The boats have no navigation gear, no ancillary engine, no cabin, no head, and when loaded have a bare 12 inches of freeboard. Yet the eight women hailed it as a great experience after taking 6 days to sail from Mumbai to Goa across the open ocean waters of the Arabian Sea in two of these open boats.
The eight women – all officers from the Corps of Engineers of the Indian Army – travelled in two Seabird Enterprise class dinghies, four in each boat, named Skua and Seagull. They have made history in India, which is not known for an extensive leisure boating culture. Probably as a result of this, the expedition has attracted worldwide attention
They even celebrated a birthday on board, and it is a birthday celebration that Captain Sudha is unlikely to forget in a hurry, even if she cut a tin of gulab jamuns instead of a cake, and it was just too windy to light a candle that January 31st evening. The octet of sailors had left Mumbai on 30th January, and finally arrived Goa on 4th February.
‘When the Army asked for volunteers for the expedition, I rushed my name,’ says 29-year-old Bhavna, who along with Smita Gaikwad were the only ones with some sailing experience. Both were part of the Army Yachting Node in Mumbai. The other six —Captain Kavita M, Captain Dhivya Roopah, Captain Elsie D’Costa, Captain Sudha KV, Lt Susan Roy and Lt Indu P were all first- time sailors.
The team had to undergo extensive training at Marve Mumbai, in navigation at the National Defence Academy, Pune and in communications at the Southern Command Signal Regiment, Pune to prepare for the adventure.
‘Our biggest fears were of rig failure. Usually crewmembers take a tindal (a boatman) for such exigencies but we couldn’t find a woman,’ says Bhavna. There were the concerns about rough weather and falling sick during sailing. ‘Fortunately, nothing happened,’ she says.
‘The girls overcame all hardships,’ said General Dhaliwal, congratulating the group, ‘Now, we are planning to send another all-women crew from Mumbai to Karachi.’