Six women in a boat
A strong breeze blows across the placid Mandovi river bay in Goa as Lt. Cdr. Vartika Joshi expertly steers INSV (Indian Navy sailing vessel) Tarini towards the Mandovi jetty. Joshi’s all-woman crew is at their respective work stations as the gleaming white sailing vessel sails majestically towards the coast.
Joshi is skipper of the first all-woman Navy team that will circumnavigate the globe (21,600 nautical miles in seven months) starting second half of August. The six-member team has been handpicked and trained at the Navy’s Ocean Sailing Node set up at INS Mandovi under the guidance of Capt. Atool Sinha, an Asian Games sailing silver medallist.
In 2010, Capt. (retd.) Dilip Donde undertook a similar journey and became the first Indian to circumnavigate the globe in a sail boat. In 2013, Cdr. Abhilash Tomy accomplished the same feat without any land halts.
Interestingly for the all-woman crew, but for Lt. Cdr. P. Swathi, who is from the coastal city of Visakhapatnam, none of the others has had any exposure to the sea before joining the Navy.
Today, the smart, young sailor-officers ooze confidence and are looking forward to their historic voyage. Were it not for their Navy fatigues, the crew, in the 26-28 age group, looks like a bunch of laughing, chatting young women out to have fun.
I had met some of them at social functions in Goa earlier, so it wasn’t difficult to break the ice when we settled down for a quiet chat on board INSV Tarini one humid afternoon last week.
The bonhomie the team shared was evident, and the mood was relaxed and friendly. Seated near the boat pool area, Joshi began with explaining the key responsibilities of each of her team members. Explaining the concept of the night watch, Joshi said, “Two officers perform the four-hourly watch in rotation. They are completely responsible for whatever happens on board during the watch. They have to plot the course, steer the vessel if need be, keep an eye on the sail positions and generally ensure that everything is in order.”
Lt. Shougrakpam Vijaya Devi, officer in charge of sails, interrupts: “The four-hourly shifts can be extended. It all depends on our skipper’s mood.” The women erupt into peals of laughter. “Luckily for us, our skipper is usually kind,” says Lt. Payal Gupta, the logistics officer. More laughter follows.
You can sense the camaraderie in the team, so critical and vital for a voyage of this nature. Joshi goes on to say that while each officer has a key responsibility, each of them is familiar with the others’ roles. “We have all been trained in various departments and we are fully capable of handling each other’s jobs. There are no separate work stations.”
The brand new vessel is fitted with a state-of-the-art navigation suite and an array of the latest satellite communication systems through which she can be contacted from anywhere in the world. I ask Swathi, the navigation and communications officer, to show me how it works. Swathi, the only married officer in the team, has an officious air about her. She goes about her job with the precision of a mathematics teacher explaining an algebra formula.
“Our chart plotter is GPS driven. We plot our course by the country or location we want to sail to,” Swathi says. According to her, the chart plotter has divided the world into neat boxes. “We plot the course based on the winds. But things can change anytime. While sailing back from Mauritius recently, we plotted a westward course, but the winds drove us further east and we had to keep returning to our original course.”
Swathi explains how the sophisticated radar in the navigation suite helps them sight rain clouds. “This is a very useful warning system, as we need to bring down our sails in the event of stormy weather.”
A special craft
INSV Tarini is a compact, one-deck sailing vessel, 56 feet in length. The stem side (front of the boat) has the masts and sails, while the stern (rear end) has two steering wheels supported by an auto-pilot system. The stern also accommodates an oval shaped satellite antenna receiver that provides 20GB data per month.
In front of the steering wheels is a covered cockpit that gives protection from the winds and rain and has a set of controls to operate the navigation suite in the lower deck. From the cockpit area, stairs descend to the lower deck. The kitchen is to the extreme left and there are bunk beds on both the leeward and windward sides. Opposite the kitchen is the filtration room that houses a state-of-the-art reverse osmosis machine that converts seawater into potable water that the team can use for cooking, bathing and drinking.
Gupta, the ever-smiling logistics officer, is in charge of the kitchen and rations. Since there is no refrigerator on board, Gupta says she plans to stock enough dry rations for 35-40 days, with a 10% buffer. “All of us prefer Indian food, so I am stocking up on dals, atta, besan, rice, sooji and cornflakes. Since we have a couple of South Indians on board, we will be treated to idlis and dosas at breakfast. Dinner is usually a simple affair with just soups and fruit juices,” she says.
The kitchen is an integral part of the vessel. “We have a small celebration every time we cross the Equator, and usually end up preparing halwa. We also bake cakes for birthdays,” Gupta smiles, before letting me in on a little secret. When hunger pangs strike the officers on night duty, it’s instant noodles to the rescue. “We are carrying two LPG cylinders and will refill or replace them at the various ports of call.”
Vijaya Devi hails from Manipur, Mary Kom’s state and is built like a boxer herself. “I used to think the world was a small place. Now I realise the most
intriguing part of the world is hidden in the depths of the ocean,” declares the seamanship officer as she deftly knots a rope.
There are as many as 23 kinds of ropes on the vessel and six kinds of sails, including the main sail, the head sails (both the Genoa and Stay sails), downwind sails and storm sails. Vijaya Devi demonstrates the various complicated knots with a magician’s flourish.
It is obvious the officers don’t take their jobs lightly. Nor do they suffer from any delusions of grandeur. “When you sail on the vast oceans, you realise how insignificant you are,” says hull officer Lt. Cdr. Pratibha Jamwal. Soft spoken and with a ready smile, she says sailing has changed her life. “I have become calmer, more tolerant and forgiving.” Qualities that come in more than handy as she painstakingly watches over the hull, noting every little sign of wear and tear.
“I need to ensure the paint is intact, the quality of wood is good. If there is a collision or accident, I plan emergency repairs. The hull is the most important part of the boat, as it houses the keel, a nine-tonne lead object that prevents the boat from capsizing.”
The crew’s engineer, Lt. B. Aishwarya, is away on leave for her engagement. She is the adventurer, her team members tell me, having tried bungee jumping, river rafting and deep-sea diving. When I call her later over phone, the excitement in her voice is palpable. “I have only heard stories about the Southern Ocean. I am looking forward to the challenge of sailing across it,” she says.
It’s never easy keeping a team together and leading them to the finish, but Joshi dons the skipper’s hat with ease. She also smiles easily. “I have worked on myself. I am a lot more patient now. I don’t take impulsive decisions. I take everybody’s positive strengths and use it to our collective advantage. When we aren’t sailing? Oh, we go for movies or a chai together.”
Distance: More than 21,000 nautical miles
Across seas: Arabian Sea, Indian Ocean, Great
Australian Bight, Southern Ocean, Pacific Ocean,
and Atlantic Ocean
Ports of call: Fremantle (Perth-Western Australia),
Lyttleton (Christchurch, New Zealand), Port Stanz
ley (Falkland Islands), Cape Town (South Africa)
Departure: Between Aug. 15 and 30
Duration: Seven months (approx.)
First leg: INS Mandovi, Goa, to Fremantle Port
(Western Australia), approx. 35-40 days (Halt at
port: approx 12-14 days)
Second leg: Fremantle Port to Lyttleton Port ( New
Zealand), approx 20-25 days (halt at port approx.
Third leg: Lyttleton Port to Port Stanley (Falkland
Islands), approx 30-35 days (halt at port approx.
Fourth leg: Port Stanley to Cape Town (South
Africa), approx 30-35 days (halt at port approx.
Last leg: Cape Town to INS Mandovi, Goa, approx 35-40 days.
INSV Tarini is the Navy’s second ocean-going sailboat, inducted in February
It is one of two sailing vessels at the Ocean Sailing Node in INS Mandovi, Goa
Fifty-six feet in length, it is based on a stock design by Van de Stadt, Netherlands, and built at
Aquarius Shipyard Pvt. Ltd. on Divar Island inGoa
The hull is made of wooden core fibreglass
Named after the famous Tara-Tarini temple in Odisha’s Ganjam district. Tarini means ‘boat’ and
Tara-Tarini is patron deity of sailors and merchants
Carries a suite of six sails including a main sail, head sails (Genoa and stay sails), downwind sails
and storm sail
Mast is 25m tall and has been custom built by M/s Southern Spars, Cape Town
Boasts a Raymarine navigation suite and an array of top-notch satellite communication systems