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Dilip Donde completes first solo circumnavigation for India

by Nancy Knudsen on 23 May 2010
Dilip Donde arriving Mumbai SW
If you think Australia was excited about sixteen-year-old Jessica Watson's voyage, India has proved ecstatic about their own sailor this week, as a naval officer completed the first-ever solo circumnavigation of the globe by sailing boat by an Indian national.

After 276 days, Dilip Donde steered his yacht into Mumbai Harbour to a tumultuous welcome, although most of India was applauding from afar.

The 42-year-old officer covered more than 21,600 nautical miles sailing in the seas to achieve the milestone, and arrived back with a flowing white beard. As Indian leisure boat owners are a fairly rare breed, Dilip was not greeted by the flotilla that have greeted other circumnavigators, but Vice president Hamid Ansari along with chief of naval staff Nirmal Kumar Verma and Donde's family members, who were on board INS Delhi, anchored at the finish line, were there to witness the historic moment and give him a rousing reception.

The journey had begun August 19, 2009, in the INSV Mhadei, the first fibreglass yacht constructed entirely in India.

This was not a non-stop and unassisted voyage. He made four stops during the voyage, at Fremantle - Australia, Christchurch - New Zealand, Port Stanley - Falkland islands and Cape Town - South Africa.

According to the vice president, the voyage 'would not have been possible without the support Commander Donde received from the Indian Navy. I wouldn’t have missed welcoming Commander Donde for anything in the world,' Ansari added. The vice president mentioned that the young generation should be encouraged to focus on the spirit of adventure and innovation. 'Through the project ‘Sagar Parikrima’ the Indian Navy is helping in reviving the old tradition of sea faring. The younger generation should take this forward,' Ansari said.

Donde said: 'After finishing the nine-month-long voyage on board INSV Mhedai, I cannot think of any achievement bigger than this.'

He is the 175th solo circumnavigator in the world, the first Indian and the second Asian to have achieved this feat.

Donde mentioned that he tackled the high seas and battled giant waves and ferocious winds. 'There have been so many challenges in these nine months of sailing that it is very difficult to single out any one.'

But the voyage was unforgettable. 'The entire project, from building the boat to going round the world, has been a singular experience. I have learnt a lot in the process, both about the technical aspects as well as human nature.'

Asked if he would put down his experiences in a book, Donde said: 'I may. But right now I need to rest and give it some serious thought. I have already been writing a blog on the voyage.'

Asked if he would want to undertake such a voyage again, Donde said: 'I would love that, but I would rather pass it on to a successor.'

The 56-foot-long Mhadei, with 23-tonne displacement, is made of wood core fibre glass with state-of-the-art navigation and communication equipment fitted on it.

During the voyage, INSV Mhadei also became the first Indian sailing vessel to participate in the Australia's Fremantle Sailing Club Opening Season event.

The yacht, Mhadei is named after the eponymous river Mandovi, better known as river Mhadei in Karnataka, from where it originates.

Donde, who is a trained clearance diver in the Indian Navy, volunteered for Project ‘Sagar Parikrama’ and also trained with legendary Sir Robin Knox-Johnston, the first man to sail solo and non-stop round the world in 1968-69.

The world record for the fastest solo circumnavigation was set in January 2008 by Frenchman Francis Joyon at 67 days, 13 hours, 34 minutes and 6 seconds.

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