Boat racing around the world has become synonymous these days with regattas, featuring luxury yachts. The increasing popularity of races like the Louis Vuitton Cup, America’s Cup, Rolex China Sea Race, Rolex Middle Sea Regatta Malta, Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race et al now overshadows traditional racing that happens in major sporting events, like the Olympics. It is a trend that has however bypassed India. The country, despite its lengthy coastline and long history of organised sailing (the Royal Bombay Yacht Club was founded in 1846) has always given the sport short shrift. In fact, Mumbai, India’s richest sailing city, with one of the best harbours in the world, still doesn’t have a marina for yacht owners.
That hasn’t stopped Mumbai sailing enthusiasts from at least trying, however. Five years ago, a bunch of them came together to race in their own version of a regatta, under the banner of the Bombay Merchants Cup. What started with a handful of boats has now grown to include 20 boats, in the 2019 edition. This year, the group – which includes private equity specialists like Bharat Kewalramani, Frank Hancock and Ramesh Venkat, industrialists Jamshyd Godrej and Ravi Mariwala and new age entrepreneurs like Ashish Hemrajani – has been racing every weekend for the last few months in preparatory races that will culminate in the finale, on the 5th of May.
The winners of the two races – one for boats up to 40 feet, and the other for bigger boats – will be awarded the Gurkha Cigars Trophy. With quite a few professional sailors participating, the competition is expected to be stiff this year as well. Says Arjuna Award-winning sailor Captain Homi Motivala (who 78 won the small yacht race on his boat Tengi last year), “It is difficult to say whether I will win again this year.
The Bombay Merchants Cup Regatta has six Arjuna Award-winning sailors taking part in the race, so it is fiercely fought out by India’s most experienced sailors. I am racing against the who’s who of sailing in India. But I am competing hard to retain the trophy again this year.” Added prestige to the race comes from the participation of the Indian Navy. Last year, the large yacht category trophy was won by Navy WNC 1, captained by the serving sailor Lt Commander Sai Anand. “With a race like this, packed with legendary and seasoned sailors, the superb sailing conditions of the Mumbai harbour, and impeccable race management by the organisers, the BMC Regatta is a great event,” says Commander Anand. “We won because of our dedicated team. Apart from winning, it was a great learning experience to race with Indian sailing legends like Commander Mongia, Farokh Tarapore and Nitin Mongia. We look forward to the race this year.”
Bharat Kewalramani, one of the founding members of the race, is more than happy about how things have panned out. ‘When the Bombay Merchants Cup first started racing five years ago, we had three racing yachts to compete against. Last year, that went up to 18 yachts racing, and the numbers are increasing year on year,” he says. “It is not common knowledge, but the Mumbai harbour has some of best sailing waters in the world. Not because the scenery is pretty or because the water is blue, but because of the winds and the tide. It is perfect for regatta racing’. The course, which starts near the Gateway of India, goes a few kilometres into the sea before turning around and ending near the Dolphin lighthouse.
Fittingly, the day ends with a gala awards ceremony and celebration dinner at the nearby Royal Bombay Yacht Club. Says Viraf Hansotia, another of the organisers, “The Bombay Merchants Cup Regatta is a celebration of the amazing sailing conditions that Mumbai has been blessed with, and the teamwork between India’s captains of industry and Arjuna Award-winning sailors, who come together to make the event a huge success each year.” This year, the Naval band will be in attendance, and if his schedule permits, Chief of the Naval Staff Sunil Lamba will give away the awards. The finest Hennessey cognac, Glenmorangie malts and Gurkha cigars will make the event, as always, a memorable one.