In school I did reasonably well in both academics and sports. I passed out with 78%, with the second highest marks in Maharashtra for Advanced German but almost failed in Basic English! Which makes me wonder what the hell were the Professors smoking in those early Hippie culture days when Bhagwan Rajneesh invaded Pune. I didn’t do too badly in sports either. I was part of the Inter-school 4 x 100 meter relay squad, triple jump, and swimming, in the year that St Vincent’s won the overall sports championship trophy in Pune.
However, there were times in NDA I wished I had opted to become a milkman because dispensing bonhomie to housewives in their negligees would certainly have been better than dispensing bed-tea to sixth termers. Also I put on 10 kgs of body weight in the first two years, because I was eating double the amount in half the time, sleeping during class hours and keeping awake at night! My DivO once woke me up from deep sleep during the study period and remarked “Your desk is as uncluttered as a Sanyasi’s address book!” Both of us laughed merrily at his witty joke and we stopped short of giving each other a ‘high five’ and promising to meet up at the bar. Then he told me to do a ‘seventh-heaven’! It did not help my fore-arms! Because I was doing 50 bend-stretches, rope climbing, seventh-heaven, and goodness knows what else on a daily basis and my forearms were growing like the hind legs of a rhino, while my legs were shrinking.
In the first term I finished in the 2nd enclosure for cross country and by my fifth term I had dropped to sixth enclosure and nearly landed in the oxygen tent. Each time I reached Lone- Tree hill (the hill without the Lone-Tree) my legs would hurt like hell, my hips would ask my head ‘what the hell is going on?’ and my lungs would become asthmatic, before they finally stopped breathing. Invariably, when I woke up from a ten minute coma I would find two guys sitting on my chest bludgeoning me with the palms of their hands in an attempt to do Cardio- Pulmonary-Resuscitation and having an absurd discussion on whether mouth-to-mouth resuscitation is administered on the top end or the bottom end! In my sixth term I didn’t want to start a new enclosure called 7th enclosure, so I woke up early, drank my bedside tea, changed into games rig, walked across to the MH and reported sick for stomach ache. Nobody missed me!
This is the trouble. Nobody speaks up in NDA. I had wanted to prepare a placard and stage a silent protest outside the Commandant’s office to cut down the cross-country distance to say a mile or so, with the hope of eventually putting an end to the world’s second dullest sport. But a sensible friend of mine told me very firmly “There is an unspoken and unwritten rule here that the best way to protest about anything is to do absolutely nothing about it!” I like unspoken and unwritten rules, so I took his advice, for the next thirty years, very seriously.
So I turned my attention from cross country to sailing boats in my fifth term. Every half day and holiday I would cycle to Peacock Bay and with another enthusiast, select an Enterprise boat and put her out into the lake. The Enterprise is quite a clunky, stiff, heavy, sluggish, cramped, rickety, difficult-tohandle boat and can get you to your destination with the reliability of the Indian Railways. Other boats look cheerful and bouncy. This one looks like someone has stuffed a banana up its backside.
Two questions might pop up in your mind – What is it really like to sail in one of them and how far will it go before you have to call the Coast Guard? I shan’t bother you about the technical details of sailing, because I don’t really understand them either. But suffice it to say that if your boat is pointing directly into the wind, then it’s called ‘In Irons’ and you won’t move an inch. So you need to keep the wind on the bow or on the beam (at right angles) or from astern. At some point you would have to turn to come back home. So you either ‘tack’ by turning the boat’s bow through the wind or you ‘gybe’ by turning the stern through the wind.
When you gybe, the boat turns very fast indeed, so fast that the booms swings over to the other side and can take your head off. Also, the shift in weight caused by the swinging boom can capsize the boat. When you tack into the wind, the boat sticks its nose into the wind and stops dead in its track and can hurl you fifteen feet in front of it! Either way (not to put too fine a point to it) you’re knackered! But best of all, on a straight line the boat can whistle along at 10 knots, skimming all the wave tops, which we sailors call ‘sea horses’. If you get it right, the sensation of speed is awesome. Catch a little wind in your sail and you’ll begin to believe that you can outrun INS Viraat. To put it in perspective, for a similar trip anywhere else, you’ll need to sell your house and use all the money on LSD.
The first time was interesting. We rigged an Enterprise boat with the help of the crew at the Boat Pen and I cast off from the wooden jetty with all the majesty of a Boeing 747 taking off and headed for the first buoy in the circuit. On reaching there I decided to gybe. When I put the tiller over to the other side, the boom swung and hit me on the back of my head. I took off from the boat and executed a double-front-fliphalf- jack-knife manoeuvre in the air before disappearing into the water. My head hurt the same way it would hurt had a 3-Tonner rolled over it. But my crew was clueless since he was busy tending to the ‘jib’, or the front sail. His mental meanderings were inevitably brought to an abrupt halt when he realised five minutes later that the coxswain of the boat was missing and he was proceeding at Battle Speed towards the equatorial forests and mangroves on the other side of the lake. And he didn’t know how to stop the boat. They retrieved him and the sail boat, which was stuck high up on a tree, about an hour later by sending a motor boat.
The second time we commandeered a boat, my partner was ebullient on the methods of handling a sailboat and insisted that he took hold of the steering and teach me a few lessons. On reaching the first buoy he tacked into the wind. The nose of the boat burrowed into the water and the back end reared up in a prelude to what became a gigantic summersault for the coxswain. He landed 15 feet ahead of the boat on the flat of his back. From my point of view he went whizzing past at 10 knots, when the world around us had suddenly stopped. When his head popped out of the water, it looked like he had been at the receiving end of a Jaguar missile strike. It was my time to point out to him that had he fallen on his crotch, he would have been doomed to an unromantic marriage!’
The third time I took the boat out, I was a trifle off the mark in timing because I was watching the boom closely and was prepared for the boomswing. But the swing came so rapidly and unexpectedly that I left the tiller and grabbed the boom and for the next ten minutes was left swinging from one side of the boat to the other. Believe me, it was a bowel-loosening experience I wouldn’t like to relive. My crew, poor chap, spent the rest of the evening muttering to himself, something about me trying to remain in the boat and not out of it.
Towards the end of my fifth term, I got the hang of staying in the boat, but hadn’t yet learnt how to move in the direction I had to go. Soon I realised with practice that it was possible to bash into the buoy at exactly the correct speed and angle so as to emerge from the confrontation pointing roughly in the direction of my destination. Something like how snooker works! Sometimes I had to put my foot into the water to act as a pivoting point or a stabiliser.
On one beautiful Saturday afternoon, there was a boat ahead of me with some moron (A sixth termer, who as a Sergeant in his fifth term, used to take post at Ashoka Pillar and confiscate hankies from juniors) on the rudder who was cruising at glacial speed with all the alacrity and verve of a gold fish on valium. I was coming up from behind him at combat speed. He was dawdling compared to my Sukhoi- 30 on combat power. There wasn’t much option left for an unarmed junior like me but to bash into him. After we collided, I ejected on the other side of the buoy, with his boat capsized and mine sailing merrily. He emerged from the water one hour later after they sent him a tow boat, by which time I had cycled back to the squadron and was treating myself to cold coffee and pastry. That gave me a nice warm feeling in my underpants.
In my first outing as a sixth termer I managed to round the buoy without colliding into another boat. It wasn’t because of my good looks or the dirty smelly socks I was wearing. It was because the guy in the other boat, a chap who I immediately took after my own heart, quickly got out of the way. Soon thereafter, I found other boats ahead of me parting, like the Red sea to allow me to go through.
During my Subs-Courses I was fortunate to share a cabin for a full year with Motivala (54/A) the famed sailor, who is also the most awarded, having received the Arjuna, Dronacharya and Rajiv Khel Ratna awards for sailing. When you’re surrounded with such magnificence, it’s bound to rub off. I learnt quite a few things on our Saturday jaunts about sailing from him, in the Kochi sailing club. By the time I became a Lieutenant in the Navy I got the hang of sailing and used to regularly make my way around Vizag harbor on half days, as a bachelor, in a boat sufficiently filled with chilled beer cans. I also felt that if I half-closed my eyes, I could imagine the bow of the boat to be the prow of INS Rajput or the nose of a Sea Harrier or the protruding gun of the T-72 Tank.
Now, who said sailing is time consuming and boring? Left up to me, I could’ve sat in a boat and gone from pt A to B in NDA instead of running up and down hills looking for ‘Lone Trees’ and anatomical body parts of a woman called Babita, every time the squadron took off towards the hills.
Everybody likes a winner! So my best moments in sailing came when KB Sahi (53-54/K) and I won the Eastern Naval Command trophy for sailing in 1982 and then again in 1993 when AR Karve (56/A) and I won the DSSC open sailing trophy in Pykara lake, which was a silver metal beer mug with a glass bottom. Ah! I Iove to drink from that mug! Because showing off that mug is just another way of saying in the most ostentatious way “Hey! I took a boat ride on the Pykara!”
An alumnus of the NDA, Captain Anil Gonsalves, IN, (Retd) commanded Coast Guard ship Rajshree and INS Mahish in the Navy among his varied appointments. He took premature retirement in 2005 and presently is working in the Offshore Division of the Shipping Corporation of India as Master in their Platform Support Vessels. IN LIGHTER VEIN