Abhilash Tomy, his day job being as a Lieutenant Commander in the Indian Navy, on Saturday became the first Indian sailor to circumnavigate the earth in a sailing boat, solo, non-stop and unassisted. It wasn't meant to be a race, but he officially finished just 24 hours after Chinese sailor Guo Chuan completed his own similar solo world journey to become the first Chinese ever to achieve such a feat. (See Sail-World http://www.sail-world.com/CruisingAus/Guo-Chuan-completes-first-Chinese-non-stop-solo-world-sail/108169!story)
Abilash during his triumphant arrival into port
What a welcome was in store for him!
Tomy, a maritime reconnaissance pilot, arrived at the historic Gateway of India, to a rousing reception by school children and was a accorded a ceremonial welcome by no less than the President of India himself, President Pranab Mukherjee, who happens to be his boss - the supreme commander of Indian armed forces.
Tomy had set sail out of Mumbai on Nov 1, 2012 in the sailing boat INSV Mhadei, a Hallberg Rassy-designed but Goa-built yacht to undertake a voyage no Indian had attempted before.
Abilash - now that's a welcome
In 2009, Dilip Donde, also a naval officer, had also set to voyage around the earth in the same sailboat and had finished his circumnavigation in 276 days, but with four stops. Tomy's voyage had no stops and was completed in 156 days (though, like Australia's Kay Cottee many years before, he had to wait around some days for the official reception to be ready to greet him).
He said his voyage was a fulfilment of a 14-year-old dream and four years of hard preparation. He thanked his several mentors, including Dilip Donde. Congratulating Tomy on his achievement, President Mukherjee said it will be a source of inspiration for future generations of young seafarers.
Abilash and mentor Dilip Donde - first steps on land for 156 days
'His epic voyage has placed our nation into the ranks of few select countries, whose citizens have been successful in braving such arduous voyage,' he said.
'Battling wave heights of 9-10 metres and wind speeds in excess of 100 kmph can be an extreme test of endurance. The solitude factor alone is such that being thousands of kms away from the nearest land, with very little chance of help coming by if something went wrong, requires courage, determination and grit of the highest order,' he added.
Abilash - walking with the President of India
Tomy's voyage under the aegis of 'Sagar Parikrima II' was of 23,100 nautical miles, crossing the Indian, Pacific and Atlantic Oceans. Like all non-stop circumnavigators, most of his journey was in the Southern Ocean, passing south of the 'Great Capes', including Cape Horn. But he pointed out that, for him, the scariest moment of the voyage was when he encountered the rough sea near the Cape of Good Hope.
So far, less than 80 people in the world have successfully completed such a voyage.
Tomy might the first Indian and the third Asian to do so, having been 'beaten' by one day by Guo Chuan and coming years after the famed Japanese sailor Minoru Saito, who circumnavigated the world an incredible eight times, but the victory was sweet for India, where sailing is an embryonic sport growing steadily in popularity every year.