On Saturday morning, as he steers his boat INSV (Indian Naval Sailing Vessel) Mhadei to a rousing reception into the Mumbai harbour, Commander Dilip Donde will be formally christened the first Indian to circumnavigate the world solo, covering about 21,600 nautical miles (38,880 km) under sail.
Vice-President Hamid Ansari and Navy Chief Admiral Nirmal Kumar Verma will witness the historic moment from INS Delhi as Mhadei crosses the finishing line. Later, Cdr. Donde will be given a ceremonial guard of honour onboard the aircraft carrier, INS Viraat.
While the entire country is ecstatic about his feat, Cdr. Donde feels “good” about hogging the limelight. “Though it really doesn't feel like one is writing history!” he said in a chat with TheHindufrom his boat.
Cdr. Donde embarked on the Navy's daunting project ‘Sagar Parikrama' in 2006. “The project has gone on for a long time and there have been many challenges, like building a boat like Mhadei in the country for the first time [It was built in Goa] and then sailing through some of the remotest seas of the world. Each phase and leg had is challenges — bad weather, equipment breakdown, extreme cold or heat, etc. Each phase was interesting, exciting and challenging in its own way,” says Cdr. Donde, who, at 42, is a bachelor.
On August 19, 2009, the 56-foot sloop set sail from Mumbai on its first voyage. The journey turned Cdr. Donde into an avid blogger as he kept his burgeoning number of admirers posted with Mhadei's progress at http://www.sagarparikrama.blogspot.com.
“The Navy was looking for a volunteer to take up the project. I liked the idea as it sounded exciting and volunteered without much idea of what I was getting into. Looking back, it was probably the best and quickest decision I took.”
On a solitary deck, Cdr. Donde encountered turbulent winds. He spent sleepless days and nights navigating the boat through choppy seas. When the sea was calm, he slept under star-studded skies. Close to shore, he snooped around, shooting pictures of marine life that had come calling on Mhadei.
At leisure, Cdr. Donde caught up on an interesting movie or a captivating book, chatted up acquaintances, enjoyed a delicacy or blogged at will. On the last and longest leg, he ran out of cooking gas and had to make do with canned food, resorting to innovative means of “warming things a bit using water from my heater that heats water to 60 degree Celsius, [relishing] lukewarm coffee, etc!”
On the voyage, Cdr. Donde made friends with Australian teenager Jessica Watson, who recently became the youngest person to sail around the world solo.
For a voyage to qualify as circumnavigation, it should start and end at the same port and cross all meridians (longitudes) at least once and the equator at least twice.
The distance covered should be more than the length of a meridian and the boat should not pass through any canal or straits, where use of engines or towing is unavoidable.
The boat should go round the three great capes — Cape Leeuwin (Australia), Cape Horn (South America) and the Cape of Good Hope (Africa). Mhadei has met all these requirements.