In Part 1 of this 'personal is political' narrative – I touched upon the character called Abhilash Tomy; the phenomenon of the Tall ships – the sail ships – the colonisation of the marine environment in India – the induction of women into the Indian navy – and hence the story of Tarini and the intrepid all women crew.

For those unfamiliar with the marine ecosystem – it was important to touch upon the key question of Why Sailing Ships, in an era of unprecedented sophistication and technology which informs our lives and our environment. I hope I have been able to address the questions raised by some, who understandably wonder why are we still persisting with almost prehistoric sailing vessels in an era of so much hi tech advanced technology and sophisticated engines powering vessels at sea.

And this brings me to the other all important question of the role and place of competitive sailing in a modern era – that too the voluntary foregoing of most modern techie fixes and aids except for what a sailor would have had access to in the very early days of ocean going – as are the basic rules and conditions governing the participants in the GGR, or the Golden Globe Race 2018.

Golden Globe Race 2018 - Why this Gruelling Race - What does it mean - And for whom?

Those who are avid for details – can read more here.

But to recap – Abhilash Tomy, a 39-year-old Indian naval commander, was competing in the 2018 Golden Globe Race – a nonstop, 30,000-mile solo yachting competition that bars the use of modern technology – when his boat hit a storm on Friday more than 3,000 kilometres (nearly 2,000 miles) off the coast of Australia, and over 3,000 miles south of the Indian landmass.

Meanwhile – a spectacular multinational rescue effort had the nation praying and agog – and we collectively heaved a sigh of relief when the Indian Navy’s P-8 aircraft first located Tomy and Thuriya. And such is the miracle of modern communication, that ships of three nations, Australian, Indian and French, set off at high speed to reach the lonely boat struggling to stay afloat. His fellow sailor and competitor, Gregor McGuckin, from Ireland, though demasted, also changed course and set tack for Tomy’s last known position – having decided that rescuing his comrade was far more important than completing the race.

These are stories which tell of compassion and camaraderie that transcends crass competition.

In the end the French fishing ship Osiris was first to reach the stricken Thuriya, and in a swift and professional operation they moved Abhilash Tomy to safety, to the Isle Amsterdam – the closest place where they could give him immediate first aid.

The Old Man and the Sea…

L. Ramdas and Manohar Awati

Last week we were with the remarkable father figure behind the current series of ocean circumnavigations – Vice Admiral Manohar Awati, 93, at the Navy Hospital in Colaba. He had been monitoring the rescue mission from minute to minute. After hearing that Tomy had been sighted, then rescued and eventually was safely on his way to the mainland, he tells us with a booming laugh that he is ready to make his own final crossing after having seen all his dreams come true – to see an Indian sailor sailing solo round the world in an indigenously built sailboat. Even more exciting – to see six intrepid young Navy women complete their mission – the first ever Sagar Navik Parikrama.

And he turns disarmingly to Ramu – Admiral Ramdas, his ‘chela’ of many years, thumps him on the back and says with a twinkle in his eye – “and let us not forget Ramu – if you hadn’t pushed to get the Ministry of Defence clearance for women to join the Indian Navy in 1992 – there would have been no Sagar Parikrama for women – and I would not have met the Big B in KBC!!”

This is also a time to pay a small tribute to Roddy Rodrigues, Ramu Ramdas and Nimmi Suri – the three 1st Course buddies – who stayed the course from cadet to Chief – and left behind a truly historic legacy – pushing through the all important decision to induct women into the Indian Armed Forces in the early nineties.

And finally, in the true spirit of every visionary and adventurer, Manohar Awati wants to send a clear message to those in charge – be it at Naval Head Quarters, the MOD, and more importantly, the Financial advisors – that this mishap to Thuriya and Tomy, should never be a reason to hold back or to stop future adventure missions involving sail ships, oceans and future generations. The invaluable lessons learnt can rarely be replicated – and this is why it is all the more important that all concerned learn the right lessons.

Abhilash Tomy departs Les Sables d'Olonne Harbour on July 1, 2018.

The Sea, Our Great Teacher

Inevitably, the entire episode has thrown up lessons, questions and important perspectives which must be explored, remembered, analysed for the future of all those who have made the sea their home, their chosen medium, their life-long friend and their source of livelihood. From adventure sailing, to competitive racing, to those whose very survival and livelihood depends on their ability and their love of the seas, the oceans, the winds and the life under the ocean waves – there are some questions which might never have answers.

Competitive Sports Versus Adventure Sailing

There continue to be valid and genuine concerns about the value of such risky, competitive sports, raised by quite a few people who have read about and are following with deep concern, the events following the tropical storm and all that happened subsequently to disable both Tomy, Thuriya and also fellow competitor Gregor. Here is what my friend asked – and maybe it is an unspoken concern of others as well.

- What is the need to risk lives for such foolhardy competitions how does it help anyone in this day and age to risk the seas alone in a yacht I am aghast that they have such a thing. Hope help reached him soon and he survives but after this they should stop this competition.

- Abhilash Tomy please spend the rest of your life giving high spirits to all around you - if you love the sea

- Join movements to save it from all the plastic and junk and we'll join you - but please no adventure sailing.

I guess – these searching questions – both real and philosophical will continue to haunt us – especially when it is a question of a certain kind of competitive spirit – as is indeed embodied in the kind of challenges that a race like the GGR seeks to set as a target – and a yardstick with which to measure human endurance and skill.

But there is one more important aspect of the saga of small sailing ships which is worth flagging – namely

Made in India Make in India In the Real Sense

The underlying message of those who insisted that Indian sailors must sail the tall as well as the smaller sailing ships is a far deeper and a visionary one. What they have insisted upon, is that these ships MUST genuinely be “Made In India”...

Most of the articles and essays and TV programmes made on Thuriya, Taringini, Tarini – have mentioned it in passing, but have essentially skimmed over the all-important factor – that each one of these sturdy, elegant, custom built boats have one special feature in common – that each one has been built in India. And in another interesting coincidence – every single one of these boats has been built in the same yard, called Aquarius, in Goa. Remember too that the predecessor of Thuriya, the Mhadei – was built in Mumbai – and so too the original boat which sailed the first Golden Globe Race in 1968.

Make in India – these words take on particular significance at this moment in time, when debates are raging as to whether HAL should have been given the contract to indigenously build and produce the now infamous Rafale aircrafts – in preference to a ‘rookie, makie lernie’ group hastily pulled together by Reliance Defence. Each of the boats we are talking about has the proud tag of having been built in India from beginning to end.

Apart from races, these ships sail extensively across the Indian Ocean region for the purpose of providing sail training experience to the officer cadets of the Indian Navy. The Indian Navy believes that training onboard these ships is the best method of instilling among the trainees the "indefinable 'sea-sense' and respect for elements of nature, which are inseparable from safe and successful seafaring". The Navy believes that sail training also serves to impart the values of courage, camaraderie, endurance and esprit-de-corps among budding naval officers.

Nearly fifty years ago, in 1968, the first Golden Globe Race produced the first man to complete a solo nonstop circumnavigation of the planet in a sailboat.

That person – Sir Robin Knox Johnston – was also the only participant to finish the race. His boat, the Suhaili, was made of wood and built in Mumbai.

Getting a sense of the Thuriya on the water is important for two reasons. First, she is a ketch – there will be an element of transition from Abhilash’s previous experience on a sloop to handling a ketch. Second, the Thuriya is a replica of the Suhaili, with one distinct difference. The Suhaili was made of teakwood. Repeating such construction in 2016-2017 would have been terribly expensive. The Thuriya is therefore made of wood core laminate, like the Mhadei.

Thuriya – as mentioned earlier the name means “State of Consciousness” – each one of these an important element that goes to make up the myths and the legends which are so important to seafarers.

L. Ramdas and Manohar Awati

Social Justice, Gender and the Role of the Sea / the Navy

Tracing this short history of the Four Ts has been both fun and exciting. But my narrative would not be complete without one final anecdote which to me is the ultimate convergence of all the reasons why the sea, ships and sailing ultimately are so symbiotically bound up with the idea of a borderless world with no boundaries and seamless frontiers – where earth, sky and water meet each other in a peaceful intermingling of hopes, dreams and aspirations.

In his interview with Lt Cdr Swati on KBC, Big B was thrilled to highlight her story – the daughter of a domestic help in one of the officer’s flats in Navy park, whose mother left her domestic worker post, and took on the job of a tyndal at the sailing club – thus also providing her daughter a chance to test her sea legs. And of course it makes for a dramatic sign off to say that the same mother is today a resident of the same accommodation, now allotted to Swati and her husband by right as Naval officers.

L. Ramdas and Manohar Awati

The Navy Wives Association and the Bal Pathshalas

That Swati’s mother was able to let her little girl go to school and get the best possible grounding in early childhood learning, was in no small measure due to the chain of Bal Pathshalas that a group of us in the Navy Wives Association conceptualised and implemented across the Navy between 1987 and 1993, in Kochi, Vizag, Mumbai, Delhi and literally across the commands. Having seen for ourselves the traumatic situation often faced by the domestic help, who are so often single mothers, many having to suffer domestic violence, and unable to afford to send their kids to school, we came up with the idea of the Bal Pathshala – available to children of our domestic help, paid for by the officers and subsidised by the contributory establishments. And it was through this small but obviously welcome feature that we were able to do our mite to ensure the right to education to those who often fell between stools and ended up as school dropouts or domestic help themselves.

So salaam to all those who sail these mighty ships – to their courage and their example of leadership and the spirit of adventure above all..

Salaam to those pioneers who believed in their dreams and insisted they would see them through..

To Taringini – Tarini – Thuriya and Tomy – what more can I say except to quote lines from a favourite poem..

I must go down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky,
And all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by,
And the wheel's kick and the wind's song and the white sail's shaking,
And a grey mist on the sea's face, and a grey dawn breaking.

I must go down to the seas again, for the call of the running tide
Is a wild call and a clear call that may not be denied;
And all I ask is a windy day with the white clouds flying,
And the flung spray and the blown spume, and the sea-gulls crying.

(From Salt and Ballads, by John Masefield.)

Lalita Ramdas is a Navy brat and Navy wife.

You can read Part 1 of The Four Ts here.

L. Ramdas and Manohar Awati