Alappuzha: In a nerve-rattling contest, the Gabriyel Chundan (snake-boat) emerged winner in the 65th edition of the Nehru Trophy boat race on the Punnamada racecourse here on Saturday. The fiercely contested annual regatta saw at least four snake-boats darting into the finish line at a moment, calling for an examination of the visuals to adjudge the winner.
It was an upset climax for seasoned snake-boats like Cheruthana, Karichal, and Payippadan as the greenhorn Gabriyel, powered by the Thurthippuram Boat Club and captioned by Oommen Jacob, took home the trophy.
While 'Mahadevikkad Kattilthekkethil' came second, 'Payippad' and 'Karichal', last years winner, secured the third and fourth spots respectively.
The organizing committee had put in place mechanisms to analyze footage in the event of a photo finish as contestants had challenged the judgment in previous events.
Notable also is the professionalism being induced every year with a codification of rowing rules and ceiling on the number of non-native rowers. The number of rowers on snake-boats was capped at 111. Also, every snake-boat could have up to five 'Amarakkar' (directing rowers who deftly wield long sticks to hold course) and as many 'Nilakkar' (non-rowers who enthuse the rowers with songs).
Earlier in the day, Kerala chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan inaugurated the boat race. A record number of 78 boats, including 22 snake-boats (chundan vallom), participated in this year's event. Twenty snake-boats took part in the race in five heats, while four other boats showed their strength in an exhibition race.
The boats that clocked minimum time in the heats took part in the final and losers' final. The heats of smaller boats commenced at 11 am with 5 Iruttukuthi A grade boats, 25 Iruttukuthi B grade boats, 9 Veppu A grade boats, 6 Veppu B grade boats, and 3 Churulan boats. Women rowers participated in the Thara and Kettuvallom categories.
The major contenders included last year's winner Karichal boat club, Payipaadan, Vellamkulangara, Gabriel chundan, Nadubhagom chundan, Jawahar Thayankari, Anari, Cheruthana, Devas, Mahadevan and Sree Ganesh and Karuvatta.
About a lakh people witnessed the event from the spectators' pavilion. The Nehru pavilion was reserved for official guests and VVIPs. State-of-the-art starting system and a digital platform to count the time of boats were installed at the finishing point.
Around 2,000 police personnel were deployed in the town and Punnamada lake. Around 40 boats were arranged to assist the police. CCTV cameras were set up in all parts of the city and shadow police deployed to prevent illegal activities.