PANAJI: “Goa is really in the best place to be the sailing capital of India. We must all do more to encourage true water adventure sport in Goa,” says Divya Sharma, the only woman sailor in the Goan team that made a successful debut in ocean sailing recently.

As part of the ’75 knots regatta’, Divya was on the adventure sailors team comprising Anil Madgavkar (team leader), Col. Milind Prabhu (deputy) , Hemant Arondekar and Nitin Manjrekar; and sailed from Goa to Kavarati Island and Suheli Par Island in Lakshadweep. They sailed a total of 720 nautical miles (1300 kms) over a period of 11 days.

With a new chapter opened in Goa’s ocean sailing category, more progress is likely to be achieved in the near future with the aim of someday sending a team of Goan yachtsmen around the world in a sail-boat. Moreover, river-rafting (flat-water) is also set to go big in the state this year as pioneering Indian veteran Shaukat Sikand-led Indian Rafting Foundation is planning a first of its kind marathon in Goa.

Sailing sport has brought Goa laurels at national and international level, mostly through windsurfing events regularly. The state has also hosted a lot of sailing events under a very active Goa Yachting Association. However, the stage now seems to be set for the big leap and as asserted by Divya, Goa can make a brand statement for its tremendous sports tourism potential in water adventure sports.

Livenewsgoa.com caught up with Divya Sharma and here are the excerpts of the interview.

LNG. Take us through your experience of Ocean sailing expedition onboard ‘Mis Stress’?

DS: I am new to the world of sailing and so this is the first time I’ve done a long sail. The moment you hear the sound of the wind catching in the sails, the time you lose sight of land, the days on end that you spend with only blue sky and deep blue water all around – connects you to the planet, connects you to all your imagination of past ships and voyages. You also become very satisfied with whatever little you have on board, small stuff becomes delightful. And a boat keeps you busy all day – and all night. I have to also say that ‘Mis Stress’ in particular is a beautiful sailing boat, made in South Africa; you really begin to appreciate the structure, layout design and craftsmanship when you’re out there – and especially when going through a 30-knot storm.

LNG. What was your role on the expedition and how did the team work pan out?

DS: I was with a team of seasoned sailors on a very well appointed boat and I helped whenever an extra set of hands was needed. Essentially the whole team did what was required at each time on the boat; it was only at night when duty shifts (watches) were created. Someone always needs to be awake at all times during the night. As I was the youngest on the boat also in terms of sailing experience, I volunteered to take over the galley which, as any rookie in an office will tell you comes down to making teas and coffees while you watch and learn. They were also brave enough to sample some of my cooking!

LNG. You are also into rafting having been a judge on the recent national championship held in Himachal. Tell us, how water sports in general could be bigger than ever before for Goa.

DS: Yes. I went from 1 degree rainy hailstorm weather in the hills straight into 33 degrees humidity on a sailing trip !

Goa is a land of immense natural beauty and yet in terms of outdoor activities – its waters are still underleveraged. When people come to visit Goa they think of the beach, the food, the bars – all this is land-based. Very few friends I know, who have even seen Goa from the water. What a missed opportunity. Watersports are okay but those are thrill rides, they are not physical endurance, outdoor adventure or connecting with nature in the way that kayaking, sailing, windsurfing and rafting are. To apply your mind and body to harness the power of nature is what Goa can give us, instead of gyms and weights of the city. It’s a different level of engaging with our capabilities and with the environment too – we all need to rewild again and remember our place on the planet.

I’ve been sea kayaking off Dona Paula and a dolphin circled around me, I was quite kicked but also found myself a little nervous at being tipped over. Being in that way close to nature really brings you squarely to confront your existence. We all need a little dose of this in the way we live in the world now. And sailing is so much about recognising weather patterns, visual cues, navigation, stars, you begin to respond naturally to sunrises and sunsets. Sailing is applied physics, it’s working with geography. Simply beautiful! We had a huge pod of dolphins come by and play along with the boat one morning, amazing. That doesn’t happen with motors and engines you see. When you look at sails in the wind you appreciate a bird and its wings. When you watch a rafting team struggling to make the upriver gates you marvel at that salmon. We must all do more to encourage true water adventure sport in Goa. That’s the richness this land can unlock for us. And now post pandemic being outdoors is the way to go.

LNG. What do you reckon should happen to popularise ocean sailing and flat-water rafting?

DS: We need more like you to speak about it and spark off the idea in people. We need young people to take it on from schools and colleges. The Goa Yachting Association is doing a stellar job at growing the community of sailing and I think it’s about more and more people coming to participate in whatever manner they can. The energy that GYA put in to do races every weekend, regattas and such events is just great. The sailors in Goa are a really fun bunch and super talented. Brilliant windsurfers, with the younger generation heading out to represent India and winning awards. We have amazing sailors amidst us, Captain Dilip Dhonde, Abhilash Tomy – these are trailblazers of Indian sailing on a world stage and they’re around right here in Goa. So Goa is really in the best place to be the sailing capital of India.

Flat-water rafting is the new activity being introduced to Goa by another of India’s pioneers, the great Shaukat Sikand ‘Shauki’ – a man who single-handedly opened the category of river rafting for India. He holds more than a few world records, is very well known in the international community and is a powerhouse of skill and endurance in the sport. End of this year, safety permitting, India is set to host the World Rafting Championship up in Manali and rafting is at the cusp of becoming an Olympic sport.

So far rafting has been on white water always up in the hills. With flat-water rafting now, many new places can access the activity. It is being introduced in Punjab, Arunachal, Maharashtra, Telangana, Karnataka, Goa in a growing list of new rafting destinations.

Flat-water rafting is of course not as adrenaline charged as white water, but also has a lot you can do. It’s a great way to see hidden natural spaces accessed via rivers, good for kids, groups and families. And with the way Shaukat and the Indian Rafting Foundation is planning it – will have marathons, charted courses and other race based events. Flat water rafting is an exciting new entrant into the water and we’re all waiting to see how far it goes in Goa.



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