There is something therapeutic and even meditative in the relationship between a person and his / her ride. This is not the mundane, every day, commuter ride but a leisure ride of discovery that one takes from time to time. Be it a man powered ride like a cycle or an oil burning one like a RE Bullet this is something only someone who rides will understand. This mysticism gets compounded when the ride is powered by the elements of nature, specifically the wind. A sail boat is an antithesis, on land it is heavy and difficult to move but one the water and the sail up it can go up to 60 kms per hour I was informed today under the skillful guidance of an experienced sailor.
On Sunday I had the pleasure of sailing in a J/80 sailboat which is Europe’s and North America’s largest selling sailboat under the guidance of three crew members. Along with some friends I signed up for a sailing programme for beginners by the over 100 year old Royal Madras Yacht club. The oldest sailing club in South India, it is tucked away in a corner of the sprawling Madras Port. There were a few reasons why I signed up for this including it being a novel experience, a new form of cross training, an little known leisure sport but for me personally it was an attempt to dispel my fears of the water. I have always feared the water and the fact that I cannot swim compounded it so this activity in the water which did not need the sailor to snow swimming seemed a good option.
So we reached Gate 7 of the Port that is the one near the RBI subway and had the childhood pleasure of counting the railway wagons on the goods train that crossed us in the siding inside (62 wagons). Inside the tiny club (near the boat basin in the map) we had a briefing about sailing and the various facets of the club. What fascinated us was a board that said (read very carefully)
“The only reasons to not sail:
- You get married
- You die”
After a light lunch provided in the club, we got to see the various boats that were available in the club and the boats that we were going to use. We learnt that children start sailing at the age of 7 and the presence of some children who deftly handled their small boats single handed me us feel a little funny. I noticed a small boy around 8 or so dismantling his sails and carrying it inside to the storage then he went about washing his upturned boat before he left the club.
So finally the time for the big event came when the group of 30 odd including some kids were separated into 5 groups of 5/6 each based on the size of the boats. The Vice President of the club who flies planes for a living and sails boats for fun gave us the option of opting for boats that will have a possibility of capsizing and allowing the sailors the experience of the Chennai seas or go for the larger boats that do not capsize. Only a brave kid from the group opted for the former and so we had the boats that promised a dry spin. Each boat had a crew of 2/3 depending on the size, my group of 6 including 2 women had a crew of 3. The person manning the tiller had an experience of 24 years on the boat and so even I was reassured getting on the boat.
To make the activity more fun, it was proposed that the teams have a race and since we used two types of boats the slower boats had a few minutes handicap or early start. We had the larger J80 as mentioned earlier. The sailing trip by itself was relatively incident free and the waters were calm, we got to see one part of Chennai for the first time, the quays of the port with the cranes and other machinery, the buoys in the water that guide the ships into the port and the exciting sunken ship whose mast or rather the top part of it is visible above the waters. Our trip was to two of the floating buoys and the sunken ship which we did however the zig zag route that we took based on the wind pattern took some time to get used to. After some time we did not bother about the race but settled down to enjoy the sensations of being carried by the wind and rocked by the waves. The women in the group were given the task of handling the jib by means of two ropes that had to be adjusted as instructed by the expert manning the tiller. The ladies did a great job especially locking the jib in place. The other crew members were two engineering college students who sailed on the weekends who kept giving us tips on sailing and explaining the mechanics of the boat.
Having overcome my initial apprehensions and fears I got the confidence to get up and walk about the boat and even posed for a few pictures. Like I said once you get into the zone with your ride it can be therapeutic and I realized why this sport draws people. It is fun to sail in a large boat and it becomes a commuter ride or a picnic but it is exceptional when you control the boat. Watching some children sailing solo in their small boats nonchalantly riding the waves and manning the tiller, the ropes while having a conversation with their friends in the other boats I felt wistful that maybe I should have discovered this earlier.
The feeling of sailing a tiny boat in the wide ocean with the wind behind you and the horizon ahead, incredible.
Collage pics courtesy Sid & Smith, made with Picage