Bon voyage

Published: 01 November, 2012 07:30 IST | Asha Mahadevan |

As Lieutenant Commander Abhilash Tomy of the Indian Navy embarks on a solo, non-stop around-the-world trip in his sailboat, Commander Dilip Donde, the first Indian to circumnavigate the globe in the same boat, will send him off today at the Gateway of India

If you are at the Gateway of India today afternoon, you can be a witness to history. At 12:30pm today, Abhilash Tomy will set out on his quest to become the first Indian to sail around the world solo, unassisted and without stopping at any port. Six months of unknown dangers lie ahead of him during this trip, being called Sagar Parikrama II, but the 33-year-old is confidence personified. “Anything that you can imagine, can happen,” he says as he steers his boat, the INSV Mhadei, for a short ride off Mumbai harbour.

Abhilash Tomy
Sailing the high seas: Lieutenant Commander Abhilash Tomy aboard his boat, the INSV Mhadei

“In previous trips, my sail has torn, my galley has caught fire. Thankfully, I haven’t fallen ill.” Is that the worst that can happen? “If I break a leg or something, I still have to go on.” And ‘going on’ in a sailboat is not easy — a sailor has to be constantly on his toes, checking the sails and a dozen other things to ensure that the boat does not go off course.

Heave ho: The crew tries to raise the sail aboard the INSV Mhadei

As Abhilash points out with a nonchalant shrug, “In the middle of the Pacific Ocean, the nearest land is something like 2,000 (nautical) miles away, more than the distance between Kochi and Delhi. If something happens to you, rescue won’t reach you for 10 days.” National Geographic Traveller India magazine will chronicle his journey, but they won’t be following him on a boat of their own.

Dilip Donde
Adventurer: Commander Dilip Donde. Pics courtesy/Ajay Sood

Wish granted
Not that Abhilash needs any such support. A lieutenant commander in the Indian Navy, he joined the armed forces 16 years ago after a childhood trip to a sailing club sparked his passion for the seas. This journey is a dream come true, he recalls, as he puts the boat on autopilot and takes a short break. “I first read about around-the-world sailing trips in 1999. Ten years later, I got the chance to assist Commander Dilip Donde who was undertaking a solo trip around the world. Now, I am finally setting sail on my own.” He admits that his parents “think it is an insane crazy idea”. “But now my mom is reconciled to it. She is actually more worried about me not getting married,” he laughs.

Able mentor
If there is one Indian who can understand what Abhilash is going through right now, it is Donde. Two years ago, the older Navy officer sailed solo around the world on the same boat in a trip called Sagar Parikrama I and became the first Indian to do so. The only difference between the two trips is that Donde had, according to plan, stopped in four ports for supplies while Abhilash is not scheduled to stop anywhere. For Donde, it was “venturing into the unknown. I was on the same boat, but it was not tested yet. I volunteered for the project because it sounded like a good idea. Doesn’t it sound fantastic? To sail the world solo? I didn’t know people do it. I started reading about it after I volunteered to do it. The more I read, the more I realised that this is going to be difficult.” He thinks Abhilash is perfectly capable of fulfilling the mission. “He has lots of experience and the boat is reliable. It is the same boat I sailed in but I didn’t have that experience. I have sailed this boat now for 7,000 miles, he has already sailed it for 25,000 miles,” says Donde, sitting on the deck, comfortably dangling his feet over the port side of the moving boat.

Ask him what advice he would give Abhilash and Donde thinks for a minute. “I would say in order of priority, look after the boat, look after yourself. Even if you have back up there are lots of things that can go wrong which you can’t repair at sea. That’s why the preparation (before setting sail) is important. If you stress the boat too much, the masts may come down, the sails may tear, the steering may break. These are the sorts of things you need to be looking after. Look after the boat, she will look after you,” he says.

Safety precautions
On his part, Abhilash is well-prepared. “I have spare sails of about 2,500 square feet. I have a back up for a back up for a back up for everything, including the toilet,” he grins. What if a pirate attacks him? Even that scenario doesn’t dull his sense of humour. “An Indian Navy ship will escort me from Mauritius to India (since that is where pirates are most active). Rest of the journey, I won’t be carrying weapons. It is foolish to do so. You try to shoot, they will respond with more intensity. Instead, I will just wear a lungi and say, ‘This ship is taken by a pirate of the Arabian’,” he jokes.

Follow Abhilash Tomy’s journey on his blog www.sagarparikrama2. or through or the YouTube channel sagarparikrama2 

From August 2009 to May 2010, Commander Dilip Donde sailed the Indian Navy Sailing Vessel (INSV) Mhadei around the world. The project was christened Sagar Parikrama I.

According to schedule, Donde stopped at four ports, including Cape Town in South Africa and Lytletown in New Zealand for supplies. At the end of the nine-month journey, he became the first Indian to circumnavigate the globe solo. Vice-president Mohammad Hamid Ansari and Chief of Naval Staff Nirmal Kumar Verma received him when he finally dropped anchor at Mumbai harbour.

Bravehearts around the world
>> Portuguese sailor Ferdinand Magellan was the first to undertake a cruise around the world in 1591 but he didn’t complete it as he was killed in a fight in the Philippines in 1521. The record thus goes to Spanish sailor Juan Sebastian Elcano, who took over as captain after Magellan’s death, and the surviving crew members of Magellan’s ship. They completed their journey in 1522.
>> American sailor Joshua Slocum was the first to sail around the world solo. In April 1895, he left Boston, USA and returned to Newport, USA in June, 1898.
>> Harry Pidgeon from the USA was the second person in the world to sail single-handedly around the world (1921-25), the first to sail
via the Panama Canal, and the first to achieve this feat twice.
>> In 1986, Americans Dick Rutan and Jeana Yeager flew around the world non-stop in a Rutan Model 76 Voyager aircraft in 9 days, 3 minutes, and 44 seconds.
>> On March 3, 2005, American millionaire Steve Fossett landed safely at Kansas airport and became the first man ever to fly non–stop, around-the-world, solo and without refuelling.

The total distance of Abhilash Tomy’s journey is 45,000 km. He will sail the seas in the Southern Hemisphere as the oceans in the Northern Hemisphere are interrupted by land mass. From Mumbai, he’ll go via Cape Leeuwin in Australia through Cape Horn in South America, then via Cape of Good Hope in South Africa and then back to Mumbai. He will be uploading photographs and other details about his journey on a regular basis on his blog and Facebook accounts. Don’t expect a minute-by-minute account though since his Internet usage aboard the ship will cost the Indian Navy R1.5 lakh per hour. 

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