Indian Navy’s indigenous sail vessel makes history (opinion)

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On February 18, 2017, Indian Naval Sailing Vessel (INSV) Tarini was commissioned with a sole mission to promote the first-ever Indian all-women circumnavigation. While women represent only 1.2 per cent of the global seafaring workforce, INSV Tarini has been built to inspire women to attain their full potential in the field of maritime. After the phenomenal success of the ‘Sagar Parikrama Project’, the Indian Navy decided to bring forward the brave women that filled their ranks with the launch of ‘Navika Sagar Parikrama’ project. Vice Admiral Manohar Awati and his vision of sailing for India, was one of the primary influencers behind the project. A dream that Vice Admiral Awati saw for himself and his country, in 1940s, brought to light in 2009 by Commander Dilip Donde, the first Indian to set out solo to circumnavigate the globe on-board INSV Mhadei. He displayed exceptional professional competence, courage and determination in the face of life-threatening adversities and interminable service to the nation. His successor in the Sagar Parikrama Project and onboard the INSV Mhadei was Commander Abhilash Tomy who on April 6, 2013, wrote a new chapter in India’s rich maritime history by becoming the first Indian to circumnavigate the earth under sail — solo, nonstop and unassisted.

Meanwhile, in ancient times, women were prohibited on ships. And the first woman to

circumnavigate the globe, Jeanne Baret, did so by dressing up as a man. She travelled for two years in a French naval ship among 300 sailors before she was recognised and

bought off the ship. From time to time, many women have made a leap by proving their

capabilities to circumnavigate the globe. Jeanne Socrates went on to break the stereotype around age as well when in 2013 she became the oldest woman to circumnavigate the world non-stop, single-handedly and unassisted at the age of 71.

Navika Sagar Parikrama was initiated to essentially promote the ocean sailing activities in the Navy while depicting the Government of India’s thrust for ‘Nari Shakti’ to have a team of women officers from the Indian Navy to circumnavigate the globe on an Indian-built sailboat like Mhadei. To accomplish this dream project, a team of six women officers were selected after a rigorous selection process. Lieutenant Commander Vartika Joshi was recruited as a skipper, alongside Lieutenant Commanders Pratibha Jamwal and P. Swathi and Lieutenants S. Vijaya Devi, B. Aishwarya and Payal Gupta.

During the voyage, one of the most trusted companions for crew members is their

sailboat. A little over 20-years-old, Aquarius Fibreglass shipyard had never built a sailing yacht until the Indian Navy approached the owner Ratnakar Dandekar to build INSV Mhadei. Dandekar took on the challenge and seized the opportunity. Mhadei sailed over 115,000 nautical miles and completed two path-breaking voyages. Thus, when the Indian Navy was looking for a new vessel for Navika Sagar Parikrama, Aquarius Fibreglass became the obvious choice.

After the first successful attempt, Aquarius shipyard had grown in confidence and built INSV Tarini in 11 months. The INSV Tarini, a 54-ft sloop, was an exact replica of INSV Mhadei with the suggestions from the Indian Navy to make it more women friendly. The boat has been built to a stock design by Van de Stadt, Netherlands, called Tonga 56. The kneeling of the vessel was laid by the late former Union Defence Minister, Manohar Parrikar on March 27, 2016, at Aquarius shipyard. The successful construction of both the INSV Mhadei and INSV Tarini in Goa is in line to the Government’s ‘Make in India’ policy.

On the much-awaited day of September 10, 2017, the crew received a tremendous amount

of support and wishes from the senior serving and retired naval officials, civilian

dignitaries, family members and sailing enthusiasts. Furthermore, the ‘D-Day’ had the

presence of many personalities and prominent figures like late Manohar Parrikar, former Goa Chief Minister; Admiral Sunil Lanba (retd.), former Chief of Naval Staff, Vice-Admiral A.R. Karve (retd.), former Flag Officer Commanding-in-Chief, Southern Naval Command, and Admiral R. Hari Kumar, Chief of Naval Staff. At 12:30 hrs IST, Nirmala Sitharaman, Current Union Finance and Corporate Affairs Minister and then Union Defence Minister flagged off the Navika Sagar Parikrama with an all-women crew of Indian Navy aboard INSV Tarini from INS Mandovi jetty at Panaji, Goa. Bidding adieu to their loved ones, the crew of INSV Tarini embarked on their epic voyage.

Sailing off the west coast of India through Fremantle, Australia, team Tarini soon

prepared to face the peculiarity of the ‘doldrums’ around the equator. On the first day of their voyage aboard INSV Tarini, the crew wrote, ‘Tarini: our saviour and our home for the time ahead, rocked us to deep slumber with light winds and calm seas away from the cacophony of the land just enough to leave us energized’.

With INSV Tarini’s voyage sailing smoothly, the crew followed the sun into the southern hemisphere on September 25, 2017, and passed by the equator. The equator crossing was celebrated with a cake prepared onboard by the crew. On attainting its first goal without much hindrance from the weather, team Tarini headed towards the south nearly 1,670 nautical miles from her first port of call — Fremantle, Australia. On October 17, 2017, the sea was unpredictable as ever, and while crossing the Tropic of Capricorn the winds were harsher to deal with, but eventually, after a few rough days, the trade winds steered the vessel towards Fremantle. From ice-cold weather and wind speeds of 25 knots to high waves, the women braved it all to make it to their first port of call, Fremantle, Australia, on October 23, 2017.

The crew’s first task at hand was to replenish their ship and service the equipment and gear. After call-on meetings with Governor of western Australia, Kerry Sanderson AC and Deputy Mayor City of Freemantle, Cr. Ingrid Waltham as well as interaction with a cross-section of policymakers, political leaders, parliamentarians and military officers, the crew departed on November 5, 2017, for the second leg of her voyage — Lyttleton, New Zealand.

On their way toward Lyttleton, the crew experienced the ‘Roaring Forties’, an area

between Latitude 40 degrees and 50 degrees south. Since the winds were noisy and not favourable for sailing and kept shifting from the north or south, the sailors in old times called them ‘Roaring Forties’. The following day, the INSV Tarini team managed to pass the longitude of Cape Leeuwin successfully. During this voyage, the team celebrated the birthday of skipper Vartika as well as Lieutenant Commander Payal with cakes and balloons. Without many difficulties, INSV Tarini entered the Lyttleton port on November 29, 2017.

The Director of the Indian Naval Sailing Association, Commander Neel Manjooran

supported and helped the crew plan their activities and facilitated repairs on-board. The crew of INSV Tarini was officially welcomed to Lyttleton by Andrew Turner, Christchurch Deputy Mayor. Apart from several other engagements, the crew also had a call-on meeting with the Christchurch Mayor, Lianne Dalziel. The team departed from Lyttleton on December 12, 2017, to Port Stanley (Falklands).

In one day, INSV Tarini crossed the Chatham islands which was the last landmass on her

passage before crossing into the Pacific ocean, on Dec 16, 2017. Tarini’s steady pace

was later interrupted by rough pacific weather and harsh tides which slowed them down

considerably until Christmas. Though on the next day itself December 26, 2017,

the crew once again were surrounded by the gusty winds when they entered the Pacific

ocean.

After fighting through the ‘Furious fifties’ at 52 degrees south latitude, the six-women team crossed ‘Cape Horn’. This crossing certainly added another feather on Tarini’s hat and a big foot forward on their successful circumnavigation. However, the next big challenge was the Drake Passage which is known for its stormy seas and icy conditions, but very gracefully the team dealt with the notoriously rough Drake Passage, rounding Cape Horn off the southern tip of South America.

On January 22, 2018, after a month-long wait, INSV Tarini stepped into their third port of call Port Stanley in the Falkland islands. The team was welcomed by Nigel Phillips, CBE, Governor of the Falkland Islands, and her Majesty’s Commissioner of south Georgia and the south Sandwich islands.

Commodore Sameer Saxena, Naval Adviser at the High Commission of India, London,

was present at Falkland supporting the crew and ensuring a safe onward passage for the

next leg of their journey. While congratulating the crew member Commodore Sameer

Saxena said, “Indian shipbuilders and seafarers have a strong connection with the

Falkland islands and have been calling in here for over 165 years, from the HMS

Trincomalee, built in Bombay in 1817, to the INSV Mhadei which visited Port Stanley in

2009, all the way through to the INSV Tarini. Ships ‘Made in India’ have visited these

shores in the most ecological way to travel-sailing. This expedition is a symbol of those enduring traditions, history and sustainability, as well as a mode of demonstrating how Indian women are increasingly being empowered to achieve their full potential.”

The crew took part in a series of community outreach activities after which on Sunday, Feb 4, 2018, INSV Tarini sailed out of Stanley Harbour with a fond farewell from the local people.

On February 8, 2018, the sea switched its calm stance to a rough one, thereby slowing

down Tarini’s pace, but despite the rough weather, the team managed to cover 230

nautical miles within the next few days reducing the distance from Cape Town to 2320

nautical miles. Though by the end of February, Tarini picked up momentum which made

sailing smoother. Later, the crew seemed relaxed and celebrated Holi with Indian delicacies like golgappas.

Due to the smooth journey, team Tarini arrived at Cape Town, South Africa, on March 2,

2018. After the ship underwent the usual procedure of replenishment and ship repairing

services, the team was seen partaking in various social gatherings like visit to South African Sailing Western Cape and Royal Cape Yacht Club, presenting and participating in the Q & A session, photo expeditions at Royal Cape Yacht Club and a press and radio talk at “567 Cape Talk”. On March 14, 2018, INSV Tarini left Cape Town for the final leg of their circumnavigation passage to Goa.

On successful completion of the first four legs of the team, on March 20, 2018, INSV Tarini crossed the final cape in their journey — the ‘Cape of Good Hope’. On passing the final cape of the voyage, Tarini experienced moderate sea and winds of the Atlantic Ocean. On April 1, 2018, the sea turned serene, and went on for the rest of the week. Once INSV Tarini reached South of Madagascar the team was stuck due to rough seas but moved northwards in the next 24 hours once the sea eased out again. However, that was only momentary since the rough weather and heavy seas continued, INSV Tarini’s steering system got affected which forced the crew to use the smallest sail available on board to maintain headway. An innovative method to steer gave a temporary solution to the crew to proceed to Port Louis, Mauritius, for repairs. Despite all the setbacks, on April 18, 2018, Team Tarini arrived at Port Louis, Mauritius. With the help of the High Commission of India, Mauritius, in coordination with the National Coast Guard, Mauritius, INSV Tarini was provided complete assistance towards speedy defect rectification. On April 26, 2018, the Navikas departed from Port Louis towards their last leg of the circumnavigation.

On May 6, 2018, the INSV Tarini re-entered the northern hemisphere, and having crossed

the equator for the second time, the Navikas had completed all the required criteria of the circumnavigation. On May 21, 2018, history was created when the team arrived at the Indian shores after spending 199 days circumnavigating the globe and 254 days in all, thereby becoming the first-ever all-women Indian team to circumnavigate the globe and also the first-ever all-women military team in the world to complete this feat as well as the first Asian all-women team to do so.

INSV Tarini had several gut-wrenching moments from navigating choppy waters amid a

raging storm off Cape Horn to winds gusting up to 70 knots or 120 kilometres per hour

which buffeted the vessel in the South Pacific. The crew also witnessed turbulent weather that caused high waves to come crashing down onto the boat. Even after all that INSV Tarini a 56-footer sailing vessel, built indigenously had survived and thrived. Apart from the circumnavigation, INSV Tarini has undertaken Indian Ocean Naval Symposium sailing expedition to Seychelles and back in 2018 along with Mhadei which was

flagged off from Kochi by Chief of Naval Staff, Admiral Sunil Lanba. She participated in the Bay of Bengal sailing expedition in 2020 and the 75th anniversary of country’s Independence ‘Azadi ka Amrit Mahotsav’ race with five other ocean sailboats of the Indian Navy from Kochi to Goa.

Currently, INSV Tarini is at Vishakhapatnam for presidential fleet review 2022 and

planned to undergo a training sortie for south Indian oceans and Mauritius in July 2022.

The boat is also likely to participate in the prestigious Cape to Rio race in South Atlantic ocean in 2023, says Commander K.R. Binoy, who is the present Officer-in-Charge of ocean sailing node of the Indian Navy.

Commander K.R. Binoy, who has also participated in Cape to Rio 2017 on Mhadei as a skipper, believes, as INSV Tarini is a newer boat, it is faster and more comfortable for long ocean expeditions and is suitable for women officers to undertake prolonged passages.

“Indian Navy is also trying to train women officers to undertake a solo woman

circumnavigation in the near future on-board INSV Tarini,” he said. The INSV Tarini has not only created history but given hope and courage to the future generation particularly, women in India. Today, as we celebrate her commissioning, February 18, 2017, we also look forward to her journey as she undertakes other adventures for sailors across.

(Swapna Nair is a Senior Research Associate at Maritime History Society, Mumbai. She can be contacted at manthan@mhsindia.org/swapna.nair94@outlook.com)

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