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Saturday, December 29, 2012

Into the Endless Pacific

A crowded Indian Ocean
A Desolate Pacific
At first it appeared that I would be sailing off the face of the earth. But then, two days after Christmas as we passed through the Sub Antarctic Islands of New Zealand, the enormousness of the Pacific opened itself unto us. Straddled on the other end by the Americas, wide enough at its widest to be almost half the size of the earth and large enough to swallow up all the landmass of the planet put together, its sheer size has meddled with the minds of followers of this voyage who are newcomers  to the world of oceans and charts and all things nautical. Named by Ferdinand Magellan during his circumnavigation, the Pacific offers its unparalleled solitude and desolation as we cleave our way towards Cape Horn.

Sometime on the 23rd December, we hit the southernmost point in the voyage so far. The Mhadei and I sailed along the 53rd parallel for day  and slowed down to let a system brewing north-west of us pass. Christmas eve turned out the way it should have. A mild breeze blew and it was enough to keep the sails full and the boat moving eastward at the exact slow pace I wanted it to. In the forenoon, the sun was not only up but shining upon us heating the boat to more than 10deg Centigrade for the first time in days. I put on music, made something out of freeze-dri vegetables, washed it down with a can of Mirinda and bit into half a slab of Bournville that had been saved for the occasion- all sitting outside in the sun. It carried a laxative effect well into Christmas which turned out to be a rough affair for reasons including weather. As I began heading northwards, we caught the tail of the passing system and the freshening breeze crossed 30knots soon after it was noon in the boat. The sky remained overcast and the winds did not subside until the following noon. But when the day had passed we discovered our Christmas gift- a 24 hour run of 201 nautical miles unpacked under a sun whose intensity remained unmitigated by clouds even after three days.
Indian Ocean grey...

...and the Pacific blue

From the grey colours of the Indian Ocean to the blue of the Pacific has been a welcome psychological change. I shot a few pelagic birds in the excitement, pilfered a packet of biryani out of January’s rations and turned a course towards Snares Island in the hope of catching the first glimpse of land after 58 days at sea. Sadly, as the wind swung, we missed it by 33 miles (in a nautical life it is the same as the breadth of ones hair). I even tried a hand at fishing but the line came back without violating the EEZ of New Zealand.

28th of December saw a surreal morning because the watches had lost their synchronisation. I have the necessity to maintain three time zones- UTC, IST and Zone Time. To do that, I use as many instruments as I can including GPS time on the electronic chart, two clocks, my mobile phone, laptop, a partly serviceable wrist watch and the INMARSAT phone. Due to frequent changes in time zones and the consequent necessity to readjust clocks, on the 28th of December I woke up to the cacophony of  clocks announcing a major disagreement between themselves. The local clock read 10:00 AM which meant that I was a couple of hours late for rendering the morning report- a feeling akin to waking up at 10:00 AM to realise that you had a flight to catch two hours back. It took me almost half an hour to gather my still drowsy wits and decide on the time because I wasn’t too sure which clock to trust. Half of them- the laptop, wrist watch and the local clock- were simultaneously wrong in their own ways. In a way it was of no consequence because in a solitary existence time is what you make it out to be. What would have gone haywire though is my communications with the rest of the world because for me the only role time plays is that of a synchroniser. I could keep a tag with the help of my beard which has sanction to grow at a pre ordained rate but I don't have time for all that.

I have learnt my lesson-
Correct clocks are all alike. All incorrect clocks are incorrect in their own ways. The Mhadei’s timekeeping could be in turmoil.”

Souls of departed seafarers

UP NEXT- The International Date Line and a Pacific New Year

PS- Despite our distance and relative insulation from the goings on elsewhere in the world, news does percolate in. The passing away of "Nirbhaya" has left a telling gloom in the boat. May her soul find the peace that was denied to her in the last moments of her life. And may we never forget how valiantly she fought till the end.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Furious 50s- “Bash on Regardless”

21-12-12-2000-sagarparikrama2-2bightAn 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.

_DSC0003 (3)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.


Sunday, December 16, 2012

Under Down Under- A Time for Anniversaries

12 12 12 12 12 12After the last lashing we on the 6th, I decided to stick to 40 degrees south for a few days and head into lighter winds that were promised in a trough of high. It was quite a peaceful time despite the 3 m swell from South West that has been rocking the boat since I don’t remember when. The swell is long and hardly perceptible, but in very light winds it can cause enough damage to the rigging. It was because of that that I took off all sails in the end and set up the A3 which somehow seemed to stay full and survive well.
On the 10th that we passed the longitude of Cape Leeuwin decreeing the end of the first leg which had been psychologically marked out from Mumbai till the first of the three great capes. The second leg is from here till New Zealand marking an entry into the South Pacific.
The break had been very much needed. There were issues with the boat that needed attention. More than anything else, it was the generator’s turn this time which threw up oil pressure warning at a much less leisurely rate than ever. It would shut down after ten seconds of running and, definitely, it was not the cooling system that was causing the problem. Although the indicator said that oil level was within limits, I decided to change the engine oil and prematurely carry out a 300 hourly servicing. When the problem still persisted I got in touch with shore based technicians who figured it was most probably a sensor issue. They gave me a method to work around the problem. I did not have to follow through all the steps though- just cleaning the sensor lead sufficed.
I took advantage of the lull to do some housekeeping and after all the effort the boat looked very much like a cadets mess right before the divisional officer’s inspection. (Well not really…it is still very much a naval mess inside.) To my surprise I found bird feather all over the boat. It did not take a lot to figure out that the  sleeping bag had been leaking down! A couple of times I made some very rudimentary pinacolada (virgin, of course) and once I fried canned sardines for dinner. It was also a time to have a shower and do the laundry, both of which were not terribly necessary despite the gap of almost a fortnight of abstinence. I have read somewhere that Mongol warriors under Chengez Khan never bathed and the layers of grime on them insulated them well from cold. I might buy that theory because on Wednesday I was sweating in the Southern Ocean . It has been days since I have seen the sun and the low overcast sky does nothing to make matters any better. The temperature has been in the range of 15-20 degrees and that of water is well below that. Therefore, for each shower I need to run the engine to heat water through its system of heat exchangers.
The season of anniversaries and celebrations has just begun. It was on 12 Dec 2008 that her hull floated and her bottom tasted salt for the first time.  Congratulatory messages first came in from the core team of Admiral Awati, Cdr Dilip Donde and Ratnakar Dandekar because it was only these three who were aware of the significance of that date. Ratnakar went on to remark that Dutta Jayanti had fallen on that day four years ago and it had been a full moon night. Even I had been unaware because I had joined the project almost four months later in 2009. Nevertheless, I ended up unknowingly celebrating with pinacolada under an unusually bright and sunny sky.
Coincidentally, at noon on that date a year later Cdr Donde had taken her out to sea after casting off from Lyttelton port on his solo circumnavigation around the world. A couple of days later, on the 14th the Mhadei crossed the international date line for the first time marking the longest day in her life. She celebrated  the launching date this year under the Great Australian Bight and her position at 12:12:12 on 12/12/12 was recorded in her log for posterity. 
PFR 2012In the December of 2011, she was paraded along with the naval fleet at Mumbai for the Presidents Fleet Review a day after a postage stamp commemorating her exploits was released by the President of India. I wonder how many of the followers of this blog have it in their collection. I, for the nomad that I am, do not have one.
With summer setting in and weather opening up this part of the world is seeing a deluge of racing boats. The Sydney- Hobart regatta will be on next week. Jeff, who is racing, has asked if I would be around in that area at that time. Although I am still deciding whether to go through the Bass Strait or not, there are very little chances of running into him given the fact that I will be almost crossing New Zealand by that date. Behind me at this time,  the savage fleet of Vendee Globe is devouring miles at the rate of almost 500 a day on their single handed non stop race around the world. Catch their positions on this link At least for a while, I have been leading their pack!
When will it be that we have an Indian taking part in the race?
Meanwhile, here is a song I enjoy listening to often.

Up Next- Pacific

Sunday, December 9, 2012

She is Home

20121206 bvsWhen 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.

 DSC_7440 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.

DSC_7385It 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.



DSC04253Mariners09Mariners08In 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 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.


20121206 positionIt 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

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Albatross Territory












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.

20121203 blogWinds 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.

_DSC0019For 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.


DSC_7317South 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!

Thats how I do laundry at sea. This is about two weeks of 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.


Thursday, November 29, 2012

Tropic of Capricorn

The boat and I strode across the Tropic of Capricorn on 27th of November soon after rendering the evening report signifying a departure from tropical to sub tropical climate. That means no more tropical revolving storms, cyclones and hurricanes- only something worse called fronts.
But it was the 25th of November, when the first signs of a chill set in, that flying fish first made their appearance on the deck.  It is always a sure indicator of an inhospitable sea. Ever since, we have been having four to five all over the deck everyday and I have been throwing them overboard. It appears they suffer from poor night vision because that is when they usually get trapped on the deck. Thankfully they don’t leave an awful smell behind. I have been advised to cook and eat them. I sure would have if they were sardines or mackerels or tuna.

Trade winds picked up in intensity and lashed at us between 25 and 30 knots till 28 Dec with a well defined cyclicity. Winds would freshen in the afternoons and drop off into the teens by morning. Waves would easily rise to about 3-4 metres made steeper by undercutting currents. Each wave the boat would slam into would send shivers up its spine.  Sailing upwind in these conditions is not a pretty experience . When a 23 ton home does that and you are the lone occupant, you are a bit worried. Its worse than an earthquake- there is no end and no escape. The only thing that seemed to help was to slow down the boat so that she would not jump off the waves, rather just eased herself down the slope. On the plus side, there was enough wind for the wind generator to take almost all the electrical load of the boat. The diesel generator, which is usually run for about four hours a day to charge the service batteries, needed to be run just half an hour in two days.huge swell
And yes, there is a correlation and reverse correlation between baths and wind speed- either I have a shower in a calm and wind would soon pick up, or there is enough spray to bathe me each time I am on deck when it is windy. DSC_4816
I remember the last time I saw a real human face, but that memory too is fading. It was sometime before crossing the Equator. A Sri Lankan fishing boat that was perhaps 10 miles away from us pulled up for a closer look. I wonder at their coquettish curiosity that makes them burn so much fuel and in the end all they do is ask for a stick of cigarette. Here is what they usually look like (this picture was taking earlier this year while rounding Dondra Head)- nice way to hang out, I would say. But when you are alone in a boat and something like this pulls up just metres from you, it sure does leave you a bit jittery.
Check out this video of taking a reef in 30 knot winds. Nevermind the swell…

Good news- We are on twitter- follow me @abhilashtomy
Changes to the Blog-
-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.
-Video bar has been added on top left. Browse videos anytime now!
Up Next- Fronts

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Trade Winds

22nd November, the day of the last post, saw no winds. We were becalmed and I took the opportunity to take bath. It was only then that I realised that my skin was not dark because of tan but because of grime. Lynn says, the boat would move faster only if I washed off the weight of grime everyday. Somehow, there is a correlation - each time I have had a shower at sea, the boat has come out of its sluggish sloshing and gathered speed with a determination. No wonder sailors are a superstitious lot. Thank you, Lynn.

The Mhadei and I found the trade winds that very noon and almost two hours later, we were scudding alone at a healthy speed of 8 knots upwind despite the reef on the main. As usual, the onset was announced by gathering clouds. That day our southward plunge started and we were on our way to the Tropic of Capricorn and from there to the eastbound highway. We have been eating away latitudes ever since hitting the trades and as I write this, I am almost in the same latitude, albeit south of the Equator, as Mumbai.

The nights have been cloudless though and stars have come out in strength. Ever since the passing of Dewali, the moon has been waxing and nights have become lit with so much moonlight that I wished it was night all day long.

Things have been going on pretty well with the boat but for the generator which was continuously dogged by low oil pressure warning. I spent considerable time trying to find out the reason and it was certain that the lube oil was not the cause for we had only recently serviced the generator. Nevertheless, I checked the lube oil level which was well within limits. After much deliberation, I remembered the words of the mechanic from Laurenco Marine who had mentioned that lube oil could lose its viscosity if it became too hot and pressure might drop. That forced me to check the cooling system and sure enough, there lay the fault! After that, it was just a matter of minutes before the problem was resolved. Its working well now, as if we are not sailing at all but it was a Sunday in harbour.

Here is a short video of sailing in trade winds
Enter video caption here
Next up- Tropic of Capricorn

Thursday, November 22, 2012

21 Days

wind 20 nov correctedSoon 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.

190px-The_Story_of_PhilosophyI 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..

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.


Sunday, November 18, 2012

Sixth Time Shellback- Crossing the Equator

_DSC0004After 15 days of solitude, whale and dolphin sightings, weaving through fishermen’s minefields, squalls and days of being becalmed, we crossed the Equator at 0505 hrs India time on the 16th day of November 2012 about sixteen miles east of E080deg longitude. A short distance before the crossing, the boat paralleled out, sailed some distance along the Equator and was blessed one last time by the Northern Hemisphere with a mild shower. Soon after that we officially crossed over to the other hemisphere where there is more sea than land, less wars and even less politics, where the wind blows the right way for all the wrong reasons, concocting the worst oceans of the world as it blows its way relentlessly with confidence in itself. From now on, my world is guaranteed to be lived upside down.
_DSC0023This has been the Mhadei’s seventh crossing in three years. We celebrated with liqueur gifted by Swaati. The first swig went to the Oceans and to Lord Varuna, the second to the boat and the remainder was equally distributed amongst the crew. On my part I drew a little of the ocean out of itself and preserved it for her in the same bottle.

The first time I crossed the equator was in 1999. We were cadets onboard the Krishna on our way to Madagascar. There was a ceremony where the commanding officer was arrested and presented at the court of Lord Varuna. One by one, he along with officers and ships company, were judged in the Lord’s Court and meted out with punishments that varied from lifting 27 kilo shells to a generous swig of “SomRas”-  a concoction of sea water mixed with various spices. In return we were gifted a certificate that I still preserve to this date.
Whereas 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

Commanding Officer

The sailing continues to be good. We tried heading eastward as soon as we had crossed the latitude of Kanyakumari in the promise of more generous winds. The attempt was made three times before giving up under light winds and uncharacteristically strong swells that would display its force by throwing the boom and the sails with it in all directions. Heading south seemed a more prudent option considering the preservation of her mast and rigging. Luckily though, that did turn out to be a good decision, for not only did the wind back giving us a south eastward course as we crossed the 2nd parallel, we also found a southward current that merged with the eastward flowing equatorial current. All in all, the boat is managing about 8 knots in a beam reach with 11 knots of wind. If the current winds and predictions prevail I should be keeping my appointment with Cape Leeuwin in early December.

Heading southward in this season is lengthening the day gradually making it unbearably hot at times. Clouds are far and few in between and the little bimini we have on the boat holds the sun back only as long as it is in the right elevations. There are short spells of light drizzles but they do little to cool the temperature. The heat is throwing up so much sweat all around that I am seriously considering the option of taking another bath.

Meanwhile, across the planet, Cdr Donde was visiting France to see off the Vendee Globe round the world solo race after which he sailed on the historic Suheili with the legendary Sir Robin Knox-Johnston to the UK. The Suheili, unknown to many of us in India, was built in Mumbai. She created history when she became the first sail boat in human history to sail around the globe solo, non stop and unassisted. Sir Robin was at the helm.

Here is what Wiki has to say about crossing the line- a must read for all Pollywogs.
Here is another blogger that has been keeping track of this voyage. Read about her take on this link
Here is a brief video of a walkaround on the deck in 10 knot winds.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

The Shoebox is Empty

13-11-12-2000-sagarparikrama2-1The 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.

_DSC0008Fresh 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.

IMG_3070DSC08370Passing 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.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

The Dragonflies are Dead

10-11-12-2000-sagarparikrama2-1The dragonflies are dead and the sparrow and grasshopper are missing. I guess I have to do this circumnavigation all by myself now.
It appeared I was all alone when another bird flapped its wings and sat on the starboard runner. Wednesday evening passed in the company of this creature which shifted its perch as I moved about the boat. For a change, its fear was not infectious because I had a breeze and the breeze wanted to stay up and I wanted to eke out every bit of speed I could.
Thursday morning saw another windless spate. Friends have been sending in their wishes. Though they don’t seem to be doing any good, they do keep me in good humour. Swapnali sent the picture of a turbine and Badresh has promised to eat more beans. A passing ship rigged up a fan at its bow and positioned itself two hundred metres from my stern. Savitha sent a poem a poem from Sweden.
Wind On The Hill
No one can tell me,
Nobody knows,
Where the wind comes from,
Where the wind goes.
It’s flying from somewhere,
As fast as it can,
I couldn’t keep up with it,
Not if I ran.
But if I stopped holding
The string of my kite,
It would blow with the wind
For a day and a night.
And then when I found it,
Wherever it blew,
I should know that the wind
Had been going there too.
So then I could tell them,
Where the wind goes…
But where the wind comes from
Nobody knows.
(A.A. Milne)
It has been battle stations ever since the wind died. At first I took it casually hoping wind would catch up. By the second day I was worried and ever since it has been battle stations. A permanent lookout was posted whose only job was to lookout for tell tale ripples announcing the arrival of fresh breeze. Sails would be hoisted at the slightest hint and dropped before the swell could do any damage. With the A3 up, sleep became even less. A 3 knot breeze would be attended to with the same respect as a 30 knot gale.
I can now tell why early mariners were so superstitious. They needed to live with what was thrust upon them and there was nothing much in their hands once they were at sea. All they could do was wait and hope.
Friday was a different day. It saw the sea stir up a breeze that allowed me to chug along at 3-4 knots all day. I made some distance good and turned landward so that I could take advantage of better breeze in the Palk Bay, whenever I get there.
konk-malabarUrmimala meanwhile busied herself to give an illustration of what my position appears to her. She ended up producing another fantastic (she says it is still incomplete) illustration. She sees me passing the Malabar coast following the paths of traders who often visited for spices. It reminded me of an interesting message from a Colonel from Brazil who had visited the boat in Goa. He compared our voyage from Goa to Brazil as reversing the route of Cabral who accidentally discovered Brazil and South America while retracing the voyage of Vasco da Gama to India.

The law of averages will catch up for sure. There is plenty of winds in store up ahead but till then I wont mind the tail end of a cyclone.
Meanwhile here is a video on how to rig up the A3 in light winds all by yourself.
Rigging the A3

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Becalmed, but where is the chopping board?

06-11-12-2000-sagarparikram2-1The first three days out of Mumbai was a dream run. There was wind on the quarter (for a change because I am known for my jinx with headwinds) and the course and speed were just perfect. We were quickly putting distance between us and the coast and in a couple of days time we were 300 miles away from Mumbai and the noise of shore and landmines of fishing nets.
Things began to change by the third day when it became apparent that Nilam was dying. The breeze slowly went down scale as I dug myself deeper into a windless hole. We did only 120 miles that day. I tried to keep up boat speed changing sails as often as I could. But even hoisting the 2000 square feet A3 did not improve things much. We have been becalmed the last couple of days.
Light winds offer a peculiar condition. Even with a mild swell, the sails thrash about and it becomes imperative that I take them off lest they tear before crossing the Equator.
_DSC0028Raising and lowering the main sail is never easy. You could ask anyone who has come for a day sail with us. Hoisting 100 kilograms over  a seven storey building on a hot day with your bare hands can leave one terribly exhausted. And I have been doing that something like three times a day on average. The genekar is something I have rigged only with a crew of three assisting me, but the last few days I have been doing that alone. With all this, I am managing a meagre 40- 50 miles a day. Hopefully things should change soon. As they say, wind can blow only in one direction in the North Pole. For me, its just a matter of time.
_DSC0020How badly are we becalmed? Here is an example. I woke up this morning to find a sea and sky that were merging at a horizon that was indistinguishable from one another. It was like living inside of a cotton ball. Yesterday the sea was so calm in the evening that there were stars in the ocean and you couldn’t tell which was was up and which way was down. Not a whiff of wind, not a ripple in the sea.
On the other hand, I have managed to catch up on sleep.  I also had my first bath in four days (in sea water of course!). The water maker, which is a bit iffy at the best of times, was tested and satisfactorily made “fresh” water after a bit of cajoling. I was subsisting on fresh fruits and vegetables till now but yesterday I took out some potatoes and boiled them. With the dried fish pickles that came from grandfather, the potatoes tasted well! Today morning was brown bread sandwich of peanut butter and banana.
Bad news though. It was only when I was trying to cut the potatoes that I realised that we have no chopping board on the boat. I will have to manufacture one now. On the flip side, I have an excess of one grasshopper, one sparrow and two dragonflies. Its just my bad luck that they don’t make for good chopping boards.
Meanwhile, Neha from Nat Geo sent in a link to the story she did on the Mhadei. Great pictures there and a great article… read on!
Maybe you should just buy a copy. Its well worth it.

Saturday, November 3, 2012


03-11-12-2000-sagarparikrama2-1One good thing about a solo circumnavigation is that you don't have to worry waking up early morning and going to office. I hear today is a Sunday.
The run up to the departure had left me fairly exhausted. We had about nine days in Mumbai but it was so hectic that any memory of Goa and the sailing to Mumbai was completely obliterated. On a good day, I would get about five hours of sleep. I was so well exhausted that I hardly realised how events flew by.
Departure finally happened on the 01st of November as per plan with a cyclone brewing in the eastern coast. There was an overwhelming crowd that came to see the cast off, and those who could not be there saw me off from afar with their wishes. National Geographic Traveller India came with the first 100 copies of their November issue. Many who received these copies came to me for an autograph on the page in which the Mhadei was featured. Taj sent a couple of pizzas that I relished for two full days after the cast off. There were many who came with cards and gifts of books but among them was a person I did not meet and whose face I might never know. Realising that he would not get access into the visitors area and a chance to meet me, he handed over a talisman to an officer in uniform. I have it safely with me and I will be taking it around the world. Whoever that person was, I would want to meet him when I come back.
DSC01802It was a welcome surprise to see Lord Varuna who came down in person to see me off with a wish of fair winds and following seas and a gift of conch.  Perhaps these terms have little significance to the modern day mariner but for a sailboat there is no better wish.
DSC01807The Flag Officer Commanding-in-Chief finally accorded permission to my request to circumnavigate the globe. But before the lines were undone, he gave me a pair of binocculars and a sea cap, and wished that I would do the navy proud. Warships had lined up in column and men had formed up on their sides who raised their caps with slogans of “Victory to the Navy and Victory to Mhadei”. The CinC’s barge with the CinC and Adm Awati, two RIBs with Cdrs Donde and Patankar and Ratnakar, one boat full of press and two sailboats, one of them with Capt (Retd) Homi Motivala followed me all the way out of the harbour.DSC01909DSC01887
DSC01890By the fairway buoy, the main was set and when the last of the spectators had peeled off, a breeze trickled in and the engine was shut. The boat soon settled in sync with the familiar rhythm of the wind and waves. For the mild breeze her speed was not disappointing and I shaped a course away from the coast, away from land and away from the noise of daily life. By the night of the second day we had crossed Angria Bank and on the noon of the second day we were crossing our home port and the mouth of the Mhadei River.
It was only after engaging the autopilot after the fairway buoy that I realised how exhausted I had been. The last two days I have done nothing but sleep. Thankfully, there has not been much traffic and the wind was a mild and steady breeze from the north west. Cyclone Nilam, which I had hoped would give me fresh breeze, disappointed with a disappearing act. But then there are no complaints, for what could be good for me, might have wrecked havoc elsewhere.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

From Here I Must Walk Alone

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.

gaurav shinde in san friscoWishes 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.

DC_NIK7Urmimala, 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.

DSC_6988Vishal 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.

DSC_6964Cdr 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!