December 2010


Sailing In Bolgoda
December 2010




The helmsman of a GP14 that capsized in heavy winds waits patiently while his crew (in the water, unseen) untangles the sails

My weekend getaways are typically in some jungle, to be as far away as possible from people and other necessary evils of civilisation. However, my cousin invited me one Sunday to go sailing with him. Not sure what to expect, yet looking forward to spending a day away from the city, we headed off to Bolgoda Lake. 

Words and Photography: Shehan Ramanayake

My experiences on boats have been minimal at best and I have found comfort in the use of an outboard motor. However, sailboats are a different animal - what if the wind dies? What if it isn't blowing in the right direction? Who will come save us if we capsize? Aren't I too young to be writing a will? The mandatory life jackets were comforting, and I kept my questions to myself as my instructor (my cousin Sarith, just 22 years old but with vast experience tugging at sails and chasing the wind) gave me a few pointers on the basic technique while still on safe, dry land.

Finally, we were in the boat, and my job was simply to steer the tiller, while Sarith would work the sails, giving me a practical demonstration on how to handle a sailboat. Retorts to my many concerns were curt, but he pointed out that this was easier than driving on the Galle Road. True.

In fact, sailing makes for great recreation as much as it is a sport - some may even consider an art. It is just you, the water, the wind and open space. A little bit of skill doesn't hurt though. Sarith had a running commentary going, which, although informative, was a little embarrassing for me - it had taken me close to half my life to understand the difference between port and starboard, and that one could actually sail into the wind if you chart a simple zig-zag course, known as 'beating', while angling your sails diagonal to the wind. It was like being in school again, minus my lunch box and Star Wars drink bottle.

I found myself engulfed in this new and exciting escapade, though I probably handled the boat more like Captain Haddock than Jack Sparrow. Meanwhile, a call to turn to starboard ended with me turning the boat to the left, causing the sails to catch the wind the wrong way and the boat to start keeling over. A few expletives later, we had to correct to get back on course. As Sarith ducked under the sails from one side of the boat to the other, he grabbed a rope (which for some reason sailors call a sheet) and I was ordered to follow suit - which meant literally hanging horizontally off the side of the boat, holding on to a rope that was connected to one of the sails. I followed, not nearly as gracefully but effectively enough to bring the boat under control again.

The Ceylon Motor Yacht Club dates back to the 1920s and has been visited by their Majesties, the late King and Queen of Nepal (1956) and Prince Philip.

What proceeded after was simply exhilarating - hanging off a boat, inches above the water as the vessel gained speed and accelerated into open space. With an increasingly stiffening back, I wondered when I might return to the luxury of only holding on to the tiller, but I was sternly instructed not to let go, and felt a bit like 'Rose' from the 'Titanic'.

Eventually our little run was over as we sailed back to the club and docked without further incident and all the hard work called for a cold, bubbly beverage. As we sat and laughed over my first sail, we watched other yachtsmen who were participating in the Sunday race with impressive skill, weaving deftly around buoys and markers on the course set out for that day.

Sailors both young and old take to the waters in Bolgoda to master vessel and wind. In fact, the quality of sailing is quite high - several sailors have competed in the Olympics and Sri Lanka has also won medals at the Asian Games in sailing. In addition, Sri Lanka is set to host the World GP14 Sailing Championships in Negombo in February 2011. Sailing events around the Island in Mirissa, Trincomalee and the Galle Harbour are also organised at various times of the year. Contacting the Ceylon Motor Yacht Club would be the best way for enthusiasts to stay abreast of the sailing calendar.

Other sailing destinations in Sri Lanka:

Mirissa(December)

Trincomalee (August)

Galle Harbour (year round)

Unbeknown to many sailing has been around in Sri Lanka for quite sometime and is now gradually increasing in popularity. To sail away from the rigours of our concrete-embracing existence, Bolgoda Lake offers a getaway from the increasingly busy city that Colombo is becoming. I guarantee it will be a peaceful and rewarding experience. It might also help to write "port" and "starboard" on the back of your left and right hands, respectively, just for good measure.

 


 

 

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    Two Optimists on a downwind run

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    A Hornet dinghy in sail, with its crew hiking out on a trapeze to keep the boat on an even keel

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    The Optimist has become the world’s most popular junior sailboat, and children as young as seven years old sail these in Bolgoda

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    A GP14 dinghy planing on a broad reach, flying its colourful spinnaker

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