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Making waves

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

travel Updated: Jan 28, 2011 12:03 IST

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.

Then 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." make 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."

'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. Final