Naval commander Abhilash Tomy was left incapacitated in a sail boat after it was hit by a massive storm in the choppy waters of the Indian Ocean, but even the rough seas could not drown his will to survive against the odds.
Tomy, 39, the 'only Asian' to participate in the prestigious Golden Globe Race 2018 -- a 30,000-mile solo circumnavigation of the globe -- that kicked off from Les Sables-d'Olonne, a seaside town in France in July, was rescued from his location late September by French vessel 'Osiris'.
A pilot in the Navy, he shared his experiences and challenges faced during the gruelling contest at a media interaction held at the Kota House New Delhi on Thursday.
"After being rescued by 'Osiris', which incidentally is named after the (Egyptian) god of afterlife, I was sent for treatment at a hospital in Amsterdam Island (in southern Indian Ocean). And, a few days later, INS Satpura arrived and evacuated me," he said.
"In India, I underwent a surgery at the Army's R&R Hopsital and realised, had suffered multiple fracture in my spine, and I am still recuperating. And, though there is a feeling of disappointment that I couldn't complete it, I am raring to go back to the seas, once I am deemed fully fit," Tomy told reporters.
The naval officer had circumnavigated the globe in 2012-13, and was a special invitee at the race, which commemorates 50 years of the Sunday Times Golden Globe Race 1968-69.
"He was the only Asian to participate in the event," a senior official of the Navy said.
Survival was doubly challenging for Tomy and other sailors, as the commemorative race had disallowed use of any modern equipment manufactured after 1968, in a bid to authentically recreate the race held half-a-century ago.
Participants used celestial charts, sextant, compass, old HAM radio sets and other analogue devices dating pre-1968.
Asked if at any point of time, he lost hope of survival, Tomy said, "Navy teaches us the will to survive, and at no point, I ever felt that I won't be rescued. In fact, I just kept a blank mind and bid my time, but it was severely tough as odds were stacked up against me."
He was sailing in 'Thuriya', a replica of British sailor Sir Robin Knox-Johnston's original winner 'Suhaili' in 1969.
'Thuriya' name comes from the Mandukya Upanishad and refers to the fourth state of consciousness.
"The storm hit my boat, about 2800 nautical miles from the coast of India, and it was literally the middle of nowhere, the back of beyond in the Indian Ocean. The wind speed was around 140 kmph, it was the Roaring Forties, and my boat got de-masted and then knocked down again," he said.
The naval commander said he was feeling a shooting pain in the back and realised he couldn't walk, 'so, I lay myself down in the boat, and tried surviving in the rough seas for a couple of days, until rescue arrived'.
Asked if he had food and water supplies, Tomy said, as per the rule packaged water bottles were not allowed, 'so I survived on canned food and iced tea'.
"But, I did not lose hope at any point of my time, and my regimen at Navy and prior training also came in handy," he said.
Tomy said his wife and parents lent a great support in recovery phase, and they say, "I could go back to the seas, once he is totally fit".
"The race was played by old rules and many contestants dropped out as they were unable to deal with solitude. I got married in April and left for Europe a few months later.
"We could only use satellite phone for contacting organisers and in emergency situations.
"So, it was difficult contacting her. And, I returned to her 20 kg lighter in weight. But, she was proud of me," he added.
Asked if use of pre-1968 instruments was a challenge and how he dealt with it, the office said, it was a 'different experience'.
"With old classical instruments, I was able to connect to the sea much better. The experience made me a better sailor," he asserted.
Asked about the prior training, he said, "I did training in celestial navigation, a course in medicare in Bombay, and a survival course, but it's the will to survive that Navy teaches that keeps us going."
So, what are the future plans for this adventurous man, he said, "As of now, I am being assigned light work, as I am still recuperating. I will be part of the Ocean Sailing Node in Goa."
"The next Golden Globe Race is slated to be held in 2022. I had completed almost 40 per cent of the 2018 race, I would like to take a shot again and go back to the seas," he said.
"Eighteen participants from fourteen countries took part in the race. The race is still on and expected to end soon. There are five contestants left and 72-year-old Jean Luc, a Frenchman, is currently leading the race," Tomy said.
The route of the race, starting from Les Sables d'Olonne, goes south till Cape of Good Hope, and continues eastward in the southern hemisphere to pass the international dateline, and Cape of Horn to north in the Atlantic Ocean for the final leg.
He was aiming to complete the race in 311 days, one day less than Sir Johntson's timing. "But, the stormy experience was total 'paisa vasool' (totally worth it)," he said with a smile.
Asked about the funding of the race, he said, "I had some corporate sponsors" and he was thankful to the Navy for allowing me to participate in the grand event.