An epic voyage
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- Published 29.10.05
|Rough and tough: Major A.K. Singh at the helm during a storm on the Tasman sea|
Twenty years after becoming the first Indians to sail around the world, the crew members of Trishna are scattered in various places. It was a voyage that became an epic in Indian sailing history because of the diminutive yacht and very basic cruising equipment they had. And it also led to the setting of a world record with Major A.K. Singh becoming the first handicapped sailor to circumnavigate the globe. Four of the 10 members (all from the Army’s Corps of Engineers) have retired, though not from sailing. One of them, Brig. T.P.S. Chowdhury, spent the anniversary of the start of their 30,000-nautical-mile voyage on September 28, 1985 (it ended on January 10, 1987) at home in Chandigarh ? thinking of both that first voyage and the ones that followed, all by the Corps of Engineers.
“After our return, Trishna was transported to Delhi and taken on a tableau in the Republic Day parade of 1987. After that Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi suggested that Trishna be put into the National Archives. But those of us who had sailed in her knew the life of the boat. We asked to be allowed to keep her and do more voyages,” Brig. Chowdhury recalls. “We did three major expeditions after that. In 1994-95, we sailed to Singapore and back. Three of the old crew were there ? A.P. Singh, S. Shekhar and A.K. Singh. For the first time, a lady officer sailed. That was on the Mumbai-Sri Lanka leg. In 1996-97, we did the first voyage by Indians around the Indian Ocean: Bombay-Dubai-Muscat-Seychelles-Maldives-Sri Lanka-Kochi-Bombay. R. Ba-ssi and I were there from the original crew. Finally, from November 1999 till March 2000, we did the Trishna Millennium Expedition to catch the first rays of the sun at Katchall Isles. That was Bombay-Kochi-Sri Lanka-Kat-chall Isles-Penang-Singapore-Port Klang-Phuket-Port Blair -Colombo-Goa-Bombay. A.P. Singh, Shekhar and I went on this one.”
The 35-year-old boat still has a good deal of life left in her, he says. “She was already 15 years old when we bought her,” he recalls. “We couldn't afford a new boat. We chose this sloop rig out of 200 yachts. A sloop rig means she has two sails and a mast. The jib or foresail is in front while the main sail is on the mast. She is only 36-ft-6-in long and 10-ft-9-in wide but she has a long keel which makes her very seaworthy.”
Of the many storms Trishna weathered on the global trip, the most dangerous were on the Fiji-New Zealand-Australia leg. “There were 40-feet-high waves and 100 kmph winds. We reached Auckland with the yacht battered and sails torn. Admiral Dawson, who was the high commissioner there, advised us to wait till the end of winter before resuming the voyage. But we looked at the weather forecasts and decided to go on. Halfway across the Tasman Sea, a storm hit the Australian coast. They said it was the most ferocious storm in a hundred years. Sydney saw floods. Ships capsized. We heard all this on the radio before the aerial broke. Then the storm veered towards us. There were ships around and they offered to rescue us. But when the sea is rough, you can’t take a big boat up to another big boat. You have to go in a small boat. We only had a dinghy which would have capsized in no time. So we did the only thing we could, the hove-to drill. That means disabling the steering and sails and drifting. Thankfully, Trishna survived the storm,” reminisces Brig. Chowdhury.
At the moment, Trishna is being readied for yet another epic venture ? the Ocean to Sky expedition to be launched in February 2006. The yacht will sail from Mumbai to Kanyakumari with six of the 20 expeditioners. The rest will then make their way north to the Siachen glacier, showcasing a number of other adventure sports along the way.
The Voyage of Trishna
by Brig. T.P.S. Chowdhury,
published by National Book Trust.
by Dom Moraes,
published by Pandit Publications, Mumbai.