"My National Flag flies in my heart and I will bring glory to my Nation." - Guru Kalam

Inspiring Indians

Meet the women who conquered the sea

By Lt Cdr Vartika Joshi | JAN 2017

In August 2013, the Indian Navy was looking for volunteers, including women officers for the iconic Cape to Rio Yacht Race. I was raring to grab hold of an opportunity to sail, after all that’s the reason I had joined the Navy without having the slightest idea that it was yet to induct women officers in ocean sailing platforms.

My joy knew no bounds when I got green signal for the expedition from the Navy. I applied to be part of this expedition without a second thought. Today I consider myself fortunate to have been able to sail my first-ever long ocean passage from Brazil to Cape Town onboard the Navy’s Sailing Vessel Mhadei.

The vessel had two solo circumnavigations (first undertaken by Capt Dilip Donde (Retd) and second non-stop circumnavigation by Cdr Abhilash Tomy). This particular expedition had a huge impact on me since my entire childhood was spent in the hills.

Staying so close to the sea looked like a distant dream to me all this while. Something prompted me to volunteer again to sail. A few months later (Dec 2014) I got to know that INSV Mhadei was celebrating the completion of her 1,00,000 nautical miles by sailing the vessel around the Indian peninsula.

I registered my name for it with the Navy and sailed with a team of four skippered and mentored by Capt Dilip Donde. By this time I was not quite aware of what the Navy had been planning. Getting an opportunity to sail again on the Mhadei reassured my interest in offshore sailing.

Eventually when I was asked if I wanted to be part of the planned ‘all-women circumnavigation’ being referred to as Sagar Parikrama III, I immediately stepped in. The Navy, around the same time, also identified five other young and dynamic women officers who had a common interest in sailing and also had been part of the above expeditions in its various legs.

This is how six of us belonging to different parts of the country and various cadres of the Navy were appointed to form a team to attempt an ‘all-women circumnavigation’ in August 2017. This write-up will remain incomplete unless I introduce members of the team to readers.

Lt Payal Gupta: An education officer, she belongs to Dehradun, Uttarakhand and loves to travel, the very reason behind her volunteering for the mission. She is nicknamed as Puko on the boat.

Lt Shougrakpam Vijaya Devi: An excellent singer, Shou is a native of Manipur. She loves stitching and has time and again displayed her exemplary skills while sailing. She is an education officer in the Indian Navy.

Lt Swathi Patarapalli: From the city of destiny, Visakhapatnam, she is an Air Traffic Controller and has been an avid yachtswoman since her childhood. She likes painting and has an eye for interior designing. Nickname: Swatcat

Lt Aishwarya Boddapati: Nicknamed as ‘Aish’, she comes from Hyderabad and is a Naval architect. She has an innate ability to cheer and lighten the atmosphere when would need it the most. She is also an excellent writer.

Lt Cdr Pratibha Jamwal (Jammy): An Air Traffic Controller in the Navy, she is also a graduate in Electronics. She does beautiful glass painting and amazes us with her creativity.

Lt Cdr Vartika Joshi: She finished her graduation in Aerospace Engineering and thereafter joined the Navy as a Naval Architect. A nature lover, she likes travelling and strumming on the guitar. She may form a music band with the rest of the team soon and together they can rock on a rocking boat! Nickname: VJ

We had volunteered for this project based on our individual experiences onboard the Mhadei and a common drive for adventure. But as we started improvising upon our sea legs, we realized that offshore sailing was not only limited to sailing from place A to place B.

To be able to achieve what we had set out for, each one of us has to inculcate multiple skills ranging from repairing onboard equipment, communication, weather prediction, navigation to cleanship, cooking and overall upkeep of the boat and most importantly, the ability to work and live together for a long duration in a 17-metre boat.

Our initial training encompassed learning about basic boat handling and sail theory at Indian Naval Watermanship Training Centre, Mumbai, followed by extensive theoretical study on navigation, seamanship, communication, meterology at various schools at Naval Base, Kochi.

They say 'no education is complete without experience’. It was soon time to start applying all the knowledge gathered from a plethora of sources. Our first mission was to sail the boat independently around the Indian peninsula during the International Fleet Review held in January 2016.

‘We developed as a great team in a short time’

Soon after the completion of our basic courses in Kochi, we were deputed to work on the Mhadei and sail her on a regular basis under the mentorship of Capt Dilip Donde. We would sail with him regularly, learn from his experiences and then apply our brains to find solutions to a variety of problems that would keep cropping as we continued working.

One day, as we returned from a routine sailing sortie in Goa, he asked us “would you guys sail the boat to Karwar and back day after tomorrow? I will not be coming this time.” Our hearts pounded initially but we knew this day had to come one day and we shouted in unison “Yes Sir!”.

There was no looking back thereafter. We successfully completed our independent sortie from Goa to Karwar and back, covering 80 nautical miles. A few months later, we set off for Vizag to participate in the International Fleet Review and sailed the boat independently from Vizag covering 2,000 nautical miles and returned to Goa on the International Women’s Day (March 8, 2016).

The level of difficulty was only going to increase from here. We were to learn from the mistakes we made, improvise, plan, practice and get the boat ready for the next open ocean voyage to Mauritius.

All this was to be achieved in two months. As I write about recollecting the events that eventually led to the successful culmination of this particular expedition, I feel proud to see the way we have developed as a team in a very short span of time.

The expedition was a test of all we had learnt so far as we sailed the boat during the peak of monsoon, confronting strong winds. This has been a thrilling historic first for us as a team as well as for the country.

The dedication and the team’s collective effort helped us a great deal in resolving the biggest of problems at sea. July 2016, we returned from Mauritius to our home port Goa, covering over 5,000 nautical miles.

The immediate next milestone set for us was Cape Town, South Africa, 5,000 miles off Goa. This was almost double the distance we had covered till Mauritius and served as an endurance test for us, this being the longest ocean passage the team has seen till date.

Forty-three days that we sailed during this expedition helped us increase our levels of patience, discover more about ourselves and made us more confident than before.

The nuances of the sea left us in awe, the waters being such an unpredictable medium. Perhaps why it attracts us too! It teaches us to value every moment and lead our lives one step at a time.

The team, post-completion of the voyage from Goa to Cape Town, recently returned to Goa and is now involved in the final stages of construction of INSV Mhadei’s sister vessel, Tarini, which is being built by Aquarius Fiberglass Pvt Ltd at the Dewar island in Goa.

The vessel is scheduled to be delivered to the Indian Navy in Feb 2017 and would then be utilized by the all-women crew for the planned circumnavigation commencing Aug 2017.

The circumnavigation is planned to be undertaken in five legs and includes four stopovers at Fremantle (Western Australia), Lyttelton (New Zealand), Port Stanley (Falkland Islands) and Cape Town (South Africa) This is required for replenishment of our provisions for the onward leg.

The voyage is expected to last for nine months. On a concluding note, I’m reminded of a nice quote that keeps cropping up in social media once in a while, many of us click the ‘like’ button, share it but fail to apply it when it comes to taking a step forward to achieve one’s dream.

It says ‘life begins at the edge of your comfort zone’. While taking on a challenge, it is perhaps more essential to confront and endure the bigger challenges that are bound to follow, than the challenge itself

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