Royalist becomes the youngest champ in sailing history, Navy dominates Nationals

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The Sri Lanka Sailing Nationals 2021 concluded on December 11 after two days of sailors of all ages battling it out on the clear waters of the Bolgoda Lake.

With a record number of 117 sailors fighting for the coveted titles under clear skies on December 10 and 11 at this year’s nationals, the races concluded with clear wins as well as close shaves.

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The Sri Lanka Navy emerged as winners in five of the seven classes including the GP14, Enterprise, Laser Standard, Laser Radial and Windsurfing.

This year’s races also saw the emergence of 13-year-old Yusef Hazari, the youngest sailor ever to win the nationals. Racing in the Optimist class, Hazari, a grade eight student of Royal College, Colombo, raced to clear victory in the back-to-back races that lasted six hours on Friday. Hazari came in first in five of the six races, claiming victory, with Tharen Nanayakkara and Nikhil Nanayakkara of S. Thomas’ College coming in second and third places.

With low and sudden pockets of winds, this year’s nationals tested the skill of sailors. “Sailing is like chess on water. This time it was about catching the wind at the right moment working with it. It was pretty intense, and we had to sail without a break for six hours because of this reason,” said Hazari. “Everyone did well, despite so many challenges. I’m happy to win the nationals, thanks to my school and our coaches.”

The Laser Radial saw J.M.P.L Jayasuriya and P.N.P.K Dissanayake of the Navy battling for first place, with Jayasuriya winning by a margin. Dhanika Nanayakkara of S. Thomas’ College came in first in the Laser 4.7 class with Jehan de Silva and Niveyn Nanayakkara, also of S. Thomas’ College coming in first and second runners up respectively.

W.M.C Marambe and GPP Karunaratne of the Sri Lanka Navy won the GP 14, while N.G.M.U Ghanawardene and ASK de Soyza of the Navy and Devin Goonawardene and Kaif Sally racing for the Ceylon Motor Yacht Club came in a close second and third respectively.

In windsurfing Priyantha Gunawardene of the Sri Lanka Navy beat reigning champ Chaminda Silva of the Bentota Windsurf Club in a close contest to emerge as the winner.

“It’s great to have the nationals back again after a lapse of almost two years,” said Sarath Kuragama, the Chief Operating Officer of the Yachting Association of Sri Lanka. “All the younger sailors did well despite their lack of practice. We have great coaches, perfect sailing waters and a lot of talent in sailing in Sri Lanka, we just need more of the right equipment,” he said.

Despite the record number of entrants this year, many competitors belonging to schools could not participate in the races due to the shortage of sails in some senior classes.

“We need to rectify this,” said National Coach W.P. Krishan Janaka, who coaches both the Navy as well as the national pool. “In sailing fifty percent is skill and the other fifty percent depends on the boat, and we need better boats, sails and equipment.”

The 2021 Nationals, organized by the Yachting Association of Sri Lanka and the National Olympic Committee, resumed after a year’s break due to the Covid-19 pandemic. All sailing events including the Nationals and the International Optimist Dingy Association (IODA) Championship, scheduled to be held in Sri Lanka last year were cancelled due to the pandemic.

Although the Navy continued to sail in protective bubbles, others, including students have come back to sailing after almost two years.

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Sri Lanka has produced many international class sailors through the years.

J.M.P.L Jayasuriya, who won both the Laser Radial and the Enterprise class says he owes his win purely to “skill and experience.” Jayasuriya won silver at the South Asian Games in 2006 in the Enterprise class.

“The winds were bad on Saturday, the salmonella on the water didn’t help and with our battered sails, it came down to skill and experience,” he said.

WMC Marambe of the Navy who won the JP14 class called the 2021 Nationals, “one of the best.” Marambe has won many international events and has been sailing for the Navy for 20 years.

Chairman of the National Olympic Committee Suresh Subramanium was present as chief guest of the event.

Currently, the sailors are getting ready for trials for the Asian Games scheduled to be held in September 2022 in China.

The GP 14 Class, Enterprise Class, Laser Radial Class, Laser Standard Class and Windsurfing Class were won by the Sri Lanka Navy. The Laser 4.7 Class (Under-18 event) was won by St. Thomas College, Mt. Lavinia, and the Optimist Class (Under-15 event)  was won by Royal College College, Colombo. 

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