The six women sailors from the Indian Navy — Vartika Joshi, Pratibha Jamwal, P Swathi, S Vijaya Devi, Aishwarya Boddapatia and Payal Gupta — look smart in their crisp, white uniforms. They are in Bengaluru talking to college students and sharing tales of bravery from their 254-day circumnavigation of the globe on a little sail-boat called Tarini. Now called the Tarini Crew, the sailors were on a high as they broke stereotypes related to women and sailing.
During their time on sea, the women touched five countries, crossed the equator twice, sailed across four continents and three oceans, completing 21,600 nautical miles. The project was called Navika Sagar Parikrama.
Pratibha explains that each of them come from various departments of the Indian Navy, “some of which do not even include sailing. I am an air traffic controller. Sailing was an additional activity that I picked up during my academic years. I started participating in competitions and gradually progressed to the sea and my first sail was from Goa to Port Blair.”
When the call for volunteers came for the Navika Sagar Parikrama project by the Indian Navy, “many women volunteered and six of us were short-listed. None of the women in the Indian Navy had been on sea. This time, they also increased the difficulty by a notch,” Pratibha adds.
Aishwarya shares their training experience for this voyage. “It was a step-by-step process. None of us had been in the ocean. It started with theoretical classes and later we were on board to learn to sail using the wind, predict the weather and communicate using the satellite. We even learnt how do our own repairs and started going out to sea. We were trained by Captain Dilip Donde and learnt all the aspects related to sailing. Soon we started going independently without our mentor. We started with the Indian peninsula and the voyages got longer with time. First it was a trip to Mauritius and back and later to Cape Town. It was a 43-day trip. The more were at sea, the more confident we became and decided we can give circumnavigation a shot.”
The voyage did see rough patches. Vijaya says she was “scared the first time we were caught up in a gale. We all had to rush out in the middle of the night — it was dark, cold and noisy. I also had one the worst kind of sea sickness. Coming from the mountains, the very thought of being on sea made me so sick that I began throwing up blood. I could hardly eat and lived on cucumbers. My trainers and colleagues threatened to throw me over board if I refused to eat. With rigorous training and sailing many times, I over came sea sickness and was not sick even for a day during this voyage.”
There were many challenges along the way. “Wind is our bread and butter but it also gives us tension and throws up surprises,” says Swathi. She adds, “At times, the wind would be nil and at times a hurricane that would toss us about and challenge us to the limit. We even faced waves as high as a nine-storey building! Temperature was another factor that challenged us. We started with 45 degrees in India, 12 degrees in Australia, zero in New Zealand and sub-zero in the Pacific.”
Was it difficult to sail as an all-women crew? Payal disagrees. “It was easier for us to sail as women adapt to any kind of a situation more easily.” She adds they had fun on board in spite of few differences. “Tarini was a small boat, and it gave us a chance to manage our food storage. We cooked food according to the weather. If the weather was good we cooked rice and chappatis, if it was bad we stuck to ready-to-eat foods.”
What about pirates? “We avoided pirate-infested areas and I don’t think pirates attack a small sail boat, especially one which was always short of food,” laughs Swati.
Taking a shower in the rain on the deck was memorable, Payal says. “Every time we wanted to take a fresh water bath we would go to the deck with soap and shampoo and take a shower.” She adds with a smile, “Anyway, there was no one around to judge us.”
Watch Tarini on National Geographic Channel on March 8 at 9 pm.