|A crowded Indian Ocean|
|A Desolate Pacific|
|Indian Ocean grey...|
|...and the Pacific blue|
I have learnt my lesson-
Souls of departed seafarers
A journal concerning the build up to and the first attempt at a solo non stop unassisted circumnavigation of the globe by an Indian.
|A crowded Indian Ocean|
|A Desolate Pacific|
|Indian Ocean grey...|
|...and the Pacific blue|
An occlusion dealt headwinds and caused us to sail southwards much before I had planned thrusting the furious 50s on me as it went. The welcome began with 30 knot winds that soon picked up to 45 and the usual swell from south west. While the hammering went on and I reached top speeds of 16 knots surfing down some steep waves, I had a message from Admiral Awati. Bash on Regardless- it read. Pretty encouraging words and the 50s are all the more reason I need them. Irrespective of who was bashing whom, the boat and I escaped without much injuries.
Heading south, in a way, had solved a question which followers of the voyage have been pondering over endlessly. At 50 degrees south, and about a couple of hundred miles off Tasmania, that isn’t really a question anymore. Bass Strait would be a huge detour. As I passed Tasmania over the weekend, I could safely say that I had my Bight.
New Zealand is only a hop across from here but in between lies a minefield I would not want to step into. A low is moving from my north-west to cross our route south of New Zealand. It conceals more than 50 knot winds with waves added to taste. After due consideration, I have decided to slow down and accord it right of way. I am planning to dig myself into a windless hole for a day or so and pay the attention that equipment and rigging has been asking of me. And then, I too am entitled to a Christmas vacation, some carols and possibly a movie and popcorn.
21st of December was winter solstice. It marked the end of the southern transit of the sun this year putting an end to all the Mayan-Calendar-End-of-the-World jokes that have been doing the rounds. I wasn’t really worried, but after I threw the stone calendars out, the boat has been significantly lighter and livelier. Till now the voyage has been a race into the sun, sailing south as it went south, seeking a path through the weather that its passage cleared up. But from now on, almost for another month till I round the Horn, our paths will diverge with the sun heading northward while we go further down till at least 56 degrees. That makes it all the more important that I get to the Horn on the appointed date from where I will be free to follow the sun and head back to India.
At 50 degree south I am closer to the pole than to the equator. The temperatures too have been plunging southward and at the time of writing this blog, it hovers between 7 and 10 degrees during the day. It is becoming impossible to touch any steel fitting or walk on deck barefoot because the chill it sends up at times appears to burn. Anyone can read my thoughts now because they seem to condense in the air as thought bubbles. Showering, that ubiquitous consideration, is becoming a well planned ritual, not for shortage of water but of warmth. I will chance the plunge when I am becalmed.
This transit has been my second association with Australia, in a manner of speaking. I had visited Fremantle in 2009 to help with Cdr Donde’s stopover as his sole shore support and Man Friday. Located at the mouth of Swan river, Fremantle is the port town of Perth. With a maritime museum resembling an upturned hull, anchors and buoys strewn along pavements and motifs of the America’s Cup adorning its walkways, Fremantle comes across as a very tastefully designed maritime town. It is no wonder that it has inspired the likes of John Sanders, the eight time solo circumnavigator. The acquaintances we made during our stay- Pat and Fred, Pip and John, and Shruti among others- continue to be ardent followers of this voyage too.
Click here to have a peek into the town through my lens. https://picasaweb.google.com/107226194295094703484/Freo2009?authkey=Gv1sRgCLut3qHU1_TegQE
Up Next- PACIFIC
When I left harbour, there were many who wished me fair winds and following seas. All of a sudden it all seems to have literally come true. We were in the neighbourhood of the roaring forties on the 6th of December when the winds went from a whisper to a roar. BVS reported 35 knot winds and 6-7 metre waves, and BVS, from my experience, is never to be distrusted . Before the last light of 5th was out, I had already deployed the stay sail and taken in three reefs on the main in anticipation of the blast. But when it hurtled onto us on the 6th, it claimed its first wicket early in the morning when the padeye of the runner block parted. A couple of hours later the wind vane autopilot gave up with a line parting and I had to take off the stay sail too. We were, even with the modest amount of sail that we carried, hurtling downhill at speeds topping at 14 knots at times.
There was so much spray around that the winds were literally fair and the sea was following us with a club in hand and badgering us each time we were looked back. The tops of waves would get ripped off and carried away in the breeze and it would cover the sea to such an extant that there was more white than blue. Yet it was more beautiful than monstrous and I felt like I was in a real ocean where the waves had a tinge of patent blue atop its crest that you wouldn’t find anywhere else. Waves would pile upon each other, at times lifting us on top and showing us a remarkably unhindered view of the world around, and in valleys it would seem as if they had gobbled up the sun and the sky. These are waves that constantly alter the topography of the planet without being reported in any atlas. It was a warm welcome by a cold ocean. The Mhadei was in her elements. Even with nothing more than a “Cutty Sark” of a sail on her, she was scudding along at a lively pace, gobbling miles at the rate of almost 200 a day. We have begun to run the eastings down.
It was almost at the same time that the great white albatross made an appearance. It would fly about as if it was the calmest day in paradise. They have their little ones in tow at times. The brown ones too are never far away either.
In between all the maelstrom, I had a touching message from a follower who lives in Detroit. Madhura Chitnavis-Marathe wrote about her field trip with a group of senior citizens in the city. The last stop was the Mariner’s Church which reminded her very much about the boat and her lonely sailor. She did not miss the opportunity to send me some beautiful images of the church which she asked me to “accept as online blessings”. I don’t pray but that does not mean that I don’t believe in the prayers of others. Click here http://marinerschurchofdetroit.org/history/ to know more about its interesting history.
In the aftermath of the first true gale of this voyage, winds died leaving behind horribly tall seas that did not do justice to the calm. That period is almost as uncomfortable as the gale itself. There is not enough wind to hold the sails in place but the boat rolls about so much that everything thrashes about. Inside the boat, things that did not stay within their assigned places found further company as more came crashing out of their locations. The melee below decks spoke well of the turmoil boat had been through the last few days.
Meanwhile, here is a video that I had made a few days into the voyage. I just put it up. Its a tour of the insides of the boat. Its very spartan and I am putting it up for all those who haven’t seen a boat at all.
It has been 37 days at sea in the company of ourselves. The boat’s tracker- Mandar- has diligently kept pace with us and plotted as we went. At the time of writing of this blog, we have done about 5100 nautical miles on ground and are about to enter what is called the Australian Bight.
Up Next- Under Down Under. The Australian Bight
The 1st of December was a good day for more reasons that one. For one, the end of first 30 days at sea in my little office was marked by the visit of a brown albatross. The other reason was Nat Geo Traveller India that came out with the second instalment of the story of the voyage so far. Neha Dara and Ashima Narain sailed with us from Goa to Mumbai on the final run up to Sagar Parikrama 2 and they have come up with a splendid article complete with some excellent experiences, writing and pictures. Book your copy now for tomorrow it will be collector’s item.
Winds died by the 29th of November and we were becalmed briefly marking an end to our southern transit. Soon after that the high pressure passed over us and I saw the signboard that read “TURN LEFT HERE FOR CAPE HORN’. Winds swung almost immediately. A gentle southward component in the course should see us hitting the roaring forties within a week, but weather predictions tell that the winds will be more than whispering much before that. in a couple of day’s time, the first cold front is going to hit me brining with it 30 knot winds, 6 metre waves and rains. I have advice from many quarters how to miss Australia and Tasmania. I have taken their advice seriously and am trying to tread carefully between Australia and Antarctica trying not to slice across either and change world geography forever.
For the same reason 29th of November also saw the beginning of a four day weekend. It was a good time to catch up on sleep, post a blog and prepare for the roaring 40s. Out came winter clothes, boots, oilies, fleece jacket and sleeping bag from the bosun store, December's food from the food store and in went summer clothes and linen after the laundry was done. The running rigging got a thorough lookover and the machinery was checked once again to see if it was ready to take the next beating. But readiness for the Southern Oceans cannot be predicted, at least that is what my understanding is. You can only tell once you are out of it whether you were ready when you went in.
South of 32nd parallel, I saw an albatross. A brown one. It happened on the 01st of this month marking our official entry into albatross territory. She has been following us ever since. In my life as a pilot, that is the only bird I consider worthy of envy. And what joy it is to see one fly all day long without flapping its wings even once!
Check out this video to see how I usually do my laundry!
Meanwhile, not very far from here, another sailing is happening- the voyage of the Sudarshini to ASEAN. Check out the latest blog from the skipper as they pass Cebu.
UP NEXT- ROARING FORTIES
-Feedburner has been activated . All you need to do now is leave your e-mail id in the right window and every post will land in your e mail fresh off the Skipper’s desk.Up Next- Fronts
-Video bar has been added on top left. Browse videos anytime now!
Soon after crossing the Equator we were fortunate to have wind and current assisting us in making an a quick eastward passage. The speed was good and there were days on which we did anywhere between 170-190 miles against the planned average of 150. Meanwhile, a cyclonic circulation was brewing south east of us around a closed isobar. My aim was to sail East of it, and having passed it make use of the trade winds to sail southward. So far, the plan has worked out despite the fact that winds have died down east of the circulation. But it is only a matter of time before we catch up with the trade winds which has been predicted to hold more than 25 kn winds within itself.
The sun, meanwhile, has considerably worked up its intensity. Its rays are so scorching that one might feel it would pierce through skin and body and come out the other way. Body hair is showing tell tale signs of bleaching- it has started turning golden brown in colour. The beard has grown beyond the point where it pokes my own skin. The heat is almost stopping the brain from functioning and I do need take more naps to cool it down. Sunburn is much more severe when you are at sea because of all the reflections of sunlight around you. On my part, I still refuse to wear sunblock preferring instead to wear clothes with high SPF value.
I thought I would read a lot in this voyage and I do like reading. Instead of choosing books myself, I asked a few of my reliable friends to contribute, so that the library I would carry would be more of a radio station than a collection of songs. I tried reading the moment I cast off and was over my sleep deprivation but somehow it did not catch on. What I could read turned out to be Tinkle comics and almost two years of Nat Geo issues that the ACK media team had gifted on the day of departure. Almost after ten days, I found what would be a safe bet for me anytime, anywhere, any weather- a book called One Hundred Years of Solitude. Having read that in a matter of two nights, I moved on to The Story of Philosophy by Will Durant. I find it incredibly engrossing and way different from other books I have tried to read on the subject. It has also sparked a desire to read Voltaire when I get back.
As I write this, there is another Indian Navy sailing vessel called the Sudarshini which is sailing on a voyage to South East Asia, She is a barque rigged tall ship forming a part of the Training Squadron. You can read her skipper’s blog here.. http://www.aseanindia.com/skippers-blog
Next up- Trade Winds
Almost knocking on the doors of trade winds, I have covered about 2500 nautical miles in 22 days at an average speed of 5knots. This includes the days I was becalmed.
CROSSING THE LINEWhereas by Our Royal concession We decree that Our Trusty and Well Beloved Cadet Abhilash Tomy has this day entered our domain and has been rightly and duly initiated with all form and ceremony as Our subject on board Indian Naval Ship Krishna.We do hereby charge all Sharks, Whales, Eels, Dolphins, Gollywogs, Pollywogs etc. to abstain from eating, playing with or otherwise maltreating his person.And we further direct all Sailors, Mariners, Soldiers, Globetrotters and Landlubbers who have not crossed the Equator of Our Royal Domain to treat him with respect due to one of Our royal subjects.
Given at Our Court on the Equator this Sixteenth day of October 1999
in longitude 64 degrees East
in the presence of Lord Varuna
The Captain of a warship had given me a gift wrapped shoebox a day before I left harbour. When I opened it at sea, I saw that it contained an enormous number of butter cookies which tasted so delicious that I would make meal of it at times. The shoebox is empty now. So are the bananas and potatoes and cucumbers and cabbages. Fresh provisions are dwindling and all I am left with are some apples, oranges and tomatoes.
Fresh provisions somehow seem to have replaced themselves with a lot of bugs though. I can’t find names for them and there are many!
The boat has been sailing pretty well since the last post on Sunday. We crossed the Indian peninsula and the decision to head closer to land and towards Palk Bay seems to have paid off. That area kept up with its reputation and winds picked up to a breeze of 15 knots and more at times. We have been cruising along ever since at speeds bottoming at 6 knots. Yesterday was a good day because we did 145 miles in 24 hours- almost thrice of what we were averaging in the lulls.
On the flip side, it has been squally and it promises to remain so. That has robbed me of some sleep. More often that not, I am waking up at odd hours shortening sails and riding out 25 knot guts. The sun has been blanketed out for most part of the day and it is all very gloomy. The sea is short and the swells are making good work of flapping the sails every now and then.
Passing Sri Lanka reminds me of the only time we had called at Colombo. The year was 2009 and the Mhadei had just been inducted into the navy. That had been her first oversees port of call. We had sailed in to carry out some work on our sails that had come from North Sails, New Zealand. Sri Lanka, unknown to many of us, boasts of the world’s largest North Sails factory. It was a pleasant trip with pleasant memories and a learning experience for us as first time crew. She had evoked so much curiosity that she made friends of almost all who came in touch with her.
Yesterday was Deepawali. It became more of a Holi when the day announced itself with a squall dissipating right overheard. There was enough rain and I took bath- a good omen I would say. People later pointed out that it was more of an Abhyangasnana.. Breakfast was pre cooked Halwa that Defence Food Research Laboratories had supplied and did it taste delicious! I did not carry a lamp with me, so just lit the stove so that there would be some light. Happy Deepawali to one and all! May there be an abundance of light in your lives all year around.
Up next- Picking the Line. The Equator is only one and half day’s sail but I have other plans.
It has been a fantastic run up to the departure. People have come out in numbers with support. Almost every day I have had friends and strangers drop in with books and icons for the voyage. The more pragmatic ones kept us supplied with cool water, cakes, drinks and what not. My grandfather did his bit from his remote village in sending pickled dry fish. Admira Awati’s wife, and my adopted mother, sent bottles of ghee. Clea almost loaded me up with dehydrated veggies and other stuff to last the entire voyage. DFRL Mysore singularly contributed more than half the food that will be needed for the voyage.
Wishes have come pouring in from everywhere corner of the planet. The overwhelming number of phone calls and messages became too much for me to handle and I had to put up a notice apologising. Gaurav Shinde, who aims to be the first Indian to race around the world in a Clipper boat, had paid visit at Goa. A month later, he sent in his wishes from San Francisco from a sail boat. A young German boy who came aboard at Goa sent his wishes in a hand made postcard asking me to take it around the world and post it back to him when I get back to India. He signed off with a “Jai Hind”. Yet another naval friend, who is on the verge of retirement, called up to tell that it seems like a chapter out of the story books she has read in her childhood. A senior colleague in my office has decided to grow a beard to show solidarity with the project.
Urmimala, a cartographer in her own right, gave expression to her emotions on paper and came up with some fantastic illustrations. She had almost made up her mind to fly down from Delhi and visit the Chatrapati Shivaji Museum to see a miniature model of the boat but was disheartened when she came to know that it had been shifted out since the last PFR. Friends that I have made have started having dreams of the boat with such regularity and lucidity that I fear they must be more concerned for me than they care to admit. Some of my friends have refused to be at the Gateway on the 1st of November because it would cause them too much emotional turmoil to see me off.
Vishal Sharma, who had sailed with us to Malaysia, took leave to come to work on the boat and prepare her, something for which I will always be grateful. The person who proved to be the most important and the most useful also turns out to the be most humble and the most unsung- Leading Seaman Mohammed Izhar Alam. He has singlehandedly kept the boat in good order during my absences and looked after her as if it were his own. Since the time he joined the boat, he has grown tremendously because of all the hard work he has put in. It is as if the term “Man Friday” was coined for him. I could not have asked for a better assistant ever.
Cdr Donde worked to prepare the boat, even harder than he had prepared for his own voyage. Not only did he get his hands greased and dirty, he also doubled up as a manager and staff officer, handling appointments and the much dreaded paper work. Ratnakar left all his business to dedicate almost five working days for the boat and its preparation. Cdr Donde’s mother, Meera, saved nearly a week of my time by sorting out all food that had arrived from different corners of the earth.
This has not been a one man show. I have mentioned only a few names but there are many many more. Those who could not contribute physically have sent in their wishes. It is heartening to note the amount of confidence people have in the boat, the Project and the Indian Navy. Adventure, definitely, is alive in the heart of every Indian.
But from now on, I must walk alone. It will be a solitary passage, but never a lonely one. You will get to hear from me at a lesser frequency than you have been and at times there will be stretches when you might not hear from me at all. In those times, do remember that I am possibly having a very good time!