Travel

Around the world in 254 days

Battling gutsy oceanic winds, cyclones, virulent hail, sub zero temperatures and scorching heat, a six-member all-women team of the Indian Navy created history as they entered Indian shores on May 21 after circumnavigating the globe. This was a never before done 254-day expedition around the world.

One among the Indian Naval Sailing Vessel (INSV) Tarini team was Lt Commander P Swathi, from Visakhapatnam. In a chat with MetroPlus, she spoke about how the team negotiated the demands of the oceans and navigating its way through chaos and calm.

“This mission was a test of sheer endurance, covering 21,600 nautical miles in an arduous adventure; and a life altering experience for all of us,” says Swathi.

The record-setting sail was also about breaking many stereotypes and challenging the notion that women don't get along well in closed quarters for a prolonged time. But more than that, the team created a narrative and inspired a generation of women.

During the course of eight months, the team made five stopovers in different countries and interacted on several foreign forums.

“Nature teaches you a lot. I learnt to keep my eyes and ears open all the time and listen to orders of the mighty seas. You may have hours and years of sailing experience and yet I have learnt that you must treat every day as your first and stay alert. Patience is another quality that the expedition taught us when on occasions we stayed stationary for more than four days at a stretch, sometimes very close to our next destination,” says Swathi. Six different people with different mindsets cooped up in a small 17-metre-long and five-metre-wide Indian-built sail-boat in the middle of the ocean for countless days was no mean task. While there were the usual difference of opinions, the crew learnt to respect the idea of an individual, irrespective of her seniority, and collectively battled the crisis. “Nature is demanding and never forgiving. In the face of a crisis, you have to perform or perish. There is no scope for procrastination,” says the 27-year-old.

Training days

The six-member team underwent rigorous training for two years by a group of men, including Capt Dilip Donde — the first Indian to circumnavigate the world solo — and Capt Atool Sinha, who trained them for extreme conditions. The team also watched every part of the boat being built in a shipyard in Goa to understand the soul of the vessel and know how to fix it if anything went wrong. The first 15 days after they started on their mission was a “breeze”. “The Indian Ocean was calm and accepting,” recollects Swathi. But the thrill of embarking on the record-breaking mission proved to be short-lived when the crew encountered squall after squall on their southward journey. But the worst was yet to come. And soon enough, Tarini sailed into a whirlpool of storms, encountering a wave as high as a three-storied building that crashed down on them in the South Pacific during what Swathi describes as the “most terrifying 19 hours onboard”.

The women found their rhythm and worked in shifts on the sail-boat where the only luxury was bare minimum lighting. “We didn’t have fans, refrigerators or heaters. In the fiercest cold, we would use hot water bags to keep us warm,” says Swathi. They bathed in a litre of water, cooked pulses like rajma and chole and survived largely on potatoes and onions along with ready-to-eat mixes.

Special moments

From baking a cake onboard to mark the Navy’s revered tradition of appeasing Neptune, god of the sea, to celebrating a noiseless Deepavali with diyas of wheat flour, ghee and surgical cotton and taking freshwater showers when it rained, the crew created its own special moments. As part of the overall strategy to keep spirits high, the team was connected with its families almost on a daily basis. “The Indian Navy spent $14,000 per month just to ensure we communicated with folks back home,” says Swathi. As a communication and navigations officer, her job entailed distributing 100 MB of Internet through satellite every day and calculating the distance and charting the route with the help of weather apps. In the last leg of its journey, as the crew counted the days to see their families, they were delayed by nearly a month due to an unexpected breakdown of the boat in Mauritius.

On May 21 as INSV Tarini entered Goa, Swathi remembers her feet shivering and her heart beating fast when she saw the crowd waiting to welcome them back with the Indian tricolour flying high.

“If there was one moment in life I wanted to freeze, it was that second when we stepped on shore. I touched the land first and then rushed to hug my mother, the biggest strength of my life,” she adds.

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Printable version | May 9, 2021 11:10:12 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/life-and-style/travel/around-the-world-in-254-days/article24095442.ece

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