It’s chess on the water, said Homi Motivala, a champion yachtsman. We were, at that point, a few kilometers off the coast on one of 16 yachts participating in the Regatta, a championship being held for only the second time in Mumbai.
The competition was fierce with expert sailors, including six Arjuna awardees, participating in the race. Motivala, an award winner himself and owner of Sailing Stuff, a company that maintains yachts, agreed to show us the ropes, literally.
Though newer luxury yachts have cutting-edge technology, the basics of sailing stay as they were 5,500 years ago when humans are first said to have taken to the seas.
“You’re looking at understanding aerodynamics and hydrodynamics,” Motivala explained, as the two of us clung to the railings on either side of the yacht. He held the sailboat at a 45-degree angle by Motivala to best capture the wind, pausing to give instructions to the crew that comprised three others.
Some tinkering later, he continued: “The sails are basically foils, very similar to the wings of a plane, creating lift as it helps you to move. The underwater part is the hydrofoils, which also creates lift. Sailing has a lot to do with positioning, and tactics,” he said. “The beauty of it is that conditions change from minute to minute, not just day to day. So right now, we’re sailing in 8-10 knots; it could suddenly change to 14-15 knots.”
The yacht had a total of four sails–the jib to help sail against the wind, two types of spinnakers, another type of fore-sail, and of course the main sail. We, of course, got all our nautical terminology mixed up, calling the front of the boat the stern instead of the bow.
A couple of hours on the sea and some complex maneuvers later, Motivala, his crew, and the two not-so-mute spectators had won the final race.
“It’s a fairly complex sport, but you don’t have to get to that level of complexity if you just want to enjoy sailing,” said Motivala.
Sailing isn’t exactly a cheap hobby though. Especially if you want to own a luxury yacht. With most yachts being imported, prospective sailors would have to shell out upwards of Rs 2 crore, not including customs duty, for a brand new boat.
One of the boats competing in this year’s regatta was Stargazer, a 40-foot vessel built by Mumbai-based Sheri Bamboat’s XS Marines. Bamboat, who started his company in 2006, is now one of the most sought-after boat builders in the city.
He builds his boats at a yard off the coast of Mumbai in Mandwa, and employs local labour. A number of the smaller boats docked at the Gateway of India have been built and are maintained by his company.
“It has just started up; the market is small,” he said. “There is like me maybe another person building yachts. But, I have a wide variety to offer starting from small boats to those as big as 8-13 feet.”
He also makes the most common boats seen at the harbours in Mumbai and Chennai – the 21-foot day sailer in which Bamboat has even sailed to Muscat. Boats like the 40-foot Stargazer are on the higher end of the price spectrum, costing upwards of Rs 1.75 crore.
For those who can’t spend that much, there’s an alternative. Bamboat offers young aspiring sailors in Mumbai some advice: “You can join the Colaba Sailing Club as a permanent member at about Rs 50,000-60,000, and you pay about Rs 9,000 inclusive of GST for eight months of sailing. For paisa vasool, all you have to do is sail everyday and recover your money.”