Watching the Madras Sappers sail to glory in the once pristine waters of Ulsoor lake was a weekend routine for those who grew up in Bengaluru during the 1980s and 1990s. Now, you would be lucky if you catch a few enthusiasts in the lake.
The growth of a concrete jungle in the city has meant the slow suffocation of sailing. Shrinking areas of lakes and the lack of wind speed owing to construction activity have driven regular sailors away from Bengaluru.
The Madras Engineering Group (MEG) and Centre, which has been conducting sailing-related activities since 1982, has, of late, started exploring newer avenues in the neighbourhood. This March, they tried the waters of the KRS for the first time. A little before that, they ventured into the sea off Chennai.
Sailing activities, at least the advanced ones, require a lot more space and wind than what the city can offer today.
An officer said, initially, sailing was limited to Ulsoor lake, which is a stone’s throw away from MEG and Centre. Around two years ago, MEG, along with the Karnataka State Pollution Control Board (KSPCB), managed to rejuvenate the Yella Mallappa Shetty Lake near Old Madras Road after which activities were shifted there.
“There is dingy (boat) sailing for learners, and then, wind surfing boards. The water space here is limited, not vast enough and there are no dams nearby,” he said.
However, the officer maintained that they are not moving completely out of Bengaluru. Ulsoor lake is used for basic training, the Yella Mallappa Shetty lake for advanced learning as there is more wind and space, and the KRS dam for the next level, he explained.
After that, an officer from the Boys Sports Company, MEG and Centre said, they move on to the Army’s Sailing Club in Chennai, which is meant for those who had completed the first few levels of learning the sport.
For the first time, sailors from the Sports Authority of India (SAI) are also training with the MEG and Centre. In fact, the 18 SAI cadets, who are in the age group of 9 to 15 years, are one of the main reasons why the MEG continues to train in the two spaces in Bengaluru – Ulsoor lake and the Yella Mallappa Shetty lake on Old Madras Road.
Rowing too takes a hit
It is not just sailing activity that is hit; rowing enthusiasts too are on the lookout for a better location. The Karnataka Amateur Rowing Association (KARA) has apparently sought permission to use Madiwala lake for conducting rowing activities. At present, the only space in the city the association uses is Ulsoor lake with Manchanabele being the alternative.
G. Somashekarappa, Secretary, KARA said while the space for rowing in Ulsoor is 850 metres, in Manchanabele, it is almost six kilometres. Though interest in rowing is growing, the association is admitting a limited number of learners due to lack of space and facilities, that too only in the sub-junior category (under 15). As many as 60 have registered this year.
However, continuing at Ulsoor Lake has its advantages, he added. “Safety-wise, it is ideal as the MEG and Centre already has motor boats, life guards and other such infrastructure,” he explained.
It was in the late 1980s that sailing took flight in Ulsoor lake. But why do army personnel train in sailing? The Madras Engineering Group (MEG) and Centre, as the name suggests, consists of engineers.
“We are sappers. We may have to work in water. For example, we might have to build bridges across canals. The boys shouldn’t be scared of water. Only those boys with the right aptitude are selected,” explained Col. C.A. Aiyappa (retd.).
This aptitude is not limited to just sports and adventure; those selected for training are also expected to have understanding of wind speed and water currents. Little wonder then, that the MEG has, for long, boasted of sailors of international repute.
Credits The Hindu