Moonbows on the high seas

Raghu Gopalakrishnan, who has completed the clipper race 20011-12.Photo:K.K.Mustafah.  

Raghu Gopalakrishnan, 43, is on cloud nine. Yet he feels he is bobbing up and down somewhere in the Southern Ocean, all ‘wet, wet, wet and cold,’ battling 39-ft high waves, wearing six layers of clothing. Why? He is just back from the world's longest yacht race, ‘Clipper 2011-12’. He is perhaps the only Malayali who has technically completed this ‘round the world’ race. (His friend Mohan Krishnan who was with him in the yacht, did not do all the legs of the race). ‘Technically’, because his yacht ended the race at Den Helder on July 12, 2012. It was flagged off from Southampton, U.K., last July 31.

“We crossed the zero degree meridian for the second time (the first was on our way to Cape Town from Rio last September. We also crossed the longitude for Southampton 1 23.508E in this race from where we started)”, as Raghu puts it.

Only sails

Of the 10 identical 68-ft long yachts, ‘CV2 New York’, in which Raghu sailed, came in the last four, but who cares, it was the adventure that beckoned Raghu, not the competitive spirit. It is an amateur race, started by Sir Robin Knox-Johnston, the first man to sail solo and non-stop around the world, and the thrill quotient is what people seek. You cannot use an engine, only sails. The wind does the job in the 40,000 nautical miles race with 15 stops. What the sailors do is find the way to use the wind. For instance, when the wind is against your path, a zig-zag route does the trick, but that takes twice as much time. The mast is 81-ft high and once, for six weeks, there is just no stop in the Pacific. “Sometimes, when you sleep, you are thrust high up and come down with a plop, when the sea is really rough. We had six hour shifts to man the yacht, a ‘made in China’ one. Of the 20 sailors with Raghu, five were women. One was a 65 year old, who served as the seamstress , a tough task, holding the needle and stitching, with six layers of clothing!

They had satellite phones, laptops, stove to cook, fridge, a diesel generator for light, bread-maker, milk, pasta, beans and soup on the yacht. And water was made through reverse osmosis.

The sights were amazing, he says. Rainbows every day and a ‘moonbow’, too. “It is a huge halo round the moon on a full moon night. Sailing with the light from Jupiter is memorable as also the vastness of it all, when you see the sky beginning where the water ends…And in the Tropics, you see clouds forming right in front of you.”

The route was from Southampton to Portugal, Rio de Janeiro, Cape Town…Singapore…San Francisco, China … Japan. The diary Raghu kept may one day be a book. One entry says: the Yellow sea is not really yellow, but more of a drab olive green and quite shallow ….We crossed the International Date Line (IDL) on March 21 hence got to live the 21st twice! Leaving today behind and driving into yesterday was certainly a unique feeling. There were plenty of dolphins who swung by to say hi. He even had one sighting of a sun fish about two feet in diameter basking on the surface and as usual a bevy of albatross.

“The highlight of the day was a humpback whale breaching clean out of the water about 50 metres off the port side and making the biggest splash I have ever seen. We could see the water mark where it landed for almost a minute!”

Raghu’s was the eighth edition of the race. So how does he feel now, apart from the jubilation? “I have found myself really, you don’t know your depth, till you overcome a lot you thought was insurmountable. The storms we faced at sea make one very much stronger and the camaraderie among those on board is an educative experience too. I am calmer and feel I can face anything.” It’s true, because the New Jersey-based solutions architect, who switched from biomedical engineering to IT and made it big there, ‘is without an address now’.

Says the Kochiite, “I have to start from zero now. New skin, no baggage. I sold my flat in New Jersey and my savings are almost wiped out, to do this race.” Raghu lost 18 kilos in the last year. “A very expensive way to lose weight,” he jokes. Yes, $110,000 is quite a lot of money indeed, to lose 18 kilos. That’s what the ambitious trip cost him. But then there’s adventure in his blood. While studying in Kurukshetra, he biked his way all along to Kochi and surprised his parents. What next? “Maybe I’ll go sailing again or get a skipper’s licence,” he says as he opens his wallet and hands me something. “This is a gift for you, your visiting card you gave me last year, which has travelled all around the world with me.” The grey seawater-stained card appeared to have as many untold stories.

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Printable version | Nov 28, 2020 2:17:34 PM |

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