Out of the four Indian sailing teams set to take part in next month’s J80 World Championship at Bilbao in Spain, three will be from Chennai’s Royal Madras Yacht Club (RMYC). The club, established in 1910, is aiming for a strong finish after one of its teams was placed fifth at last year’s Asian Championship in China. RMYC’s hopes rest on a professional team, a mixed team, and an all-women’s team.
The sport, which is still finding its feet in India, was first introduced to Tamil Nadu a few years back by Captain Vivek Shanbhag, a professional pilot who is part of the mixed team this year.
“We have been producing the best of sailors winning medals at the national and the International levels. RMYC is the only club in India with a fleet of four J80 sailing boats. These fixed kneel one-design sports boats are known for their speed and maneuverability, they primarily used in many International events. For the first time, we are sending three teams for World Championship in Spain and I am part of a six-member mixed team with an equal number of men and women,” he said.
Captain Shanbhag, who is also the vice commodore of the RMYC, hopes that training in Chennai would give them an advantage in the competition as weather conditions in the capital city are quite similar to Spain.
“It’s a team sport, we should have proper synchronization. We have been practicing here for the past couple of months; the conditions here are quite similar to that of Spain, but in European countries, we can train only for six months whereas here in Tamil Nadu we can sail all the 12 months, we are fortunate to train here,” he added.
What does it take to maneuver a J80 sailboat?
The hull (the body of the boat) functions with the help of three sails -- the mainsail, a Jib sail, and a Genneker. The mainsail is used during upwind and a Genneker is used to increase boat speed during low winds. The sails are controlled by sheets (ropes). Depending on the wind direction, these sheets are trimmed to get maximum support from the wind which in turn helps the boat maneuver. The whole set up is steered by a rudder, which is controlled by the skipper.
Along with Captain Shanbhag, his daughter Pallavi Shanbhag is also competing in this Championship. Pallavi had started sailing in 2007 and this will be her first time representing India. “After nine years, I’m back to sail the J80 and it feels surreal. I started off on the optimist (single-handed sailing dinghy) and then I went to the 420 class (double-handed monohull planning dinghy), where I joined hands with Rohini Rau (the all-women’s team skipper and Olympic sailing campaigner) and won the nationals. It’s been interesting, we are training a lot and we sailed a couple of regatta’s (series of boat races) in Chennai where we understood our roles and responsibilities,” says Pallavi.
Ananya Chouhan and Vishnu Sujeesh, who are pursuing mechanical engineering in VIT and SSN colleges, also play a crucial role in RMYC’s mixed team. They both have been sailing since the age of 12 and are excited to compete at International level.
“We have got another 15 days of Intensive training program, we will make sure we get all our bases covered, says Murugan Nadar, the skipper of RMYC’s mixed team.
“I was racing in the Bombay circuit and then I moved to Chennai. I’m now leading a team which has been practicing hard. It took time for us to compile a team, because our combined weight shouldn’t exceed 350 kgs, so we need to choose our team members accordingly. We are all set now, we are confident about the championships,” said Murugan.
RMYC’s professional team will contest in the ‘Open Category’ where they will go up against teams who won gold in Olympics. The professional team is led by Chinna Reddy, a coach at the Yachting Association of India. The other members of the team include Abhimanyu Panwar, Ashwin Kumar, and Sathish.
“It’s the adrenaline rush that keeps pushing me to perform well in this sport. The skipper will be watching other boats and plans his strategies accordingly. My primary role is to block the wind to the boats competing with us so that our boat will move faster,” says Abhimanyu Panwar.
Chinna who came fifth in the last year’s Asian championship, says speed alone doesn’t translate into better finish. “It’s not just about the speed, you need to balance your boat, you need to block other people from gaining an advantage over the wind, all these play a crucial role. Also, you need to make sure you don’t get negative points. The lesser score you get in the regatta, the better position you will get. In the 70-minutes of race, you need to give your best to finish in a better position,” said Chinna.
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