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Monday, June 4, 2012

the sailing boat race held at Thondi

          Sometime back I had posted about the  Skandia Sail for Gold Regatta 2011 held at Weymouth, Great Britain.  More than 1000 sailors participated in the Regatta battling across a total of 13 classes.   There is also another famous one -  The Volvo Ocean Race (formerly the Whitbread Round the World Race),  a yacht race around the world, held every three years.  One of the highlights of the event is the in-port race where spectators can watch closesly the action where man and machine engage in battle.  The race course for the in-port race is always close to shore.  In Europe there are many enthusiasts to such events who watch from spectator boats, nearest beach cliffs, breakwater and from other vantage points.   The route of Volvo Ocean route gets changed to accommodate various ports of call, the race typically departs Europe in October, and in recent editions have had either 9 or 10 legs, with in-port races at many of the stopover cities.  Understand that in 2008-2009  it included  stopovers in India and Asia for the first time.
As you would know, sailing is propelling a boat and controlling its movement with big fabric foils called soils.  By deft changes to the rudder and some other movements, sailors would manage the wind and navigate in the sea moving at commendable speed.  This requires a mastery of skills knowing the wind and sea conditions.  With the advent of powerful marine engines, the sailing crafts have lost way – still are used for recreational purposes and movements in specified places.   Sail boats propelled entirely by sails are called by various names going by region and culture.   Regatta is a series of boat races typically describing racing events of rowed or sailed crafts.  These are mostly amateur competitions organized in particular areas for specified type of boats.   There are some held in big rivers and others held at seas.  
There are some local versions as well in a Country known for boats and sailing many centuries ago.  In southern part of India, especially in Tamilnadu, there existed the Kingdoms of Chera, Chola, Pandya and Pallavas.  The Chozha dynasty  ruled  long periods with the fertile Kaveri rier delta valley as their heartland.   Their kingdom peaked during the latter half of 9th century till the beginning of 13th century.   Emperor Rajaraja Chola and his son Rajendra Chola, raised  the dynasty  to be a major military, economic and cultural power in their days.  History has it their naval prowess was well established as also was their trade across sea.  Not of that heritage is well preserved.   Besides Chennai, Cuddalore and Tuticorin there are many other sea shore ports.  Thondi is a small panchayat town now but one which reportedly flourished during the Sangam period alongside, Mamallapuram, Puhar Poraiyaru, Korkai and Kumari. Musiri and Thondi are recorded in some literary songs also as having warehouses for storing the goods.
In keeping alive an age-old competition of fishermen, every year a special boat race is held in Tamilnadu at the time of Vinaya Chathurthi.  The tradition is being held high even at a time when the art is slowly dying owing to modernization of boats and changes in fishing methods.  Near Thondi is the Arulmigu Kadalsool Mariamman temple and every year a large flotilla of catamarans compete.  Though the numbers are not very large, it is reported that around 15 such catamarans competed this year in the race.  The catamarans had to sail 20 km — to a marked point and return to the shore after going round a boat anchored in the sea.  The triangle-shaped sail fixed on the boat has to be moved based on wind direction. No fuel is needed and only the skill of boatmen counts. The boatmen must have the expertise to sail the catamaran both against and with the wind. They have to adjust the direction as per the course of the wind. Otherwise they will drift away from the race line and take much longer a time to complete the race.
In most fishing hamlets, with changing times, fisherman have switched over to trawlers and motorized boats and not much of catamaran activity continues.  Still there are reports that the ancient sport attracted huge crowds.  The prizes are not of a high magnitude and the winner takes a cash prize of Rs.5000/- not a big amount by any standards.  The participants and the Organisers felt that the Fisheries Department or the Tourism Department was not patronizing this elegant competition though it has the capacity to attract thousands of tourists from far off place with some publicity and media glare.  
Though there have been many fishing hamlets in coastal Tamilnadu, there was not much of organized activity.  It is stated that  Sir Francis Spring, the first Chairman of the Madras Port Trust, founded the Madras Sailing Club in 1911. The Club was later accorded ‘Royal’ status by a warrant from the Sovereign of the United Kingdom and its name was changed to The Royal Madras Yacht Club.   There were reports that the  Club has planned to celebrate Madras Day on September 4, 2011 by sailing from the Harbour to Elliot’s Beach in a procession.  
In the Port city of Chennai there are not much of yachts or pleasure crafts one gets to see.  The catamarans that once dotted Marina beach have also dwindled.  There two rivers Coovum river and Adyar  (besides Backingham canl) are extremely polluted and are no longer navigable, killing the possibility of oar or sail boats on them, though trade by country crafts was operated decades ago.  The Coovum river originates in adjoining Thiruvallur district and flows through Nungambakkam, Chintadripet and Chepauk  for a total length of 16 km approx.  It is reported that studies undertaken as part of a World Bank-funded project showed that it is 80% more polluted than treated sewer.   It reportedly still saved the city preventing a larger devastation by taking the incoming ocean water during the Indian Ocean tsunami of 2004. 
 aerial view of Adyar river
On one rainy day, hundreds of curious onlookers gathered round the banks of coovum engrossed in looking at the middle of the river.  Those assembled kept whispering to each other that a crocodile had been spotted and that it was extraordinarily long.  The crowds swelled though none had spotted any crocodile. After spending many a minutes, they could see some movement on the river front….  Yes in the middle they could see a face as also two glowing eyes but was standstill – as akin to the trait of a marsh crocodile and  rumours started flowing about its origin, size, what it could do et al.. then people started throwing stones in that direction and there was frenzied activity.
Slowly the animal shook itself and emerged from the sewer  -  it was a local buffalo….. !!!
Regards – S. Sampathkumar.
19th Sept. 2011


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