Going down in history, the first all-women Indian crew of INSV Tarini returned on May 21, completing a 254-day circumnavigation of the globe that they began from Goa on September 10 last year.
Lt. Commander Vartika Joshi (skipper), Lt Cdr Pratibha Jamwal, Lt Cdr P. Swathi, Lt Aishwarya Boddapati, Lt S. Vijaya Devi and Lt Payal Gupta successfully covered a journey of 22,000 nautical miles. From Fremantle in Australia to Cape Town in South Africa, the expedition under project Navika Sagar Parikrama took halts at five ports across the globe.
How does it feel to be back on the ground, after a lengthy time at sea?
Lt. Cdr. Pratibha Jamwal: Great feeling. To come back to motherland. To touch the land after being in such a unstable environment and surface for so long. It feels great to step on the stable land.
During the entire voyage, were you in touch with any people on land including family?
Lt. Cdr. Vartika Joshi: Yes, absolutely. We were well-connected with respect to our communication system. We would communicate through a satellite communication system we had on board. The idea of this expedition was to reach more masses through regular postings on social media.
Lt. S. Vijaya Devi: Yes. Because we needed to pass on the information to them also as they were concerned about us. We were updating them about the weather and the data.
How do you see the circumnavigation for yourselves?
Lt. Cdr. Aishwarya Boddapati: This circumnavigation had lots of objectives. Taking a personal stand, I would say that it has changed us as individuals and has taught us many life lessons. We were just common girls, just out of college and joined Navy.
During the halts at ports, you met children from local schools and spoke to them. How was the experience for you all?
Lt. Cdr. P. Swathi: We got to know the essence of this voyage and having its influence all across the globe with the various interactions we had at the ports where we went. It sent a very strong message across about what is this circumnavigation and how gruelling this task is. And at the same time, we also got to know what influence it had on us.
What all has the mission accomplished in terms of gathering data, tracking marine pollution?
Lt. Payal Gupta: The data which we received was helping the Navy and the Met Department, so that they could know more about the South Pacific Ocean and oceans where there are no shipping lines. Mostly people don’t venture in such places. Since we had gone for the third time, it helped the Navy to get more information about the weather pattern of that place. As we moved away from the coast, the marine pollution was much lesser. Marine pollution was mostly closer to the coast.
Tell us what an average day at sea would look like?
Lt. S. Vijaya Devi: Our day was divided into watch system. We had a roster of four hours per person per day. We are six, so we had two-hours watch. So in short we were 24*7 on the watch. So the other four would have their jobs. Some of them would cook and even the cooking was done on the roster and the others prepared themselves for the watch. That’s how we spent our day.
How did you manage the basic tasks like cooking and washing on board?
Lt. Cdr. P. Swathi: If you ask any one of us, we don’t even believe that we spent 254 days on the boat because everyday was so hectic. Your day started and you were done with your routine, then you had things lined up for you for the next day because you won’t be able to finish everything in one day. And the boat needed continuous maintenance. Since these things are on sea and most of the things get corroded and you need to keep replacing them. Apart from that, yes, we were all-rounders on the boat. If you have pleasant weather conditions and nice weather, you can get back to your hobbies, maybe start reading a book or maybe listen to music. Most of the times you’re getting things repaired for the boat.
We have spoken in the past about some of the challenges during this trip-
now that it’s complete what part do you believe was the toughest-physically and mentally?
Lt. Cdr. Vartika Joshi: It’s all about physical and mental challenge and how you can endure them. The upper body is always active because you have to adjust the sails, sometimes when the wind pick up immediately you have to bring down the sails. It was a 10-metre walk from one end to the boat to the other which is your working space. At the same time, the lower body is not working at all. After we come back on land, the upper body is building up the muscles, the lower body is just gaining fat.
When we joined the Navy, we were prepared mentally to take on challenges as and when they come. We didn’t have much problem as far as the mental preparation was concerned. But definitely it was a long voyage, long journey away from home and just the six of us on a very, very small boat. So three years we were trained for it so that we leave no stones unturned.
What did your training entail?
Lt. Cdr. Pratibha Jamwal: We had to start from scratch though we had all served more than five years of service. In Kochi there are certain schools of Indian Navy, navigation, communication, meteorology, so we did our theoretical training there. Thereafter, we were posted to INS Mandvi where we started our hands-on training on INSV Mhadei, which was the first boat to circumnavigate under Captain Dilip Donde. We used to work on the boat, repair things, he taught us each and everything about the boat. Tarini is the replica of Mhadei. We sailed extensively on that boat and before setting sail for circumnavigation, we had already covered distance more than that of the circumference of Earth, that is more than 22,000 nautical miles.
There’s a notion that women do not get along well, especially in closed quarters. What message would you like to give the women across the globe aspiring to be navy officers?
Lt. Cdr. Aishwarya Boddapati: Our entire journey is a living example of breaking all stereotypes. You see us standing here together, that itself says that we get along very well and in close quarters, even better. And when you’re together with each other for 24 hours a day, you don’t have any option than get along well with each other. Of course, there were misunderstandings and difference of opinions but we got through every obstacle as a team. My message across is don’t limit yourself to stereotypes. Nothing is impossible. We made it possible and I think anyone can do it.
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