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Rise and rise of sailing in India - the magic of Lake Vembanad

by Jimmy Shallet/Sail-World Cruising on 14 Apr 2012
Sailing in Kerala - a training session SW

Sailing is exploding in India, and there's no surer sign than the number of children that are discovering the sport. The state of Kerala is ideal for such activies, with its vast 'backwaters' full of waving palms and gently flat waters. Adjoining Vembanad Lake is the longest freshwater lake in India and was home this week to some young trainee sailors, as Jimmy Shallet describes:

Thronging the shores of the placid Vembanad backwaters this week were a bunch of exhilarated children. And, what excites them is sailing- its art of controlling the wind and wafting their boat through deep waters. Seems like the unfathomable waters of the lake have not scared them one bit.

'It is exactly this we had in mind when we started to train them to control the yacht, besides promoting the watersport. Presence of mind,

courage and decision-making are the three key features a child learns from the moment? he/she step into the water,' says Jolly Thomas, the coach.

He adds that once the children are in the water, they are by themselves. 'As the boat is purely controlled by the wind, the chances of it capsizing cannot be ruled out.

'They are devoid of any external help and a decision has to be made very quickly for it will be a ‘do-or-die’ situation,' he said.

Jolly Thomas said the children dutifully obey the instructions given to them. 'Once you are in the deep waters, you get commands and you have to act accordingly,' he said.

The coach’s words proved

right when Suzann Thomas, a seven-year-old girl jumped right into the deep waters with a life jacket. Suzann does not know how to swim and had only joined the training session just a day before.

Rahul Thomas, a 13-year-old from secondary school in Thevara, said it was the sheer thrill of this adventure sport that prompted him to take up sailing.

'I love the thrill this gives. From Vembanad backwaters, we have sailed to Marine Drive and Vaikom,' he said. Rahul has participated in the national and international yachting championships held in Chennai.

The Kerala Watersports and Sailing Organisation, which conducts the training, said the training was being offered free of cost for children between the age group 7-15. Other age-groups have to pay a registration fee.

Girija Govind, Secretary, Kerala Watersports and Sailing Organisation, said yachting has always been put on the back burner, with many people considering it to be a ‘sport of the rich’. 'Kerala is blessed with an ambience to promote a sport like sailing,' she said, 'It has both backwaters and the sea.'

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