CHENNAI: As it nears 6 pm at the Chennai harbour, young children return in sailboats with life jackets and with tired expressions. Their training has become more rigorous as the Asian Games approach and around 10 children from the Tamil Nadu Sailing Association (TNASA) are participating in the Games this year.
“I have been sailing since I was nine,” says Nithya (11). The children are confident and bold, and the young sailors have selected a sport far off the beaten track. Most of them began training at a summer camp held at TNSA and continued full time.
The club, which began in 2002, was earlier associated with the Royal Madras Yatch Club and specially targeted children, says the manager Harry Antony Charleston. “The sport helps children. They become good decision makers at a young age,” he says.
“I used to be scared of water. But sailing was unusual and was unlike the normal basketball and cricket, so I got interested in it and have been sailing for five years,” says 13-year-old Chitresh who will be participating in the upcoming Asian Games to be held in Korea. He has taken a break from school to train for the games. Jayalakshmi, another girl who will be participating in the Games, says she trains daily from 1 to 5.30 pm.
How good are these children? “I am fourth in the Indian ranking,” says Naveen, another young sailor, casually. His sister Nethra adds modestly, “I think I may be first in the national ranking.”
Their young coaches, Umesh and Dipesh, both from Mumbai, had always wanted to join the navy and developed an interest in sailing. They have both trained for several years. “Sailing is quite different from other sports. You need to rely on wind conditions, have the right mind control and concentration, and be physically fit,” says Dipesh.
The children are first taught the basics, to understand the wind angles and balance the boats, before they gradually start competitive sailing. “In a week or 10 days, most children are ready to sail on their own,” says Umesh.
Sailing, being a niche sport in India, does not have State or district level tournaments but moves directly to the national level. The Sports Authority of India supports and sponsors children in the tournaments.
Lingesh, an instructor and coach who has been a part of the club since its conception, manoeuvres his boat comfortably as it leaps and jerks with the tide.
“There is nothing to be scared of, even if we fall it is into the water and we have life jackets, unlike road accidents!” he says. “Once we are into sailing, it is difficult to get out, the wind and the open space make sure we don’t feel the strain and we find our peace in this,” he adds, as the sun sets over the sea and docked navy ships fade to a blur with only an occasional speedboat causing ripples in the calm waters of the port.