For those who sail, the Henley Royale Regatta is one of the most prestigious and celebrated events in the annual calendar in the United Kingdom. The Bombay Merchants Regatta was conceived along the lines of this famous event, and it held its one-day race of luxury yachts to compete for the C-in-C Cup and the Gurkha Cigars Series Trophy recently. The Merchants is a group of Mumbai-based industrialists, and in partnership with the Commander-in-Chief (C-in-C) of the Western Naval Command and Gurkha Cigars from Miami, it organised India’s first Regatta of luxury yachts at the Royal Bombay Yacht club in Mumbai. The yachts, moored off the water of the iconic Gateway of India, raced for approximately three hours, while facing challenges including sailing into headwinds and the outgoing tide. There were two cups awarded at the event — the C-in C Cup awarded by the Commander-in-Chief of the Indian Navy was for the yacht that won the race of the day, which was Peace and Plenty, owned and captained by Ashish Hemrajani. The second cup, the Gurkha Cigars Series Trophy, was awarded to the yacht that won the Regatta race for the season, and this was awarded to Cunning Plan, owned and captained by Frank Hancock.
Commenting on the challenges faced during the race, Hemrajani said, “I’ve been sailing for close to 14 years. It’s taught me to look inwards even in business. While sailing, you can’t blame the wind, conditions or tide, you have to do what you do to deliver, given the conditions. My greatest sailing challenge once was very high winds, and I was alone on a laser that capsized 7-8 times. It was exhausting, and you have to believe in yourself to recover and continue sailing to make it back to the shore, because no one’s going to do it for you. Similarly in business, it was the 2001-2002 dotcom bust where we went from 150 people down to 6, with no funding left, the carpet pulled under our feet and loss of face with partners, employees and customers. No one was going to recover the boat for me then, and I had to pick up the pieces to ensure I sailed back to shore”.
Frank Hancock said, “Five years ago, the sport of keel boat sailing (sailing large yachts) was just about dead in India. It had been allowed to die due to official neglect and indifference. Then a group of like minded boat owners, led by Bharat Kewalramani, brought the sport to life again by creating a Whatsapp group called BMC skippers, and then by sailing together every weekend. What began as two or three boats going out every Saturday has grown to 10 to 15 racing during weekends, with new members flocking to join this exciting sport. It’s an exhilarating atmosphere, where all are welcome and members are charged no fees to join. All that’s required is a sense of adventure and the love of sailing on the open seas”.
The other luxury yachts that participated in the prestigious race are owned and sailed by a variety of industrialists, including Jamshyd Godrej, Ravi Mariwala and Bharat Kewalramani. They included vessels like Avi’s Ark (Jeanneau 54 DS), Nava (Jeanneau 45), Blazing Surmai (Beneteau 35), Skadoosh (J 122), Kairos (Jeanneau 33), Nirvana (Racing 39), Sheikin Not Stirred (Archambault 35), Raika (Swan 52), Tara (Jeanneau 35 Legende), Wahe Guru (Grand Soleil 45) and Chawla (Jeanneau 30). All these yachts are keel boats and 7 meters and above in size.
The Regatta was organised by Viraf Hansotia, from Gurkha Cigars. Hansotia said, ”I have been a keen sailor since I was in college. We believe that there is a great fit for Gurkha to support and grow the sport of racing luxury yachts. We are planning to make this an annual event, so I look forward to growing yacht racing as a competitive sport in India.”
The sailors in action included legends like Cmd. S Mongia (Arjuna awardee), Capt. Homi Motivala (world champion, Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna), Lt. Cdr. Farokh Tarapore (Olympian, world champion, Arjuna awardee), Cdr. R Mahesh (Arjuna awardee), Aashim Mongia (Arjuna awardee), Col. Gautama Dutta (Asian medalist, national champion), Cdr. Dilip Donde (solo circumnavigator), Cdr. Abhilash Tomy (solo non-stop circumnavigator around the glose) and Lt. Amit Arvind (national, Asian and world champion).
The day ended with a fine award ceremony at the Royal Bombay Yacht Club. The Royal Navy brought along its brass band to provide entertainment for the event, and I, as the brand ambassador for Gurkha Cigars, had the privilege of giving away the Gurkha Cigars Series Trophy to Frank Hancock. If the Regatta in Mumbai follows the successful path of the Henly Royal Regatta, I look forward to seeing greater participation in the event next year, and seeing the sport of racing luxury yachts growing in popularity year on year.