The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Voyage of the ancient mariner The old man and the sea
- Septuagenarian charts ‘dream-come-true’ 250-day sail around the world

Around the world in 250 days has been his fantasy since 1984. Eighteen years later, he’s about to set sail. For Devi Mitra, it isn’t any more daunting a prospect at 75 than if he had been 30 years younger. His dreamboat is near completion, the things-to-do lists are being compiled, the equipment has been bought, the route chalked out — and he’s doing it all alone.

“I have very little fear,” smiles the septuagenarian. “It’s only about 20 per cent of my feelings. Mostly, I am excited about finally being able to make my long-time dream come true.”

The idea was suggested to him by a colleague at the South of Virginia Community College, where the mining engineer taught for 16 years. “He was a retired naval officer,” Mitra explains. “He once asked me if I wanted to sail around the world with him. I’ve often thought about it since. Unfortunately, he had a mild heart attack last year, and can’t do the voyage. But I’ve invited him to go on the trial run on Sagar Durga with me, when it’s ready.”

The US citizen who returned to his Manoharpukur Road home with his wife because he “loves the city”, has planned his marine mission meticulously. During his recent visit to his son in San Francisco, he joined a gruelling course, doing three hours of theory and five hours of sailing, daily. “I enjoyed every moment of it,” he laughs.

Mitra owns over 100 books on sailing, and has read most of them. He has brought back with him the latest navigational instruments, including a compass, a transceiver, a windspeed indicator, three global positioning satellites (GPS), 20 sailing charts (with six more on the way), and five wristwatches to keep track of time on his year-long journey in 2003.

retired professor has designed the 40-ft-by-24-ft fibreglass Sagar Durga, which is in the final stages of being assembled at the Kidderpore docks. The main hull is six feet in diameter, and two inches thick. Two masts with sails complete the picture, for Rs 7 lakh. Two engines (“in case one fails”) will run on kerosene, with provisions to carry 150 gallons of it. Although the boat weighs 4,000 lbs, its capacity is 8,000 lbs, leaving enough leeway for the intrepid sailor to stack up the necessities.

The winner of the 1977 All Nations Poetry Contest in Chicago now has to decide on one of two routes. First up is via Chennai, Cochin, Aden, Suez, Gibraltar, West Indies, Panama, Tahiti, Tonga, Australia, Christmas Island, Nicobar and back to Calcutta, adding up to 27,000 miles. Route II, via Nicobar, Australia, Cape Horn and Cape Town, will be more difficult, because of stormy seas near Cape Horn. But the fact that it’s 5,000 miles less is “too tempting”.

The translator of Rabindrasangeet into English is going to continue with his thesis on Tagore tunes on his journey. He intends taking along a Polaroid camera and a few canvases and paints to capture the scenes, besides about 50 books.

Mitra isn’t worried about the loneliness: “You have to have a strong mind, and enjoy your own company”. Ask him whether he can take the strain and he replies: “I am perfectly healthy. I regularly play tennis. I can cook, too. The only thing I will need to adjust to is sleeping in the day and staying awake at night.”

All that stands between the old man and the sea now is the cataract operation on his right eye. That done, it’ll be time for godspeed on the Sagar Durga.

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