“Six girls, six people, six egos in one boat. Yes, it was difficult. Even at home you aren’t with your own family 24 x 7, but here we didn’t even have a choice, it wasn’t like we could jump out of the boat. But by the end of it we became more positive to each other and more adaptable, we became a family.”
Indian Navy officers Lt Cdr Vartika Joshi and Lt Cdr B Aishwarya, part of Team Tarini, India’s first all women team to circumnavigate the globe on a sailboat, shared their experiences of their ground-breaking 40,000 kilometer voyage, Navika Sagar Parikrama, at a Vivekananda International Foundation think-tank, on September 27 in New Delhi.
There was no shortage of difficulties and tragedies for the six-member team. There were times when they had to battle a storm which lasted for 20 hours with winds speeds of 90 km/hr and six meter high waves. At other times, the lack of wind became a problem, when the sailboat wouldn’t move and they just had to wait it out under the scorching heat. Their on-board reverse osmosis plant for drinking water developed a fault so they had to harvest rainwater in buckets to replenish supplies until their next stop. They had to face a steering breakage, which resulted in a portion of the journey taking four times the normal duration. The monotony of the sea had to be reckoned with and the risks of such a voyage were numerous—fire, illness, a flooding boat, no cooked food, scorching heat, no hard land to rest, and no one to rescue them if something suddenly went wrong.
Despite such dauntless odds, they have become an inspiration for not only India as a nation and Indian women, but women from other parts of the world who also live in tough circumstances. They are also the first military all women team in the world to have completed such a voyage. It was an Indian Navy Mission so quitting was not an option, the skipper says.
But skipper Lt Cdr Vartika Joshi and Lt Cdr B Aishwarya add, they had a music system too and partied; they even celebrated the first birthday of the INSV Tarini. They celebrated Diwali on the boat and during stops they made friends everywhere they went.
What makes this an even more amazing feat is that although all six of Team Tarini are Navy Officers, 2 members of Team Tarini are education officers and 2 of them air traffic controllers, hailing from places like Uttarakhand, Himachal Pradesh and Manipur, some never having been on a boat when they volunteered for the expedition in 2014. They were given rigorous training, so even before starting the journey they had completed 2600 hours of training and 21000 nautical miles at sea.
Navika Sagar Parikrama, the official name for their journey, is a part of a larger series of Indian navy expeditions which started in 2009 with Captain Dilip Donde being the first Indian to solo circumnavigate under sail which was followed by Commander Abhilash Tomy KC in 2012 being the first Indian to solo circumnavigate nonstop. The mission was also part of the Make in India scheme since INVS Tarini was completely built in India.
“The ocean was our playground and the boat and sails our rackets and equipment; but here we are playing with our lives,” Lt Cdr B Aishwarya says. When asked what message they would like to leave for the younger ones they say, “Tell your own tales, don’t stay in your comfort zones and never stop exploring.”
On a humorous note at the end of the journey this happened: Sailboats don’t have an exact expected time of arrival. So before ending their journey in Goa they were told to hang around for a day near Goa because the Minister would arrive only the next day for the completion of the voyage.
Note: Compiled and paraphrased from hand written notes taken during the interaction.