Retired Indian naval officer Abhilash Tomy is on an incredible journey around the world. He is sailing on a yacht barely 10 metres long and fighting the waves of the mighty oceans all alone. Abhilash is competing in the Golden Globe Race, the toughest race on the seas, and is currently in the second position.
Constantly in command of the boat and isolated in vast expanses of the ocean, days and nights have passed through Abhilash's realms of consciousness for the past 229 days.
After starting the race from Le Sables-d’Olonne in France, Abhilash and other competitors of Golden Globe, which is considered one of the biggest challenges of human endurance, have to circumnavigate the globe across the oceans solo without stopping at any shore and return to the starting point to complete the race. Moreover, participants should only depend on the equipment used during the first edition of the race which took place in 1968.
Abhilash started his trip for the ongoing Golden Globe race in September 2022 on his yacht ‘Bayanat’, sponsored by a UAE firm. Incidentally, he had taken part in the 2018 edition of the race also, but could not complete it as a storm in the Indian Ocean had wrecked his yacht. Abhilash was severely injured and could not even walk. Saved by a French fishing vessel, he was subjected to surgery on his vertebral column. A titanium rod was inserted into his vertebra to enable Abhilash to stand up. Gradually, he began walking again.
However, Abhilash had such a firm resolve that he started planning his next Golden Globe Race even while lying motionless on his yacht, waiting for rescue teams to arrive. In Abhilash’s own words, the 2018 race was an “unfinished business” that he had to complete at any cost. Now, Abhilash’s dream is all set to come true within 10 days at Le Sables-d’Olonne.
‘Malayala Manorama’ had received special permission to speak to Abhilash every week over the satellite phone and here are excerpts from the conversations:
You are on the verge of completing an ‘unfinished business’ as your yacht is expected to reach the finishing point by the end of April. How do you feel?
Saying that I am happy would be simplifying the situation. Anyhow, I am yet to finish the race and can reply to the question only afterward.
Are you satisfied with the race so far?
Certainly! The race started in the Atlantic Ocean, covered the Indian Ocean and the Pacific Ocean and again entered the Atlantic.
Earlier, I had circumnavigated the globe solo in the Indian Navy’s INSV 'Mhadei' yacht as part of the Sagar Parikrama-2 expedition. However, that yacht was bigger and had the latest equipment. I completed the trip in 151 days. However, it would take more than 230 days to cover the distance in the present Golden Globe race.
What changes did you notice in the seas when you travelled along the route another time solo?
The impact of climate change is visible in the sea. For instance, the number of Albatross birds has decreased. During the last trip, cold weather was experienced at many spots. But, this time, I felt warm in the same areas.
Another change is garbage seen even in deep seas, far away from land. I felt it was a grave issue. Plastic waste is reaching oceans in big quantities and is noticed even in lonely parts of the seas.
Abhilash, you will be creating history by finishing the Golden Globe Race!
I already hold the record of the first Indian to circumnavigate the globe solo and non-stop. I achieved the feat as part of the Indian Navy’s Sagar Parikrama-2 expedition.
What all factors make the Golden Globe Race different?
The main feature of the Golden Globe race is the unique set of conditions. The 2022 edition started on the same model as the first event held in 1968. Participants should use technology from 50 years ago and the boats too have to be built based on the designs of that time. The latest communication equipment should not be used for the race. It is a tough event and of the 16 entrants, only three remain.
So far, as few as 200 people have circumnavigated the globe without stopping anywhere. More people have even conquered Everest. Consider somebody attempting to scale Everest with the same tools used by Tenzing Norgay and Edmund Hillary, the first persons to set foot on the tallest peak in the world. We are engaged in a similar task on the seas.
The winner of the first Golden Globe race in 1968 was a British sailor, Sir Robin Knox-Johnston. There are big challenges in using the technology of that time for a race now.
Many of those who started the race had to give up midway following misfortune and bad weather. I too was forced to stop the race midway in 2018.
Did you take the accident of 2018 as a challenge?
Absolutely! As a sailor and a former Indian Navy person, it was an unfinished business that I had to complete anyhow.
Could you meet any Keralites on the route?
During the present race, I spoke to Alfaz, belonging to Ernakulam. He is an officer in a cargo ship travelling from Santos in Brazil to Singapore and we met in the South Atlantic.
In the 2018 Golden GlobeRace, I could speak to Martin Markose from Pulluvazhy in Muvattupuzha.
You created news this time by repairing the damage to your boat by yourself. This was referred to as the ‘Abhilash Model’ for all sailors to emulate.
My wind vane was damaged and I ran out of replacements. Finally, I sawed out a piece of the toilet door to make a wind vane. I also informed the organisers of the trip about this repair and maybe people are referring to it as the ‘Abhilash model.’
Earlier, during the Sagar Parikrama trip, I spent time with the yacht, INSV 'Mhadei', from the time it was taken to the water and was familiar with virtually every nut and bolt! That knowledge came in handy during the journey.
However, I did not get so much time with 'Bayanat', my yacht for the present race. Still, I spent maximum time with the vessel before the race and that too has helped.
Is there any difference between the big oceans?
Many people ask me about the differences between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. In reality, there are no differences. This is because the same climate exists in the oceans everywhere around the equator.
When you travel northwards or southwards from the equator, the impact of changes in the temperature would be similar. For instance, the same condition exists at 20 degrees south of the Atlantic, Pacific and Indian Oceans. This offers many interesting sights like flying fish. These fish fly out of the water and land at another place. Such fish could be sighted near the equator. Fish fly out of water when bigger fish try to catch them! It is a means to escape from the enemy.
What are your plans after reaching land?
I have so many tasks lined up! My wife Urmimala and children Vedaant and Abhraneil are in our house in Goa and they are not coming to Paris. My parents, retired Lieutenant Commander in the Indian Navy V C Tomy and Valsamma, live at Kandanad in Kochi. So, my first plan is to complete this ‘unfinished business’ as soon as possible and rush home!