Six Women in a Boat

 Life at sea is full of challenges and joys as the adventurous women officers of Indian Navy discover while circumnavigating the globe

Aditya Kakkar

“Those who live by the sea can hardly form a single thought of which the sea would not be part.” When the 20th Century Austrian writer, Hermann Broch, wrote the above lines, he wouldn’t have known that years later, it would apply to six seafaring Indian women who are out to circumnavigate the globe and create history.

The all-women team of INSV Tarini
The all-women team of INSV Tarini (©

The expedition, ‘Navika Sagar Parikrama’, is being led by skipper Lt Cdr Vartika Joshi, who is from Rishikesh. She is accompanied by equally accomplished officers, Lt Cdr Pratibha Jamwal from Kullu, Lt Cdr Swathi P. from Visakhapatnam, Lt Aishwarya Boddapati from Hyderabad, Lt Vijaya Devi from Manipur and Lt Payal Gupta from Dehradun.

This one-of-a-kind expedition will encourage more women to take up sailing, either as naval officers or civilians. It is being covered in five legs with the Pacific leg being the longest. As they have already crossed Fremantle (Australia), the crew will now stop and replenish their supplies at Lyttelton (New Zealand), Port Stanley (Falklands) and Cape Town (South Africa). They will be braving some of the roughest and tumultuous seas of the world, including the dangerous stretch from New Zealand to Falkland Islands, where waves are about 10 feet high on an average day.

The six-member team wrote back to FORCE while sailing from Australia to New Zealand and remarked that “the journey has been a mix of adventure, monotony, thrill, surprises, and boredom. We have been lucky to embark on this journey where we could encounter certain phenomena like bioluminescence and the Aurora Australis, which a landlubber can’t even imagine in dreams.”

Defence minister Nirmala Sitharaman flagged off the journey from Goa on September 10. “We were honoured and privileged to have the esteemed presence of the new defence minister who came all the way to Goa to cast us off for the circumnavigation. Her glorious presence itself has been a huge inspiration for us,” said Lt Cdr Joshi. She further added, “If there is somebody who should be credited for making the all-women crew a possibility, it would be Vice admiral MP Awati (retd), Captain Dilip Donde (retd), and Cdr Abhilash Tomy. The trainings imparted by them helped us to raise our levels from being an absolute layman about sailing, to a state where we could confidently take Tarini out in the water and now across oceans. The experiences of Captain Donde and Cdr Tomy have helped us a great deal in knowing and sailing our boat better and the two have always been there to guide us through thick and thin.”

Captain Donde was the first naval officer from India to circumnavigate the globe in 2009-10 while Cdr Tomy was the first one to do it solo.

The rules of circumnavigating the globe aren’t the most simple. The team must not only cross all meridians and return to the spot they started from but also must avoid straits and canals. They must cross the equator twice and the dateline once, round the great capes, the southern tips of Africa and South America, and must travel more than 21,600 nautical miles.

Having covered about 9,000 nautical miles, one would have expected them to run into some bad weather. “None, we expected that Australia to New Zealand will be the beginning of the rough sea and inclement weather but on the contrary, we encountered a good breeze of about 20 to 25 knots. The ‘Furious Forties’ were not so furious upon us (till now),” said the skipper.

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