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'Abhilash Tomy is very comfortable at sea'

September 26, 2018 15:37 IST

'If you are caught in a violent storm at sea you have to deal with it and find a way out which Abhilash Tomy did,' Commander Dilip Donde, the first Indian to circumnavigate the world solo, tells's Archana Masih.

Commander Donde with Abhilash Tomy

IMAGE: Retired naval Commander Dilip Donde, left, with Commander Abhilash Tomy. Both sailors have solo-circumnavigated the globe. Photographs: Kind courtesy Commander Dilip Donde/Facebook

A day before a violent storm damaged his boat and inflicted him immobile with a severe back injury, Commander Abhilash Tomy sounded cheerful in his weekly satellite call with the Golden Globe Race authorities.

The 12 minute call available on the Golden Globe Race Web site reveals that Commander Tomy was informed about the winds building up in the area, but were expected to move through quickly.

The Kirti Chakra awardee felt he would be able to handle the situation and seemed to be doing well. He was sleeping fine, but had lost weight, which was expected.

The only thing out of the ordinary seemed to be the froth-like formation on the drinking water. But he was not too troubled by it as he was boiling the water and drinking it.

Of course, one of the highlights of his week had been sending a message to his wife of a few months -- they had wed in April -- in Goa.

He told the person at the other end of the call that his boat had been quite close to fellow competitor Gregor McGuckin one day and he had relayed a message by VHF to him.

McGuckin in turn had relayed the message on HF to the HAM guys who recorded it and sent it as a voice message to Commander Tomy's wife in Goa.

The storm that struck Commander Tomy also broke both of McGuckin's sails but in the spirit of seamanship, the Irishman set course to help the Indian sailor and reached him at almost the same time as the French rescue boat.

The Irish sailor was rescued a few hours after Commander Tomy.

The previous week, Commander Tomy had been sailing somewhere near Madagascar and had caught the air waves of a port radio which informed him that Imran Khan had been sworn in as Pakistan's prime minister.

He also intended to take some pictures of the Cape of Good Hope which he had not done on his solo voyage around the world six years earlier because he had then wanted to take in the beauty and enjoy the view.

Days later, the storm arrived.


Abhilash Tomy on his yacht Thuriya

IMAGE: Commander Tomy on his boat Thuriya in Goa.

"He was injured in a boat that was moving violently. He was immobile so he must have been very miserable, but that is part of the game as a sailor I suppose," says veteran sailor and retired naval officer Commander Dilip Donde who spent a month with Commander Tomy before he set sail from France for the Golden Globe Race.

"If you land up in a situation like that you have to deal with it and find a way out which he did by activating his emergency beacon and asking for help."

"That is the best he could do when he couldn't move and wait for the rescue to arrive. You have to keep hydrated and make sure you don't sink any further."

An experienced sailor who has circumnavigated the world solo, Commander Donde, who has known Commander Tomy for over 15 years, was confident the younger seafarer would come out of it.

"He is innovative and very comfortable at sea. Focused and determined," says Commander Donde who has just returned after sailing in Greenland and Iceland.

"If you are not physically fit, then it is even more difficult to deal with this situation. But a lot of it is mental. You don't give up, cling on and continue."

Commander Donde -- a Shaurya Chakra awardee -- also mentored the six lady Indian Navy officers who circumnavigated the globe on a 254-day voyage.

Commanders Tomy and Donde with Robin Knox-Johnston 

IMAGE: From left: Commander Abhilash Tomy, the first Indian to sail solo and non stop around the world in 2012, the legendary British sailor Robin Knox-Johnston, the first man to solo non stop around the world in 1968-1969, retired Commander Dilip Donde, the first Indian to sail solo around the world, in Mumbai in February. Photograph: Kind courtesy Commander Dilip Donde/Facebook

Commander Tomy's boat was built in India. It was dismantled and shipped to Holland where it was readied for the Golden Globe Race. Commander Tomy sailed the boat from Holland to France, the starting point of the Golden Globe Race.

The race had 11 participants, using 1968 vintage boats and technology to circumnavigate solo and non-stop.

The race is being held to celebrate the golden anniversary of the first such solo circumnavigation by British sailor Robin Knox-Johnston.

While some sailors prefer to cook on board, Commander Tomy was carrying ready to heat and eat food. "He had a water tank for fresh water, had some jerry cans, he was also catching raining water," says Commander Donde.

"I was concerned like everyone else when I heard of his accident at sea. I was confident that he would deal with the adversaries at sea," he says.

In these 85 days that Commander Tomy had been at sea, Commander Donde obtained information on the younger sailor through the race headquarters. "Those were the race rules unless we could establish a separate HF (radio) link with him which we couldn't."

Commander Donde is looking forward to speaking to Commander Tomy, but doesn't know when that will be possible. "From Ile Amsterdam (the French island where Commander Tomy is being treated by doctors) the only way to call is by satellite phone."

The last few days, Commander Donde has been receiving many calls about Commander Tomy. "Everyone thinks I have extra information which I don't."

A Goa resident, he has been in touch with Abhilash Tomy's wife. "She is anxious and worried, but now that we know he is safe, it is a relief for all of us."

"If you see that part of the ocean on the world map, there is no land around it, no ports -- so no merchant ships ply through that area. It is a very remote part of the world," says Commander Donde.

"We know very little about the sea. We probably know more about space than the sea."

Archana Masih