Used 'jugaad' to stay afloat, rough seas made me tougher: Abhilash Tomy on Golden Globe Race

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Abhilash Tomy | Photo:

New Delhi: Commander Abhilash Tomy, who survived rough seas and showed exemplary physical endurance to finish second in the gruelling 30,000-mile solo and non-stop Golden Globe Race, said he used 'jugaad' to fix his boat's damaged self-steering gear to stay afloat in the contest.

Tomy, a retired naval officer, on April 29 had scripted history, when he became the only Indian and first Asian to complete the competition by circumnavigating the globe in 236 days, 14 hours and 46 minutes.

Soon after returning to India from Paris, the 44-year-old interacted with a group of reporters in Delhi at the Navy's Kota House on Friday, before heading to Goa to meet his wife and son.

"I haven't met my family yet. When I had attempted the Golden Globe Race (GGR) in 2018 my wife was expecting. Now, my son is four and a half years old. I spoke to him on video call though. Later, I will go to Kerala and meet my parents," he said.

"I also want to eat a lot," said Tomy, who lost weight during the race, considered as one of the toughest endurance tests in sport.

Participants circumnavigate the earth solo, non-stop, unassisted and using the same technology as in 1968 when the world's first such voyage took place. They use celestial charts, sextant, compass, old HAM radio sets and other analogue devices dating pre-1968.

The race began on September 4 last year at Les Sables-d'Olonne in France. There were 16 competitors in the fray and of them, only seven made it past Cape Horn, considered the 'Everest of Ocean Sailors'.

Asked about the challenges faced during the race, Tomy said during the course of the race, the self-steering of his boat got damaged, and recalled that the race's organisers had called his wife and told her that it was "over" for him in the race.

"I removed the toilet door to try to make some improvisations to try to fix the self-steering, and then took a piece from the anchor. Finally, with some 'jugaad', I managed and sailed another 10,000 miles," he said.

Tomy said true to the motto that "smooth seas never made a skillful mariner", he realised he "has got much more" in him than he thought before undertaking the journey.

"I can deal with a lot of problems at sea and my skills have definitely improved," he said, while asserting that at no point of time, he thought of giving up.

Asked, if at any point of time, he thought he will be able to finish the race, Tomy said he never had that feeling.

"Because this time I wanted to be careful, finish it and then say, 'I have done it', not even a metre before finishing the race," he said.

"I knew I was running second at Cape Horn, but after that I really did not know where the first person was," Tomy said.

The retired Indian Navy pilot joined the solo circumnavigator club when he first sailed around the world, while in service, in 2013.

Passionate about sailing, he entered GGR 2018, but his voyage was cut short by a storm in the southern Indian Ocean. His boat rolled over, the mast broke and Tomy fell on the deck injuring his spine.

Rescued after three days, he underwent surgery that involved fusing five vertebrae and inserting three titanium pins in his spine.

"The next Golden Globe Race is slated to be held in 2022. I had completed almost 40 per cent of the 2018 race, I would like to take a shot again and go back to the seas," he had said in Delhi after being rescued.

Tomy said in eight months, he was able to get back on his feet, albeit with "titanium in my back".

The retired Naval officer said in the GGR 2022 race, too, he had an episode when his physical and mental strength was put to the test.

"Once I was caught in a storm and due to my spine issue, I suffered muscular pain. One of my legs was almost rendered immobile. I dragged myself for some period and then called my physiotherapist who suggested some exercise and that helped me to get back on my feet and carry on the race," he said.

Tomy sailed on the UAE-registered boat 'Bayanat' sponsored by Abu Dhabi-based geospatial AI solutions provider, Bayanat. He said the boat is planned to be kept in a museum in the UAE.

Kirsten Neuschafer from South Africa finished first in the race.

In 2018, Tomy was sailing in the 'Thuriya', a replica of British sailor Sir Robin Knox-Johnston's original winner 'Suhaili' in 1969. The 'Thuriya' name comes from the Mandukya Upanishad and refers to the fourth state of consciousness.

"I feel, this achievement is my small tribute to India when we are celebrating the Azadi Ka Amrit Mahotsav. And, I want to celebrate with my family now," an upbeat Tomy said.


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