Around the World Alone

Lieutenant Commander Abhilash Tomy is the first Indian to circumnavigate the world solo

Lieutenant Commander Abhilash TomySailing the troubled waters is no doubt a challenging task. What is more challenging is to do it all alone, a feat that was achieved by lieutenant commander Abhilash Tomy, who became the first Indian to circumnavigate the globe alone and without assistance. He returned to Mumbai on April 6, after 156 days of non-stop sailing.

An excited Tomy reveals that it was a childhood dream to sail around the world. “When I was a child I watched a video documentary on the voyage of Trishna. That left a mark on me. Later, in 1999 I read in a magazine about a solo round the world race in which a woman sailor, Isabelle Autissier, from France was leading all the legs. That was when I thought that I too should undertake a solo voyage around the world,” says the beaming sailor. And the opportunity to turn that dream into reality came to him in 2009 when Commander Donde was looking for volunteers who could help him with the preparations for his solo voyage around the world. Lt Cdr Tomy, who volunteered to help Cdr Donde, was later chosen by the Indian Navy for this solo, non-stop circumnavigation.

Lt Cdr Tomy started his historic journey, ‘Sagar Parikrama’, on 1 November 2012 from Mumbai in the Indian Navy vessel INSV Mhadei. His route from west to east touched the continents of Australia, South America and Africa and in turn rounding of the three great capes – Cape Leeuwin, Cape Horn and Cape of Good Hope. Sharing a light incident during his journey, he says, “There was a conversation with a merchant vessel called MOL Distinction who wanted to know what was my destination and I said Mumbai. And when he asked me what was my port of departure I said Mumbai. And that had him confused for a while.”

While there were obvious challenges sailing alone in troubled waters, he says that he had enough work on the boat to keep him occupied. This included making reports, preparing meals, carrying out service and maintenance of equipment, communicating with the naval commands, navigating, carrying out weather analysis and prediction etc. He also spent enough time documenting the events in his blog, through his videos and pictures. “I had to do all this while I was in a boat that was moving up and down four metres and heeled at some weird angles all the while,” he remembers.

The biggest challenge, however, came when he was rounding the Cape of Good Hope and passing from the Atlantic into the Indian Ocean. “Known as the Cape of Storms, it lived up to its name,” he says. “Force of the wind and undercutting currents acted in opposition to pile up waves as high as 100 feet with a steep leeward face – a phenomenon that can break the back of the strongest ship,” he says. “It wasn’t the best of times to be out on the deck, especially without a harness. All I could do was to hang on to the winch while the boat tried to right itself, which it did after considerable effort,” adds Lt Cdr Tomy. When asked how often did he communicate with the naval bases, he says, “I used to send reports twice a day to the naval headquarters. Other than that I would connect with anyone outside the boat only on an ‘as-required-basis’.”

An interesting part of the voyage was the chance to celebrate New Year’s eve 2013 twice. “The boat crossed the International Date Line on New Year’s eve and so I ended up celebrating it twice,” he smiles. Also, the proudest moment, according to him, was on January 26, when he unfurled the national flag at Cape Horn. January 26 also turned out special as it was the first time he came in visual contact with land after 86 days of sailing, and also it was the same day he spoke to his parents to wish them on their wedding anniversary.

After creating history, Lt Cdr Tomy will only be too keen to set another world record. Wonder what it will be this time.