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Saturday, October 13, 2012

Abhilash Tomy' biography , a naval pilot will set out on a six-month non-stop journey around the world .

 Pull, pull! Harder, faster,” exhorts Lt Commander Abhilash Tomy as three sailors — their muscles glistening in the afternoon sun — hoist the massive sail onto the 70-foot high mast. We are onboard the Mhadei, the boat that will take Tomy on a journey around the world almost a fortnight from now. It’s a solo circumnavigation attempt — the first time an Indian will be doing it without any stops or onboard assistance. The prospects are daunting. For instance, just the task of putting up the sail this morning—which has taken three able-bodied men a lot of tugs, grunts and sweat — is what the 33-year-old Indian navy officer, a trained Dornier pilot — would be doing on his own, quite possibly in choppy waters when winds billow at speeds of upto 100 km/hr.
    Does he have butterflies in his stomach? It’s a question that has been asked countless times to the Kochi lad who started sailing when he was sixteen. “Nobody believes it when I tell them I’m not having nightmares,” says Tomy with a grin that puts dimples on his tanned face. He is at the steering wheel of the Mhadei; the wind is pleasant; the sea soothing and we are doing a comfortable 5-6 knots off the placid Goa coast.
    But things would be different when he
is out on the globe’s mighty oceans. His sixmonth long voyage on the 56-footer boat — that cost about Rs 4 crore to make— will take him south of all the great capes — Leeuwin, Cape Horn, Cape of Good Hope and across the Atlantic and Pacific. “I know anything can happen when you’re out on the sea. I can break the mast, lose the rudder, collide with another ship or even fall overboard,” he says. “But I’m not thinking about any of it. I’ve wanted to do this voyage for more than 11 years and now that I’m doing it, I am just very very excited and focused on preparing for it.”
    A large part of the preparations involve keeping himself mentally and physically fit. “The weakest link on the boat is the sailor,” he admits candidly. “Usually, the sailor gives up before the boat does. That’s why keeping yourself well-nourished is extremely important.” Yoga and meditation are already part of his daily routine; to keep energy levels high — dieticians have recommended an average calorie intake of 3500 kcal per day for him— he’s packing in a mix of fresh food, tinned and ready to eat stuff along with rice, dal, dry fish and pickles. Also on board are two cooking gas cylinders and about 200 bottles of fresh water.
Keeping Tomy company when he sets out on the great, deep blue will be a stack of around 20 books (he’s left the choice of titles to a friend) and a satellite phone which will be his only link with the world. Will he miss not being in contact with family and friends? “I like being alone,” he says. “It may sound strange but my primary motivation for doing this voyage is not to set
a record but to savour the experience of being alone for six months. Also, thank god, I won’t be receiving any pesky calls.”
    But the people he’ll probably miss the most, apart from his mom (“I had to convince her for two years to let me do this”) are his man Friday Alam who, stoic and silent, helps him out even as he steers the boat to port (“He’s the unsung hero of this voyage; I’ll miss him terribly”) and his mentor Commander Dilip Donde. Donde — who sports a bushy chalk-white beard — became the first Indian to successfully complete a solo circumnavigation (with stops) two years ago. Tomy cut his teeth on the Mhadei acting as Donde’s shore support during his circumnavigation and later graduated to sailing with him, finally donning the skipper’s hat in a journey from Rio to Capetown. He brought the Mhadei alone from Capetown to Goa, eventually clocking a total of 25,000 miles of ocean sailing on the boat in
    the past few years.
Sitting on the deck after a climb up the mast along with Tomy as part of the ongoing drill to check for repairs, Donde is aware of the challenges his protégé faces — not just on sea but also on land.
“Even as I was setting out, there were plenty of naysayers who had predicted that the chances of the boat coming back were nil,” he says. “I had a point to prove and this kept me going.”
Tomy, though, prefers to shrug off what people might think. “It may seem like an insane idea to some,” he says with an impish grin. “But to borrow a line from Catch 22 — it’s more insane on land.”

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