The 26th Seabird Class National Championship was held in Mumbai Harbour on 12 & 13 April 2008. The event was conducted under the burgees of the Royal Bombay Yacht Club (RBYC), the Bombay Sailing Association (BSA), the Colaba Sailing Club (CSC) and the National Seabird Class Association.
The Seabird is a wonderful Gunter Rigged boat which due to her sheer versatility and charm is inextricably etched in the annals of Indian sailing. The Seabird was designed by Mr. Morgan Giles in the 1920s specifically for sailing in Mumbai Harbour with materials readily available in and around Mumbai. Mr. Giles ensured that his design would be able to traverse the many creeks and rivers around Mumbai Harbour with ease and this trait till date is unique and even contemporary Yachts fail to negotiate the waters which the Seabird cruises comfortably.
While the design has evolved over the years, she has still retained her vintage allure. Many expeditions have been undertaken to places as far flung as Oman in the Persian Gulf, bearing testimony to the seaworthiness of this boat. For racing she has a complement of 3.
Entries for the national championship included many of the top yachtsmen from the country including several sailors from the Indian Navy and the Indian Army. The Winds were in excess of 14 Knots with frequent gusts of 16+ Knots, which ensured that the competitors were pushed to the limits of physical and mental exhaustion while trying to get the better of the elements as well as their opponents.
There were a total of 7 races sailed over 2 days. The EMESA Team led by Maj. Ashutosh Tripathi started out as favourites in their Yacht "Sea Eagle". But after Cyrus Heerjee of the RBYC got the gun in the first race in his Yacht "Grey Eagle", they became a force to reckon with. Shahid Basheer also of the BSA in his yacht "Cormorant" came in second, relegating the Navy team (led by Yuvraj Singh in the yacht "Darter") and EMESA teams to 3rd and 4th place respectively.
The EMESA & the Navy teams came back strongly in the second race to take 1st & 2nd place respectively while Cyrus Heerjee and Shahid Basheer had to settle for 3rd and 5th place. Hence the competition was now wide open with 5 races to go. "Shahid Basheer" in "Cormorant" was out of the reckoning for the remaining of the days racing due to equipment problems in his yacht he could manage a dismal 6th and 5th place in Races 3&4.
Cyrus Heerjee on the other hand got his second gun of the series in Race 3. Sea Eagle had actually won the race but were disqualified later for a rule infringement. Cyrus was back on top of the fleet. Race 4 was won by EMESA with Cyrus Heerjee coming in second.
At sunset on Saturday, it now looked like Maj. Tripathi (EMESA) and Cyrus Heerjee (RBYC) were pulling ahead of the rest of the fray with 3 races to go on Sunday. ...
Sunday, again provided happy hunting grounds for the 2 Eagles day and Cyrus Heerjee started out strongly to win the first race, with Sea Eagle coming in second. Shahid Basheer managed to get his boat tuning sorted out on Sunday and came in 3rd.
Race No. 6 saw EMESA making a comeback with "Sea Eagle" getting the gun. Shahid Basheer managed to ward off a strong challenge from Navy in the last upwind leg and managed to take 2nd place after a tacking duel all the way to the finish.
Yuvraj Singh, in "Darter" was later disqualified from Race No. 6 after losing a protest hearing for a rule infringement.
Yuvraj Singh managed to save the series though by getting a 2nd place in the last race of the series, Race No. 7. Shahid Basheer and Cyrus Heerjee had a tough fight throughout the race for 3rd place and in the end, Shahid managed a tactical coup by tacking close to windward of Cyrus and thus effectively pinned him on the leeward side preventing him from tacking towards the finish line. This was really frustrating for Cyrus since every time he tried to get away Shahid would tack onto his windward and stayed between Cyrus and the mark.
There were some tense moments on "Cormorant" when the Jib Lead broke during a tack and could potentially cost them the race. Quick thinking under pressure by Shahid's crew Rakesh Varadkar & Ashish Hemrajani ensured that quick repairs were made and they finished seconds ahead of Cyrus in a nerve racking tacking match which took its toll on the crew and boat alike.
The EMESA team in "Sea Eagle" however stamped their authority on the day's racing by winning the Race No:7 comfortably to become the 2008 National Seabird Champions.
Cyrus Heerjee (aptly nicknamed 'The Master') with his crew Darayus Shroff and Khushroo Tampal, being the oldest team in terms of average age for competitors in the fleet proved that age is no factor when it comes to yacht racing as they finished 2nd overall in "Grey Eagle" a 30 year old yacht!
The Navy Team managed to win the Handicap Series in "Darter"(which is a separate series based on time calculations adjusting for variations in boat speeds). Trunal Helegaonkar of the CSC came in 2nd on Handicap in his yacht "Dabchick".
Action moved ashore on Sunday Evening when the presentations were held at the historic Royal Bombay Yacht Club where the gorgeous Godrej Trophy was be awarded to the winners on the line. The Trophy was instituted by Mr. Naval Pirojsha Godrej in 1982. Mr. NP Godrej was a pioneer of sailing in Mumbai and was a great supporter of the sport. The Godrej Trophy was designed by Mr. AP Unwalla, an accomplished artist and an avid sailor in his time.
Handicap (Top 2 on-line do not feature in the handicap series):