The Indian Navy vessel (INVS) Tarini is set to sail with an all women crew on September 10.
The defence forces offer a wide range of challenges; when not fighting battles in serving the country, the personnel is never left idle. In the case of six women Indian Navy officers, it meant getting ready to set a record for circumnavigating the globe in a sailboat.
On a warm monsoon afternoon, the crew took time off their busy schedule to have a chat about their experiences and expectations.
Athletic built and briskly walking towards us was lieutenant commander Vartika Joshi, the skipper of INVS Tarini, who guided us to the boat, effortlessly climbing over ropes. For the uninitiated it can be quite a task, trying to find your balance on the rocking boat, but the women very casually moved around the deck making it look very easy, something that comes to sailors who have done at least 10,000 nautical miles.
The five other women: Lt Cdr P Swathi, Lt Cdr Pratibha Jamwal, Lt Shougrakpam Vijaya Devi, Lt Payal Gupta and Lt Aishwarya Bodapatti are equally skilled and athletically built. Most of the crew interestingly hail from inland areas of the country as far away from the coast as Manipur and Dehradun and they’ve only experienced the oceans after joining the Indian Navy.
has been the longest serving officer and like the others has had sailing experience on board, INSV Mhadei which had already seen two circumnavigations under other naval officers. “And after Mhadei’s second circumnavigation, the navy started looking for volunteers from among the women officers for expeditions. I volunteered and got selected to participate in a race,” she says.
who is from the north eastern state of Manipur joined the navy as an education officer teaching English and had no sailing experience. “After joining the navy I started picking up sailing on one person boats like the enterprise and laser boats and participated in several events and won gold in women’s categories,” says the sprightly young sailor. Her family has never imagined their daughter roughing the seas on a sailboat and she adds that once they had come to visit on board and left quickly as they felt seasick. “So they were worried about what we’re going to do at sea, with the climatic conditions and the fact that it’s a small boat. But they trust me, and they know their daughter will do it well,” she says with a smile.
For Aishwarya Bodapatti
hailing from Hyderabad and belongs to the naval architecture cadre of the navy, joining the crew in March 2016 was all for the love of adventure. She has been associated with other adventure sports like bungee jumping, river rafting, scuba diving, “so when I got the word about this expedition I volunteered readily for the team,” she quips. With a BTech in Metallurgy, she is one of the technical officers on the team, and deals with the boat’s engineering and electrical aspects. “I need to know all about the working of the equipment and find out what is the fault in case it breaks down, I also do minor repairs and need to be able to start it again,” she says.
the last to join the crew in November 2016 seemed the quietest amongst them and though the Navy is often associated with sea, she had little hope of ever sailing until the Navika Sagar Parikrama asked for volunteers. “As a part of the crew I’m a logistic officer when we are on land and I have to make sure all the rations are filled up every time we leave port,” she says. The crew stocks up on dry items as the boat doesn’t have refrigeration systems.
The expedition will last for about eight months. Hence, rations have to be refilled whenever they land on shore. “From here we are stocking up on maximum amount of ration that we can take till the first port of call that is in Australia, of course we may not find much of Indian food there, so depending on the food choices of the crew we take our ration,” adds Vartika. And Pratibha adds in that there was one instance on a previous expedition when the crew ran out of salt, “We ran out of salt, we tried to make food with salt water but that didn’t work and for 15 days we didn’t have salt. We took it in our stride and told ourselves we were having healthy food,” she laughs adding that the crew is always concerned about rectifying a problem rather than cursing it.
Pratibha asserts that their individual duties come into play mainly when on shore but when sailing, “everybody does everything, we are all technical officers and we have to do all the jobs from sailing to repairing, cooking and cleaning. Every four hours two of us are on a rolling watch on the deck, and we have to know everything,” she says.
Knots and sails
Knots are Vijaya’s forte, and thus she is kept in charge of the sails. Working with her hands since she was a child, Vijaya is adept in woodwork and craft. “In a sail boat apart from the engine it’s all about the sails and the knots, if anytime you are out of control and suddenly need to tie the sail, a lot can go wrong if the knots are not done properly. We have got to check all the knots. Sometimes small things can lead to bigger trouble,” she says.
After training in batches, the crew had then sailed together to Cape Town in Mhadei in 2016 after which they shifted to Tarini, who was getting built during their previous expedition. “Early this year Tarini got inducted in the Indian Navy and our first voyage was to Mumbai for approximately 200 nautical miles, the second was to Porbandar and back, we took that expedition just to check the north western waters of India,” says Vartika. After that they began preparations for the Mauritius expedition. “We needed to expose her to the weather conditions; she is a brand new boat and every boat has a settling time in the waters. To get her to break in, we had to sail her as much as we could,” says Vartika.
The preparations involve a plethora of activities: the boat has to be ready in all the specs. Regular maintenance of all the equipment, checking for defects that need to be rectified; sailing her to keep her healthy; administrative requirements; are some of the tasks that encompass the preparations. “We will be stopping in four ports and so we need to know what is required of us to get the necessary permissions and the weather conditions that we are going to face. In addition to that there is passage planning – It’s not a direct distance that we are going to cover; we will have to be zigzagging all the way down to Australia, our first port of call. It involves a lot of areas like meteorology, sailing health, health of the boat,” explains Vartika.
“We have not foreseen any emergencies per see, I hope they never come, but yes, we need to be certainly ready for all those emergencies. So the training we’ve had since 2014 will be put to task in the voyage we are about to undertake,” says Vartika. The sea can be highly unpredictable, and sailors don’t really know what awaits them; a person could fall overboard, recovering her could be task; if medical help is needed; or any part of the equipment breaks down that could pose problems and these are situations that have been included in the preparatory exercises.
“Every time we go on a long expedition, we have these medical capsules with supplies that are to be administered under guidance, and we have met with doctors for guidance for procedure undertaken during the medical emergencies we face while at sea; we are trained in basic first aid,” says Vartika. As a skipper, Vartika’s responsibility is to see that the boat is sailed well; and that Tarini and the crew reach the next port safely.
Though in the past no emergencies have forced the crew to change route, the boat runs on the energy from the wind and there have been times when the winds has not been strong enough or has taken her in a different direction. “It is very common on a sail boat, when we have to go to Point A and we have landed at another point,” says Varitka. Vijaya adds that, though Tarini has state-of-the-art radar and satellite communication systems, it is rather difficult to steer the boat on a cloudy night. “When you are out at sea you can see only water and at night if the sky is clear, we guide our boat looking at the stars as well, but if it is cloudy it becomes a little difficult as we don’t know where we can be going in the dark, that is the only time you are a little scared,” she adds.
The changes after sailing
Each one of them says that sailing has changed them in one way or the other, “The sea is such a thing that when you start sailing you are exposed to pure adventure and pure nature, it definitely makes you more humble and keeps you grounded,” says Vartika. The sea has calmed the entire crew down, and has enabled them to control their tempers, thus avoiding rash decisions. “When we are in our regular job we are assessed as individuals and we follow the command chain but once I joined ocean sailing, I have learnt to be a team player. Also when you are sailing sometimes you have to wait for the winds and weather to pick up. I have begun to apply the same principle in life as well and have become more patient,” says Aishwarya.
Ask them what they love about sailing and Pratibha responds: “There’s nothing that I can express. While you’re sailing, it’s half agony and half boredom. But once you come to land there is something that pulls you back no matter how many bad experiences or how much you cursed yourself you still want to go back.”
Keeping the spirit and morale of team up, through the four ports of call Fremantle (Australia), Lyttelton (New Zealand), Port Stanley (Falklands), and Cape Town (South Africa), the crew is all set to brave the tides and cross the oceans on INVS Tarini.