All hail the sail

On a visit to the Naval Academy at Ezhimala, TNIE reporter Krishna P S & lensman E Gokul get into the thick of Admiral’s Cup action
All hail the sail

KOCHI:  In a splendid stretch of the Arabian Sea off the coast of Ettikulam in Kannur, 22 naval sailors from several parts of the world are engaged in a race for maritime glory – the 12th Admiral’s Cup. Hosted by the Indian Naval Academy (INA) at Ezhimala, the 12th edition of the Navy’s annual three-day sailing regatta started on Wednesday, with participants from 20 friendly navies. 

Team TNIE gets the honour of joining Commodore Amitav Mookherjee, principal director of training at INA, on a boat heading to the race zone. Starting from the Ettikulam harbour, one can see cadets and trainees manouevre their sailboats to line up along the starting point in the sea. “It is difficult to hold position, as the ceaseless waves keep swaying the boats,” says Cmde Amitav. “Just a 10-second delay in starting can cost one dearly. See how some are struggling to align their boats with the starting line.”

Marking the 75th year of NDA,
a Super Dimona aircraft flies over sailboats

As the race starts about 3.30pm, the 22 sailors competing in the ‘Gold Fleet’ category, set their sail to a 45-degree angle to the direction of the wind. Zig-zagging the waters, they zip towards an orange buoy. “They have to circle the buoy without the boat touching it, return to the starting line, and do the circle once more,” explains Cmde Amitav. 

Zooming in the binoculars, one can see seaman Gorkunov Petr from Russia in the lead, closely trailed by Indian Navy cadet G Y Reddy. A team of umpires on a boat keeps a close watch on the sailors. Three quick-response boats also circle the racing zone, ready to help in case of accidents. And lo, a boat capsizes! 

“Sailboats will not sink,” Cmde Amitav comments as he points to the capsized boat. “See, that sailor is righting his boat.” As said, within seconds, the sailor is back in the race. Meanwhile, the sailors from Russia, India and Italy race back to the starting point, vying for the first position. Gorkunov, it is. The Russian gets a lead, with a margin of a few seconds. 

“There will be two races a day. They will race again after a short break. Then, we will tally the points, the fouls, etc., and, the rank list will be updated,” says Cmde Amitav. As we, the spectators, return to the shore on our boat, navigated by a Odiya fisherman working at the harbour, the second race of the begins.

By evening, all the sailors return to the shore, leaving behind the midsea rivalry. It’s time for camaraderie. As the waves turn stronger near the shore, the sailboats capsize, one after the other. “See, this is where diplomacy starts,” laughs Cmde Amitav, pointing to the competitors helping each other –  Russia helping Germany. “When friendly nations come together for such events, we can foster a stronger relationship. We meet casually here, rather than being in our stiff uniforms, and are more free to interact. That’s why we organise events such as the Admiral’s Cup.” 

After taking leave from the commodore, as we walk along the shoreline, we bump into the Indian sea cadet, Reddy, who is cleaning his boat, having just returned from the sea. He says the weather has been great for racing. “Today, the wind wasn’t harsh. Though I finished second overall, I managed to clock the best timing in the second round. I am hopeful that, after a gap of nine years, India will lift the Admiral’s Cup this time,” he beams.

Reddy has been training in sailing since the time he joined for B.Tech at INA four years ago. This is his fourth international sailing championship. At the five-nations Commandant’s Cup Sailing Regatta in Sri Lanka in January, he clinched the gold. 

In his third international event, in Brazil, the Indian team won a bronze. “That was a proud moment. In Brazil, we were in new waters. We got just one day for practice. Yet, we got the bronze,” says Reddy.
The final round of the prestige battle at Ezhimala will be held on Friday. Along with the Admiral’s Cup and Runners-Up Cup, the male and female champions will also be awarded.

Participating teams

India, Russia, the UK, France, Japan, Italy, Sri Lanka, Iran, Spain, Australia, Indonesia, Malaysia, South Africa, Vietnam, New Zealand, Oman, Bangladesh, Tanzania and Venezuela (debut)

Positions, as on Thursday 

Individual: 1. Seaman Gorkunov Petr (Russia) 2. Mishipman Avallone Antonio (Italy) 3. Cadet G Y Reddy (India)  

Team: 1. Italy 2. India 3. UK

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