Chennai has a professional sailing team. In fact, it’s India’s first pro sailing team. And it’s aiming to go places. All set to sail in the world J/80 class world championships off the coast of Spain in the Cantabrian Sea off Bilbao next month, the team is proud of the efforts it has put in to have come up to a level as to compete on an even keel with the world’s best in this category of a single keel boat.
The team — consisting of Chinna Reddy K. (captain), Abhimanyu Panwar, Janeshwar Raja, Capt. Satish, Capt. Ashwin and Ms Durga Das — will be sponsored by AeroNero, a company that is earning a name for plucking water out of atmospheric air. A sponsor is vital to the creation of the first pro team as sailing is an expensive sport.
The J/80 is an exciting type of boat and the race off the picturesque town in Basque country by the name Getxo will be a series of 15 races of 70 minutes duration each spread over a week (July 13 to 20). The J/80 class will, in fact, be the boat that will be sailing in the 2024 Olympics and any youngsters with dreams of Olympic gold would do well to train in these boats.
The skipper Chinna Reddy’s team decided to go pro and enter in the open category where they will be competing against the world’s best sailors in this class of boat. More than 100 entries are expected, mostly from France, Spain, Germany, UK and the rest of Europe in boats that are made in France. The beauty of the competition is all boats will be of the same single fixed keel type and save for minor variations in the types of sails used, sailing in them will offer the finest possible level playing field.
The Chennai team will be employing only four of its six members in each race, according to tactical requirements. The intricacies of the competition are such the sailing is intense with split second decisions to be taken by the minute on the wind, what the competition is doing and how to get the boat moving at its fastest in order to avoid penalty points. Speed is everything and each race will be decided by boats separated by just a second or less at the finish.
Ms Durga Das is the most interesting member of the group in the sense that she has been driven by the spirit of entrepreneurship right from her school and college days and has blazed a trail of being involved in business. She will be one of those racing from one side of the boat to the other for shaping the balance and intuitively understanding what the tactician Abhimanyu and the skipper decide to do.
Chinna is the true professional in the group with a history of achievements in sailing, besides coaching young talent. The tactician Abhimanyu is an accomplished young sailor who has been the national champion five times and been in the national squad seven times. Janeshwar, who is an architect and a good oarsman, is the bowman of the boat and the other two members are actually pilots of Indigo Airlines who are keen sailors who have been training with the pro team whenever their air off duty hours permit.
Based on the wind and the conditions, four of the six will be in each race with 350 kgs being the combined weight permitted on board. Many teams comprise six sailors but the Chennai team believes a crew of four gives them the space on the boat to be tactically shrewder. “We will be happy even if we finish in the top 10 or 20 in the race as we are racing in the open category against the best of Europe,” the team concedes.
Their ranking in the race would not be any less for lack of effort. There is something very professional about this team and its ability to put in its best. In fact, all the sailors have won ample number of medals in the sport to show for their skill sets in a demanding sport that is subject to the vagaries of the wind and water.
"It’s a bit like playing chess. I see the wind and gauge it and give the right inputs to the captain who takes the final call on how the boat moves. There are 4 to 5 elements to be judged every minute on the wind, sails, speed and all four crew have vital roles to play,” explains Abhimanyu. The fascinating part is finally it is only skill sets that separate the winners from the rest as each team races with the same equipment.
The J/80 class vessel is an eight metre boat balancing on a single keel with such sailing characteristics as to let you take it on long journeys, even on rough seas. In fact, Chinna sailed in one from Chennai to Goa in 13 days. In the regattas, the provisions they would need most are water, electra salts to avoid dehydration, oranges, apples, energy bars, etc. The offshore planning in finding time to rest, boat and sail maintenance and a myriad tasks will also determine which team goes off to the water in the best of shape and mood.
Ms Durga, who played cricket in India and then went on to play and Captain the USA team also played golf. She is celebrating her 50th year by being part of this pro team after taking to sailing just five to six years ago. Her dream is to achieve something in everything she tries her hand at and is convinced this team has it in terms of understanding and team members bonding. There are prizes for various categories like best women’s team, top youth team, top Masters, top Mixed and the top Corinthian crews. The team AeroNero has, however, chosen to take on the best in open competition.