Deep into my day in office an e-mail dropped into my inbox. It contained an invite for a boat ride. This wasn't for a routine endeavour into the Arabian Sea from the Gateway of India. The particulars in the mail told me this was a bit different. Sensing that it could churn out something interesting, I accepted the invite. I was given a slot a few days later and I reached Pilot Bunder, the venue for the ride as per the time allocated to me. It was somewhere in Navy Nagar at a place I never knew existed in the city.
The P1 Panther boat as it's called, lay in waiting for my colleague, who had accompanied to film the ride, and me. As we embarked the stylish boat, the only thing I knew about it was that it was going to be used in some race on Marine Drive in March. So I expected it to be fast, but didn't feel it involved any great risk.
Excited for the new experience, I readied my phone camera to record it. I had previously ridden in a motor boat, driven a jet ski and it had been quite thrilling, and I wanted to capture this one. Our driver set the powerboat in motion, we ventured away from the shore and he stepped on the accelerator. I got jerked back into the seat and almost lost the grip of my phone. The video had gone for a toss, the shore seemed far away and within a minute we were in deep waters deep. The breeze was fierce and was threatening to blow my colleague off the boat. While he was still trying his best to capture the video as a part of his duty, I had long put my phone back into my pocket as there was no chance I was going to risk losing it. My hands firmly grasped the handles provided in the boat as it took a sharp turn after another without slowing down at all. That's when I realised the validity of the instruction in the mail that I chose not to pay heed to — to come for this ride with a half-empty stomach. Fortunately it didn't come back to haunt me as we came back to the shore unscathed.
While it was an enthralling experience, my head was buzzing for quite sometime after the ride. Then I overheard someone saying that we rode nowhere close to the boat's top speed and I realised that the powerboat was here for serious sport and not glitzy entertainment.
Nexa P1 Powerboat Indian Grand Prix of the seas! The name itself carries some weight and could draw people's attention, but when the magnificent powerboats zip past the coast at Marine Drive, it would certainly make people take notice. Cool breeze, stellar view of the Queen's Necklace, grand promenade — the Marine Drive makes for a lovely hangout spot. So a thrilling live sport to go with all of that would just elevate the atmosphere.
The sport of powerboating exists in its traditional form in certain pockets of the world, but its appearance in Mumbai from 3-5 March would not just mark the beginning of a new avatar, but also set a new structure for the sport.
At some venues big boats are used to race, while elsewhere smaller boats perform acrobatics on water. That's the form in which powerboating has existed over the years. The new avatar is primed to give the sport a structured shape and global uniformity.
The latest format is similar to Formula One where there is a defined race track, with a pit lap. The main race comprises of a set number of laps. Like F1, there are rounds of qualifying races to determine the seeding for the final race.
The specially designed P1 Panther boat, a 28-foot powerboat powered by a 250 HP engine, that reaches a maximum speed of 120 km/hr on water, an equivalent of 240 km/hr on land, would be used during the race. These boats have an ability to race in just six feet of water and hence the Grand Prix can take place as close as ten metres from the shoreline.
"Sport is one of the most simple thought processes in the world. It comprises of passion and connect, touch and feel. So if someone can feel the noise of the boats and the spray of the water, he will be automatically connected with the sport. P1 Global has produced a boat which can race in six feet of water and cruise in just three," Anil Singh, the Managing Director of Procam International who launched this sport in India told Firstpost.
The first Grand Prix will be contested between six teams, each comprising of four members. The powerboat will be manned by a pilot and a navigator, and every team will have a pair of each as their crew. CS Santosh, a cross-country motor-cycle racer and Gaurav Gill, a car race driver competing in the Asia-Pacific Rally Championship are the two Indian names in the mix. Both are categorised as drivers and have been training for this event for the past six months. As of now there are no Indian navigators in any teams.
Every team will use the P1 Panther powerboat and hence there will be no difference in the racing vehicles, putting every team on an equal footing at the beginning."Sport should be equal. It should allow all teams to start on an equal grid. So having all boats of the exact specification was very important to us," Singh added.
2017 will see just once race take place, but the number is set to rise to four in 2018 with two races scheduled to take place in India, while two more will happen internationally. By 2019, the World Championship series hailed as the Grand Prix of the Seas will have seven races in a season, with three of those happening in three different cities in India.
In addition to the World Championship, there will be a continental championship, followed by national and regional championships. Every season three World Championship teams will be drop down to the continental championship, while three new teams will get promoted. The same process will be followed from the continental level to the national level and from the national to the regional level. Some national and regional championship in the new avatar already exist in some parts of the world. P1 Global will now have their hands full on spreading and strengthening the sport at these levels all across the world in the years to come.
The race on Sunday will be the maiden one in the top tier, and Singh stated that the topmost tier will attract the most attention in the next couple of years.
"By 2022 we plan to have 12 races worldwide, including five in India to complete the World Championship series. In 2021, there are plans to hold a World Cup where different nations will compete for global supremacy. But that's for later, as of now we are just focusing on the World Championship series," Singh told Firstpost.
India has a big role to play if the sport prospers as per plan in the coming years and Singh pointed at the country's vast water resource as a reason to opt for India as a place to kick start the formal version of the sport. "India has over 7500 km of shoreline, about 15000 kilometres of navigable inland waters. But we hardly use this marine resource. Our initial goal by launching P1 Powerboat racing here is to make Indians use this resource and get them involved in the marine ecology. We are of course not ready with the last line, but we will see how this goes," Singh added.
Procam International that has been known to successfully build and grow sporting events like the Mumbai Marathon in the past will look to replicate another success story here. "My brother Vivek told me that Mumbai Marathon was a leap of faith. We didn't have it in India, but they happened elsewhere in the world in London, in New York etc. But powerboating is a leap into darkness, there is absolutely nothing like this anywhere in the world and it's a fact," shared Singh with a bit of a laughter.
As of now, powerboating is indeed a leap into darkness not just for the organisers but also for the audiences. Those gathering at the Marine Drive on Sunday will assemble to experience a new sensation that's preparing to hit the Indian shores, more than the sport, just the way I accepted the invite for the ride in the P1 Panther boat, looking for an interesting story.
Whether powerboat racing has what it takes to transform into a global sport, we will know in years to come, the start of which will happen from Friday in Mumbai.
Updated Date: Mar 03, 2017 10:08 AM