, wherein members can pay an annual fee, and rent boats.
Tel: 2285 6127 / 2283 1495

The sailing programme conducted by this firm teaches people how to sail in six to 10 sessions. It also teaches long-distance and ocean cruising, including how to navigate via a compass and GPS, and sail at night. It also has Club Aquasail, allowing members access to a clubhouse at Mandwa. Tel: 99876 81826

- From HT Brunch, January 30

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