The Kerala formation day (November 1) this year is set to be a brave one, with Lieutenant Commander Abhilash Tomy, a naval pilot from Tripunithura, embarking on a daunting non-stop solo circumnavigation of the globe on Indian Naval Sailing Vessel (INSV) Mhadei from Mumbai.
The intrepid naval aviator had earlier provided shore support to Commander Dilip Donde as he solo-steered Mhadei to become the first Indian to go around the globe under sails as part of the Navy’s Sagar Parikrama project.
Two years hence, Lt Cdr Tomy, will earn his sea legs of steel as he traverses the seas on the same sailing yacht covering a distance of 45,000 kms without support or halt, hoping to return in 180 days flat. Primed for the mission by Cdr Donde, Lt Cdr Tomy has been steadily working for this voyage for the past couple of years.
“People often ask me why I need to do all this alone and I say, ‘you never carry your relatives to your honeymoon,” the cool-headed flyer told The Hindu.
In the build-up to his most ambitious mission so far, the Dornier recce pilot played Cdr Donde’s deputy on the boat’s voyage to Cape Town and Rio de Janeiro in a yacht race. He skippered the sloop on the return leg in a weather-packed trans-Atlantic race that ended in Cape, from where he brought it back to Goa solo. Most recently, he undertook a 5,000 nautical mile training cruise to Langkawi and Phuket.
To Lt. Cdr Tomy, the 56-foot yacht built in Goa is virtually his second home, having spent testing times on it at sea and on refits. Since it is a non-stop voyage, the boat will stock adequate ration and supplies, full-capacity fuel for power generation and back-ups to meet exigencies.
For the braveheart pilot, brush with an avian in the middle of the ocean is quite unnerving. “Birds don’t scare me otherwise, but at sea if they pay me a visit, I get a feeling that they manifest the souls of the dead,” says the Lt Cdr.
During his voyages, he saw turtles swim past and was mesmerised by sea glow, bioluminescence due to plankton activity. On occasions, he braved the odds to extend a helping hand to vessels that bore the brunt of ocean’s rage.
While Lt Cdr Tomy has never had serious bouts of hallucinations typical of seafaring activity, he has experienced a spurt in lucid dreams, “which leave an emotional trail once I’m awake.”
One of the criteria for circumnavigation is that the vessel sails south of all the great capes — south of Australia, Cape Horn and Cape of Good Hope. “The farthest south I will go will be the 60- degree south latitude. They say, ‘below the 40th parallel there are no rules, below the 50th no laws and below the 60th no god’,” he says.
“It’s a terrible ocean out there. Waves are not waves but liquid mountains. Imagine a life where your house is continuously in a storm, moves up and down by five metres most of the time and the floors are tilted at a 40-dregree angle. Life in the southern oceans on a sail boat is akin to living inside a washing machine all your life,” he guffaws, and is raring to go.