Now, sailing hero embarks on the ‘Voyage for Madmen’

The sailboat Thuriya on which Commander Abhilash Tomy (left) will undertake the 30,000-mile Golden Globe Race.  

As he gets ready to embark on the 30,000-mile Golden Globe Race, often referred to as the ‘Voyage for Madmen’ in view of its daunting challenges, Commander Abhilash Tomy believes that the worst is behind him.

“It’s been very hectic making it to the starting line and I’m looking forward to some peace, to being alone, after the start,” says Cdr Tomy, a naval pilot who wondrously sailed around the world on a sailboat, Mhadei, without halts or assistance in 2013.

On his return to Mumbai, Admiral (retd) D.K. Joshi, the then Chief of the Indian Navy, asked him to look for something tougher.

“I wondered what could be worse and found this,” says Cdr Tomy, set for the cruise on July 1 from the French Les Sables d’Olonne on a purpose-built anachronistic sailboat, Thuriya, built under his watch. He has been working towards it since 2016.

Golden Globe Race is just an edition old and that was held in 1968 when just one of the voyagers, the legendary Robin Knox-Johnston touched the finishing line – the rest of the nine either retiring midway through, falling ill or some losing or ending their lives.

Second edition

The forthcoming edition, the second, is commemorative of the first in all respects. The skippers, 18 of them, are to sail on boats built/customised to vintage specifications without any modern gadgetry, technology and external assistance.

Aquarius Shipyard, which as Aquarius Fibreglass built the iconic Mhadei that survived two circumnavigations, chipped in to support Cdr Tomy and built the 32-ft Thuriya matching the boat Suhaili, built in Mumbai, and used by Sir Johnston on his cruise.

Commander Abhilash Tomy of the Indian Navy.

Commander Abhilash Tomy of the Indian Navy.   | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

The toughest challenge for Cdr Tomy was to get old-world equipment, but sailing enthusiasts from around the world came to his rescue, donating the sextants, wind autopilot and other navigational gears. He took medical, radio operator, and survival courses and taught himself navigation using the weighty sextant.

“On the voyage, I can listen to the radio and send out one-way messages. There are two satellite phones strictly for emergency,” says Cdr Tomy, who has stocked up his boat with ready-to-eat and freeze dry food besides rice, tinned tuna, mackerel and sardines besides sugar, coffee and cakes. “I’ll have to figure out a routine. Nothing is set as of now,” he says.

Lack of communication with the outside world will be a big plus, just like the lack of GPS. “It’ll be a situation where you don’t know where you are, and since it is so much effort to find out where you are, you are not bothered about where you are, where you are headed and when you are reaching,” says the ‘pilot gone bonkers,’ a moniker he likes.

From Les Sables d’Olonne, the voyagers will head south round the Cape of Good Hope and sail eastwards in the southern hemisphere to pass the international dateline and pass Cape of Horn to continue sailing north in the Atlantic Ocean for the last leg – which Sir Johnston did in 312 days and Cdr Tomy aspires to accomplish in a day less.

When he revealed the goal to Sir Johnston himself on board Thuriya, the latter smiled at him, saying, “You are young and ambitious.”

Captain (retd) Dilip Donde, the first Indian to circumnavigate the globe on a sailboat, will be Cdr Tomy’s base manager. The voyage has the official backing of the Indian Navy and Aquarius Shipyard.

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Printable version | Jan 27, 2022 4:08:57 PM |

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