Baking cakes on the high seas and facing monstrous waves

THE CIRCUMNAVIGATORS: The all-women team of Tarini comprising (L-R) Swati P,Payal Gupta, S Vijaya Devi, Pratibha Jamwal, Vartika Joshi and Aishwarya Boddapati.

Six Indian Navy women, all in their 20s, travelled around the world in 254 days in a sail boat to become the world’s first military woman’s team to achieve the feat. They sailed for 199 days on the sea and spent the remaining days at five ports — Fremantle (Australia), Lyttleton (New Zealand), Port Stanley (Falklands), Cape Town (South Africa) and Mauritius. INSV Tarini sailed over 21,600 nautical miles across four continents and three oceans, passed three Great Capes and crossed the Equator twice in eight months.

Talking to Kalyan Ray of DH, Team Tarini — comprising Lieutenant Commander Vartika Joshi (skipper), Pratibha Jamwal and Swati P and Lt. Aishwarya Boddapati, S Vijaya Devi and Payal Gupta — shared its experience. Excerpts:

Tell us about the training that you undertook before the voyage

Vartika: Training started three years ago. As our normal duties are on the shore, we learnt about basic boat handling, seamanship, communication, navigation and weather prediction in naval schools at Kochi. We had hands-on training on INSV Madhei (another Indian Navy sail boat). We learnt the specifics when we took the boat around the Indian peninsula, to Mauritius and Cape Town. We did extensive trial sorties in Mauritius and Porbandar.

Aishwarya: We were also trained by Capt. Dilip Dhonde, the first Indian Navy officer to circumnavigate the globe. We had a collective experience of sailing 20,000 nautical miles before this voyage.

You started off in September 2017, and the first milestone came on November 10 when you sailed past Cape Leeuwin. How did you feel?

Vartika: It felt fantastic as it was first of the three Great Capes to cross. We baked a cake to celebrate the milestone.

Did you encounter storms in the Pacific?

Vartika: We faced one storm in the southern Pacific after crossing the Cape Horn. We knew almost seven days in advance that the storm was coming. It had a wind speed of around 120 kmph with waves 8-10 metres high. What is generally seen in the movies, we experienced live. The temperature fell below zero degree Celsius and there was hailstorm. The storm lasted for 18-19 hours. We somehow managed to steer the boat towards safety.

Vijaya: The giant waves were breaking on the deck. The person behind the wheel would have been swept off had she not been tied to the boat by a harness.

Aishwarya: I had cold burns and couldn’t feel my fingers. It was Dhonde sir, who told me to put my fingers in hot water in the morning and before going to bed. He told me if I didn’t follow his advice, I would be sent back home from the next port.

How did you manage the rations and the water?

Aishwarya: From the ports, we stocked fresh rations in such a way that they would last longer, such as buying half-ripe fruits. The longest leg at sea was 43 days and vegetables wouldn’t last for more than 20 days. For the rest, we were dependent on dried and canned food. We also had multivitamins and supplements.

Swati: For drinking water, we had a 600-litre tank. We also had a reverse osmosis plant that converted sea water into fresh water. We used that for cleaning and cooking.

How big was the resting cabin?

Swati: It is a 5m by 5m space in which we had two bunk beds, but most of the time only one was usable as the boat mostly tilted to one side. So, some of us slept on the floor. We had a small galley with the gas oven, a navigation table and another table that served as our workshop. While sleeping, we had to tie ourselves with a lee-cloth (a strap). We could manage 3-4 hours of sleep in a day.

How did you cook in the boat?

Swati: While cooking, I had to strap myself to a harness. Also, the cooking utensils had to be clamped on either side.

You had one accident during the voyage.

Vartika: Yes, that happened in the last leg. We were 300 km from Mauritius and 4,000 km from India when our steering system failed. The lower portion of the radar was displaced and all the equipment attached to it went down. As a result, we didn’t have any steerage and could not move the boat forward. It was a tough situation. We reached Mauritius three days behind schedule and had to undertake an emergency repair.

Did you feel scared at any point of time?

Aishwarya: In the ocean, if you are not scared, you will feel overconfident and then you stop learning and stop improving. The sea is so unpredictable that you always have some amount of fear. It helps you prepare mentally.

How did you spend your time on the boat?

Aishwarya: Our day was divided into watches. Two people would took care of the boat every four hours on rotation. When I was on watch outside, my job was to look for approaching clouds and adjust the sails.

If the force of the wind was increasing, I reduced the area of sail so that the wind did not overpower the boat. The four people inside the boat would take care of routine jobs like maintenance, plumbing, cleaning, cooking, mechanical and electrical works.

Is there a book coming up?

Aishwarya: A book is in the pipeline. We have started collating data. It will take us some time to recollect the voyage, bring it all together and put it up in a written format. But we will certainly come up with a book.

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Baking cakes on the high seas and facing monstrous waves

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