A circumnavigation under sail essentially encompasses sailing the girth of the planet using only wind energy as a propulsive force. Post success of the first Indian solo circumnavigations with and without stops by Capt Dilip Donde, SC(Retd) and Cdr Abhilash Tomy, KC in 2009 and 2013 respectively, Vice Admiral MP Awati envisioned having an all-female crew attempt a similar feat. He has been my guiding light ever since, the same way he is to the rest of the six of us as we came together to train for the 'Navika Sagar Parikrama' (The first Indian circumnavigation by an all women crew). He calls us his 'Serendipitous Six'!
It is ironic that I come from a background where the oceans were restricted merely to my imagination. The only way I would relate to a water body was when my parents took me to visit river Ganges during my childhood days at my hometown in Uttarakhand. Certainly though, I secretly wished to see my imaginations turn into reality. This prompted me to join the elite force, the Indian Navy and also was the reason for me to volunteer for a circumnavigation. Out of the many women officers who signed up for it, I was joined by Lt Cdrs Pratibha Jamwal, Aishwarya Boddapati, P Swathi, Vijaya Devi and Lt Payal Gupta as we became the final selected crew for this mission in 2015.
After having trained extensively for two and a half years on various aspects of ocean sailing at various naval schools and then by Capt Dilip Donde, we were flagged off from our base port INS Mandovi by Defence Minister Smt Nirmala Sitharaman on the September 10, 2017. As with any classic eastbound circumnavigation under sail, we were required to return to the same port on completion, traversing eastwards covering a minimum of 21,600 nautical miles (approx 40,000 km), cross equator twice rounding the three great Capes (Cape Leewin, Cape Horn and Cape of Good Hope). Tougher than it sounds, this voyage has been an eye opener! To me, it was about attainment of a unique synchrony between every nuance of mother nature and the varied attributes of an individual and her boat that appear in response to it, in addition to living together on a rocking platform for 197 days. Our little home, the Tarini, was an ideal choice for this voyage.
Be it an endless wait for the breeze to fill our sails, or being lost for words watching the marine life and auroras at night, be it facing the most violent storms and mountainous seas in the Pacific ocean or becoming stranded for hours at sea with a broken steerage system, we embraced it all, together! Being with each other for long durations also rendered us extremely vulnerable to one another's behaviours, to a point that we started to become dead honest and receptive towards each other. Undertaking repairs to equipment at sea and maintaining the boat every single day away from external assistance, to taking significant decisions after analysing the pros and cons, gave me tremendous confidence about my own abilities, few of which I thought did not even exist. While we prepared ourselves for the worst, our efforts would always directed towards the ultimate goal, that was to circumnavigate successfully. I realised that, the harder I pushed my limits keeping the goal above anything else, the lesser the day to day challenges imposed by external factors appeared to budge me. This was empowerment in the truest sense! It did, however, require three key precursors to arrive at this stage: An opportunity made accessible by the Indian Navy and the faith it bestowed upon us, a certain risk we took in grabbing something beyond the conventional and away from our comfort zone, and finally, the commitment made to get on with it and make it happen!
We became ambassadors of our nation to five port of calls that we sailed to (Fremantle, Lyttelton, Falkland Islands, Cape Town and Mauritius) exchanging wonderful experiences with locals and school children coming from varied cultures. During our sojourn, we emphasised upon Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi's initiative of 'women empowerment', Make in India policy and usage of renewable energy resources.
On the Navy Day 2018, we remember and pay homage to the legend, Vice Admiral MP Awati who passed away on November 3, 2018, and would now live forever and inspire the generations to follow.
(From his last verse to the Serendipitous Six as they took their final leap towards homeland completing the first Indian all women circumnavigation of the globe on May 21, 2018)