Nearly fifty years ago, an epic race, where its nine participants were supposed to sail solo around the world in non-mechanised yachts, ended with only one of them finishing it. Others met varied fates: one of them committed suicide during the race, while another quit halfway through, deciding to settle down on the isles of Polynesia in the South Pacific Ocean.
The Golden Globe Race (GGR) which had started off from Plymouth in Britain was never held again – until now. To mark its golden jubilee, a new GGR, covering 30,000 miles and having thirty participants, will be flagged off on June 30, 2018 from the same place; and Commander Abhilash Tomy of the Indian Navy is the only Indian, rather the only Asian, who has been invited to take part in it.
The sailors will skirt the Cape of Good Hope, pass through the Indian Ocean, skirt the coastline of Australia, cross the international date line and round the Cape Horn on the southern tip of South America before heading north and reaching the finish-line passing through the Atlantic Ocean once again.
A daunting itinerary, but commander Tomy is no stranger to such a journey, having circumnavigated the globe non-stop and unassisted in a sailing boat in 2013 to become the first Indian to achieve the feat. Talking to PTI over the week-end, the 38-year-old Kirti Chakra awardee described the GGR as a “raw adventure” in its purest form, which today’s speed-obsessed sailing world has forgotten.
What makes the adventure “raw” is the rule that participants can only use the equipment and gadgets carried on board by Sir Robin Knox-Johnston’s yacht ‘Suhaili’ when it won the GGR in 1968. So no GPS sets or satellite phones. To communicate, participants can only use HF sets (high frequency radio sets).
But for commander Tomy, a more difficult challenge will be to raise over Rs 7 crore that he would need for the race. Unlike his circumnavigation expedition which was supported by the Navy, he is completely on his own this time. A public fund-raising campaign has been launched on crowd-sourcing platform Ketto, while he is also trying to get funding from corporates.
The boat, which he would be using in the race, named “Thuriya” and built by Goa-based Aquarius Shipyard, was launched last week. The 32-foot vessel is an exact replica of ‘Suhaili’, except that fibre glass and steel have been used to make it. “Very few people know that ‘Suhaili’ was built using wood logs confiscated by the Customs right here in Colaba (Mumbai). That is our contribution to the global maritime history,” Tomy said. In comparison, INS Mhadei, in which Tomy sailed around the world in 150 days covering a distance of 23,000 miles in 2013, was over 56-foot long, giving it more stability and speed.
The biggest challenge of GGR participants will be navigation without technology such as the GPS. They will have to rely on the age-old celestial markers — the stars, the sun and the moon — and a compass to determine the location and chart the route ahead. “Minutest of calculation mistakes can lead to getting the location wrong. Also, we will have to use error-prone mechanical (analogue) watches because digital watches didn’t exist in 1968,” Tomy said.
To be sure, every boat will have a GPS set fitted on it, but it is only for the outside world to keep tabs on the boat. The participants themselves won’t be able to use it. There would be a satellite phone too, on which they will receive a call from the organisers every week and will give updates of their progress. They can call themselves only ‘in distress’, but it would lead to automatic disqualification.
Before the race starts, Tomy will have to imbibe certain basic know-how. These include knowledge of advanced medicine, oceanography, meteorology, rules of diet, boat repairing, including fibre glass and aluminium work, and also some diplomacy, in case they entered the waters of a wrong country.
For the journey, Tomy will be stocking supplies for 320 days, including a litre of drinking water for every day. He can only take a minimal amount of canned food, owing to the small size of his boat. Participants will have to do some fishing if they want to supplement their diet.
The Indian Navy has given him go-ahead for participation in this once-in-lifetime race. But because of his shoestring budget, he cannot afford to load his boat on a bigger ship for reaching Plymouth, the starting line. There is a possibility that he will have to sail there all the way in Thuriya itself, which is expected to take six months.
“If I manage to raise money, I will send Thuriya on a larger carrier from South Africa after sailing through the choppy Cape of Good Hope. If not, I will sail all the way to the start-line, and it will help me learn a lot,” he said. “Rarely does anyone get such a historic opportunity, and this is mine,” said the Navy commander with a chuckle.