At sea, and around the world in 180 days

Sep 16, 2012, 09:41 IST | Kareena N Gianani

Starting November, Lieutenant Commander Abhilash Tomy will be the first Indian to circumnavigate the world non-stop and alone. He tells Kareena N Gianani that brushing teeth with saline water and shouting out loud once in a while to check your voice, isn't all that bad

Starting November, for the next 180 days, 33 year-old Lieutenant Commander Abhilash Tomy will lead a life many envy but some may not fancy at all — throwing a sack full of clothes in sea water to wash them, brushing teeth with, again, saline sea water, and cooking potatoes in it too (hey, a different batch, we mean). “You don’t even need salt then,” jokes 33 year-old Tomy.

In November, Tomy will set off in the ship INSV Mhaidei to circumnavigate the world alone — and non-stop — in 180 days. This makes him the first person to do so in India, and the second in Asia to undertake such a voyage.

Since 2008, Tomy claims he has not stayed in one city for more than two weeks. He is in the Indian Navy and is an avid sailor who raced from Cape Town to Rio in 2011 in 23 days. “Eight ships, including ours, which were returning from the race, faced a storm. Some lost the rudder, one boat sank and all onboard were rescued by a merchant shipwhile we survived only with a torn sail and a leak,” says Tomy.

His biggest learning experience came from being assistant to navy commander Dilip Donde, who sailed solo around the world and ended his expedition in 2010. Tomy will undertake the mission — Sagar Parikrama II — in the same vessel as Donde’s, which was assembled in Goa, a point he stresses twice because “most people believe India cannot produce a ship sturdy enough to undertake such ambitious voyages.”

Building the boat, Tomy says, costs Rs 4-5 crore. “Most sailor boats or yachts sail only 10 per cent of the time of the time they spend in the harbour, and they always watch out for good weather to sail. Sailing non-stop turns that around,” he says. Tomy says sailing non-stop for six months means not having the luxury of depending on a port to fix anything for him or his boat. “Commander Dhonde, for instance, had to worry about food supplies for 30 days, whereas I will carry food for 200 days. Since I can’t stop at a port and refuel my ship, the boat has been modified so I can carry fuel enough to last 600 days.”

What fascinates Tomy is the prospect of six months of solitude. “You just grunt or shout out a bit once a while to check whether your vocal chords work, I guess,” he laughs. Tomy plans to read a lot. “During my previous sailing assignments, I discovered authors Haruki Murakami and Pablo Neruda. I went to Neruda’s home in Santiago, and Nelson Mandela’s prison in Africa. A book I read every time is Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude.”

Tomy then begins discussing experiments on people put in solitude for research. “Extended solitude can do strange things — some studies show how people initially get restless but most then procrastinate human interaction in later stages — they begin to like the loneliness. Then, they may begin to suspect the world outside. I have somewhat experienced the first two stages. Let’s see whether the third follows, too,” he laughs.

That, however, isn’t his biggest worry. “Birds enter ships and often die there. They scare the hell out of me,” he says. Check out Abhilash Tomy’s voyage details at and 

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