Inaugural Royal Thomian Optimist Sailing Regatta 2014

Undaunted by the 135-year history of the Royal-Thomian cricket match, the two veteran schools held their first-ever inter-school sailing regatta on Saturday 28 June, off the Ceylon Motor Yacht Club at Moratuwa. In winds gusting to over 20 km per hour twenty-four sailors (twelve from each school) sailing Optimist dinghies battled for individual honours in four gruelling races, with Kethaka Weerasuriya (STC) winning gold , and Nisal Walpola (Royal) taking the bronze.

With the individual races completed in the morning, each school fielded its 4-man A-team in a series of three races in the afternoon. With STC having won the first race and their arch-rivals the second, Royal narrowly lost the third despite an excellent performance by Chirayu Wijekoon. The Royal A-team comprised Chirayu Wijekoon, Suneragiri Liyanage Nisal Walpola and Sansith Heenatigala, while STC was represented by Kethaka Weerasuriya, Rehan De Silva Jordan Bolling and Haresh Goonawardene.

The B-teams of the two schools then sailed a single race, again won narrowly by St Thomas's as a result of Royal's Sahanya Wevita, who had what seemed like an unassailable lead, unexpectedly capsizing just feet from the finish line, putting the Royalists into all kinds of strife.

Well coached

Judging for the team-racing was done on the water, with referees Chandima Gunawardena, Devin Goonewardena and Nadine de Rosairo, all veteran sailors, accompanying the fleet on motorboats. Lalin Jirasinha, who was Race Officer on the day, himself an Asian Games medallist, arranged the event so as to provide spectators with an excellent view of the event, the finish line being placed just yards off the Yacht Club's front lawn.

The two schools included sailing in their sports curriculum only 10 months ago, since when their squads have been practising regularly at Bolgoda, with coaching by former Sri Lanka Navy sailing ace W.P.K. Janaka, himself an Asian Games bronze medallist. Two other senior sailors, Lalin Jirasinha (a former Thomian) and Jeremy Bolling (a former Royalist) have been supplementing the coaching duties (extended impartially, to both schools, they point out) so as to get the teams ready for competitive sailing.

"The Yachting Association of Sri Lanka is glad it made the initial investment in boats, gear and coach training", said Joseph Kenny, the Association's president. "We were determined to get schools involved in sailing. We have started with Royal and St Thomas's, but soon hope to expand this to include other schools, especially girls' schools. Water, after all, presents a level playing field, and sailing is one of the few sports in which, especially at this level, girls and boys can compete equally".

Kenny also pointed out that some 160,000 Optimist dinghies are sailed worldwide in more than 120 countries by youths in the age-group 8-15 years. "Almost 80% of sailors in all classes of sailboats competing in the 2012 London Olympics began their careers as Optimist sailors", he said. "The opportunities for competition are endless, because sailing is one of the few sports in which children of this age can compete at major events such as the Asian Games. "The large turnout of spectators for this historic event is evidence of the growing interest in this sport and I am sure it will have a very bright future."