Golden Globe Race | Abhilash Tomy scripts maritime history

South African sailor Kirsten Neuschafer scripted maritime history as the first women to win the race, which involves a solo non-stop circumnavigation of the globe without GPS or other modern navigational aids

April 29, 2023 08:54 pm | Updated April 30, 2023 12:28 pm IST - NEW DELHI

Abhilash Tomy finished his second, solo, non-stop, around-the-world journey on April 29, 2023. Photo: Twitter/@ggr2022

Abhilash Tomy finished his second, solo, non-stop, around-the-world journey on April 29, 2023. Photo: Twitter/@ggr2022

Commander Abhilash Tomy (retd.) created history as the first Indian to complete the Golden Globe Race on April 29, finishing in second place after a gruelling 236 days alone at sea in his sail boat named Bayanat, in a journey of grit and endurance. South African sailor Kirsten Neuschafer also scripted her name into maritime history, becoming the first woman to win the Golden Globe Race (GGR), a solo, non-stop circumnavigation of the globe without using any modern technological aids, recreating the 1960s on the high seas.

“Abhilash Tomy / Bayanat crossed the finish line at 0446 UTC, finished his 2nd time solo non stop around the world journey, he at 2nd in GGR2022,” the GGR twitter handle announced on April 29.

The race started on September 4, 2022 from the French port of Les Sables-d’Olonne, with 16 sailors from 11 countries. Almost eight months later, Ms. Neuschäfer officially became the first woman to win a “round the world race by the three great capes, including solo and fully crewed races, non-stop or with stops, and the first South African sailor to win a round-the-world event”, organisers said.

Test of endurance

Congratulating Cdr. Tomy on his exceptional achievement, Navy Chief Admiral R. Hari Kumar said that it was even more special, considering the fact that the naval veteran had been critically injured in a storm when he competed in the GGR in 2018. Despite the fact that he had a spinal injury and has nuts and bolts in his spine, he insisted on going for this race a second time, Admiral Kumar, said speaking on the sidelines of an event.

“He had single-minded focus and dedication and tremendous amount of courage and skill to even venture for such a race... It is a very gruelling race with no modern equipment and is a test of a man’s endurance, skill and determination,” the Navy chief said, adding that the achievement would awaken the maritime consciousness of every Indian on what the sea offers and how we benefit by being more aware of the sea.

Returning post injury

In the 2018 GGR, Cdr. Tomy suffered a severe back injury, after the mast of his boat Thuriya broke due to extremely rough weather and sea conditions. It took three days and a dramatic global effort by the navies of India, Australia and France to rescue him from the middle of nowhere. He was stranded in the south Indian Ocean, approximately 1,900 nautical miles from Perth, Australia and 2,700 nm from Kanyakumari. He was then in the third position out of 11 international participants, and had sailed more than 10,500 nautical miles over 84 days, before the incident knocked him out of the race.

Cdr. Tomy then underwent a major spine surgery and a gruelling recovery process, moving to a desk job in the Navy till full recovery. He quit the Navy in January 2019 to focus on GGR2022.

Participants in the GGR are required to sail around the world, single-handed and non-stop. The uniqueness of the race is that as boat designs and technology newer than 1968 are not permitted, the use of the Global Positioning System (GPS), satellite communication and navigational aids are forbidden in the 30,000 mile journey. The sailors each have a satellite phone and emergency locator beacons to be used for medical emergencies only.

Recreating the 1960s

The historic race is being conducted by the U.K.’s Sir Robin Knox Johnston, to commemorate the world’s first solo non-stop circumnavigation undertaken by him in 1968, onboard the Indian-built boat Suhaili.

As per the race guidelines, entrants are limited to sailing similar yachts, between 32 ft and 36 ft, designed prior to 1988 with a full-length keel with a rudder, and equipment similar to what was available to Sir Robin in that first race. “Like the original Sunday Times event, the 2022 Golden Globe Race is very simple: Depart from Les Sables-d’Olonne, France on September 4th, 2022 and sail solo, non-stop around the world, via the five Great Capes and return to Les Sables-d’Olonne,” the GGR website states.

To his credit, Cdr. Tomy is the only Indian to complete a solo, non-stop circumnavigation of the globe in 2012-13, onboard the Indian Naval Sailing Vessel (INSV) Mhadei, covering 53,000 nautical miles under sail.

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