'The sea teaches you to be honest'

The sea teaches you to be honest and humble,” said Lt Cdr Abhilash Tomy of the Indian Navy, as we joined him on his sailboat between Gateway of India to Naval Dockyard. “You can’t lie to the sea. It will just tear your sail out.”

Tomy should know—the seaman spent 150 days and seven hours circumnavigating the globe alone on the sailboat INSV Mhadei. This makes him the first Indian and the 79th person in the world to have accomplished the feat.

Abhilash Tomy (second from left) along with President Pranab Mukherjee at the Gateway of India

On Saturday, President Pranab Mukherjee and Maharashtra Governor K Sankaranarayanan felicitated Tomy at a function organised by the Navy at the Gateway of India. “I never imagined I would get such a warm welcome,” said Tomy.

On the sailboat, as we squinted into the distance, the Naval officer told us about how he did not stop for supplies at any port during his entire journey, called Sagar Parikrama II. Unlike Tomy, his predecessor Commander Dilip Donde, had stopped at four ports when he circumnavigated the globe in 2009-10. When asked why, Tomy said, “We wanted to up the level of difficulty. There was no point repeating the same feat.”

While sailing alone is itself a daunting task, Tomy’s scariest moment came when he rounded the Cape of Good Hope. “The wind was roaring at 130 kmph. It tore the sail. I was hoping to complete the trip without having to replace the sail but that didn’t happen.

” Meanwhile, Tomy’s father, Lt Cdr (Retd) Valliara Chacko Tomy, followed his son’s progress daily. He recalled, “I had a chart on which I would mark Abhilash’s position everyday.” “I wasn’t very worried but I would eagerly wait for the reports.”

Donde too echoed the sentiment, “It’s a damn good show, but not at all unexpected. I knew Abhilash was capable and the boat was capable.” Tomy journeyed on the same boat that he had sailed in.

As he set sail on Mhadei from Gateway to Naval Dockyard, Tomy reflected, “Nothing was really a big challenge. We had made the preparations very well.” He had plenty of wonderful moments at sea. “I saw whales, hundreds of jumping dolphins, cormorants, albatrosses and flying fish,” he recalled. When he landed back on shore, his feet were trembling. “I couldn’t walk,” said Tomy.

The journey was emotionally challenging, too, he admitted. “At sea, I could do everything as I wanted to. But after coming back to society, I had so many people trying to get my attention at the same time.” His voyage has not tired him of the sea, though. “I loved it,” said Tomy.

“There was just one day when I was bored. It was in the middle of my journey and I felt the day moving very slowly.” Tomy’s parents are happy that he is back and they are still trying to get him married. But he is not too keen about it. “I’ve told them greatness has a price,” he laughed.

The sun began to set as he turned Mhadei towards its destination. The wind ruffled his long hair and beard as he considered what is the one quality anyone looking forward to emulating his feat should possess. “Perseverance,” he said thoughtfully. He sure had a lot of it. Now he is looking forward to some rest. “I’ll take a few days’ leave and then resume duty,” Tomy, who is a pilot with the Indian Navy, said as he hopped off the boat.

Memorable moments
>> Abhilash Tomy set sail from the Gateway of India on November 1, 2012. He narrated a few amusing moments from his journey
>> His hair grew long and fell in his eyes. “I trimmed my beard and moustache with my battery-operated razor but halfway through, the battery died. Soon my facial hair started irritating me.”
>> Keeping physically fit was easy, said Tomy. “I did it by working on the boat. To stay mentally alert, I did yoga every morning for 30 minutes. It really helped.”
>> Tomy almost ran out of water in the last 10 days.
>> The first thing Tomy did when he returned was clean the boat’s toilet

The journey
Abhilash Tomy covered 41,400 km and has crossed all the meridians once and the Equator twice. He did not seek any assistance whatsoever. He rounded the three Great Capes— Cape Leeuwin (Australia) on December 12, 2012, Cape Horn (South America) on January 26, 2013 and Cape of Good Hope (Africa) on February 19, 2013 

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