[Inage from Unsplash]
By Arjun Chaudhuri
Now that the monsoon hovers over India, people who are hobbyist sailors have anchored their boats. But once winter sets in and the met department gives an all clear, all of them will get back into the water. It won’t be too long before that happens. That is why this piece, now. I want to advocate that you, dear reader, take up sailing. Not as a once in a lifetime activity, but as a regular form of recreation much like any sport you choose to play. And no, I’m not here to sell any boats!
And may I implore you to ignore most narratives in the popular domain about sailing being the exclusive preserve of billionaires and naval officers. Because these narratives have it that new yachts can cost upwards of $1 million. And they need places to be docked and maintained, neither of which is particularly affordable.
That makes me wonder, haven’t people heard of sailing clubs? The kinds of places where boats can be hired? Wait! I’m getting ahead of the narrative. Let me start at the beginning.
Learning to sail comes with no fitness requirements, you don’t even need to know how to swim and there are no age restrictions. All you need is access to a boat and a coach. I live in Mumbai and spent time talking to the founders of Aquasail, an entity that offers both.
Shakeel Kudrolli is Aquasail’s managing director and a two time silver medal winner at the World Championships. He says, “You can begin to sail by yourself even 2 hours into our coaching.” The base courses teach you all you need to know about how to take a boat out into the sea, and sail under pleasant conditions. More advanced courses teach you how to manoeuvre a boat in challenging conditions, sail overnight and how you must plan the provisions and logistics for longer sails. What about the equipment I may need to sail? Lifejackets, helmets and gloves come with the boat you choose to sail, Kudrolli told me. This emphasis on safety does, however, require a complete disclosure of any health conditions you may have. “You can sail regardless of your health,” Kudrolli reassures me, “but you must disclose any conditions to us so that we can plan our instruction around it. Not being forward about any issues can be dangerous.”
Of course, travelling to Mumbai just to learn to sail is not realistic, especially if you happen to live on the other side of the country. On the Eastern coastline, Quest Asia offers a service, similar to Aquasail in Mumbai. They’re partnered with the Tamil Nadu Sailing Association, and teach you to sail in Palk Bay.
So long as you pay attention to your lessons, you can learn to sail without ever having to look at a brochure for boats!
So you’ve learnt to sail. What comes next? You could choose to continue sailing with Aquasail. The firm offers a four-tiered club membership. The basic offering costs Rs 15,000 per season, and gives discounts of up to 50% on the firm’s “Discover Sailing” products. As a club member, regardless of which tier you choose, you can sail at any of Aquasail’s centres in Mumbai, Goa or Mandwa.
If you enjoyed your time sailing but are unsure about buying into a club membership or camp, you can choose to lease a boat. Leasing offers greater flexibility, but does mean you’ll be responsible for much of the preparation work that goes into sailing. Prices depend upon the location you choose to sail from, the time of the year, and of course the model of the sailboat itself. Several sites offer options to lease at various destinations across the Western coast. I found that these three sites are reviewed favourably, and offer boats across a wide price range:
You could also reach out to your preferred destination’s yacht club. Today, there are more than 50 yacht clubs spread across 25 cities, and you may be able to charter a sailboat privately from a member of these clubs, as long as you have prior experience in sailing. This method may yield mixed results, and you require a discerning eye for the quality of sailboats.
When and where to sail?
“India is one of the best places in the world to sail!” says Zia Hajeebhoy, director at Aquasail, “Predictable winds and calm waves, especially on the Western coastline, means anyone can sail easily.”
Mumbai, as the largest coastal city and bearing the advantages of this smoother Western coastline, is a hotspot of sailing activity. Of the 50 yacht clubs I mentioned earlier, 14 are in the city, further bolstered by the various other sailing clubs. Clubs, like the Imperial Yacht Club of Mumbai, go a step further, offering short sailing lessons of their own. You can also explore the Colaba Sailing Club, the Bombay Sailing Association, or the Navi Mumbai Yacht Club. Anmol Shrivastava, who took his first lessons in sailing earlier this year, emphasised the convenience of the sport’s extended presence in the city: “It very much became a social plan. I intended to watch the IPL match with some friends who visited Mumbai, and we could easily add sailing to the itinerary as well because of how close everything is.”
Goa must feature on any list concerning water sports, and it does not disappoint on the matter of sailing. Many of the clubs based in Mumbai offer sister services in Goa. There are also private contractors who provide boats and lessons, however the quality of both can vary widely. You may find it more comfortable to learn sailing with an established club, before dealing with these contractors.
Kerala boasts India’s only international marina, in the city of Kochi. It features favourable winds and minimal tidal variations. This makes it an idyllic location to learn sailing. The Kerala Watersport Organisation (KWSO) organises training sessions for sailing at Kochi. You can also find sailing clubs from Mumbai, such as the Sailing School of India, operating in the city as well. Independent operators also operate on large lakes like Lake Vembanad. Kerala’s combination of large backwaters and access to the sea make it an idyllic location to learn and practice sailing.
Lakshadweep is also emerging as a popular location to sail. Learning to sail here is not ideal. Sailing popularly occurs on the island of Kadmat, where you can hire sailing yachts, but there is no formalised institute of instruction.
The sailing season extends for eight months in India. From the start of October till the end of May, you can sail the seas without complication. This is in large part due to the stability of conditions in the waters surrounding India. The monsoon season puts a halt to sailing for most firms due to the risk associated, but you could continue sailing in large lakes like the Upper Lake in Bhopal, Nainital in Uttarakhand, or the aforementioned Vembanad in Kerala .
You now know where to learn sailing, and where to sail. The only question that remains is why should you take it up to begin with?
“A meditative experience”
That’s how Anmol described his first time sailing. “You can really and truly introspect because it’s just you and the open sea after one point.”
It shouldn’t, however, be misinterpreted as a passive activity. The boat is always moving, and the wind shifts around. Aman Chopra, who is an auto-industry executive on dry land, spoke of the rigours of sailing: “When you go sailing in a sailboat, you have to be very attentive, very focused. It’s your skill working with nature.” Chopra makes clear that despite the active nature of the sport, it is contemplative. “When I’m on a sailboat, I’m one with nature. It’s almost like I connect with the wind.”
I started out a sceptic when it came to the world of sailing. I bought into the misconceptions that it was simply a sport for old moneyed billionaires and navy officers. Complicated and inaccessible. I have discovered that this could not be further from the truth. The burgeoning sailing community is warm and welcoming, full of excitement and youthful vigour. They are everyday people, all of whom are committed to exploring a sport that is straightforward to learn, and even easier to practice. It may be the poetic beating inside of me, but I can’t help wondering what secrets I may discover on the boat. Secrets of the sea, and myself. Needless to say, I’m going to be sailing at the first sight of clear skies.
Arjun Chaudhuri is a student of Economics and Public Policy at the University of Toronto. He works as a researcher at the Munk School, conducting his own research in public administration in South Asia. He is currently interning at Founding Fuel.