2018 GGR / INTO THE FINAL PHASE

Illustration: Shyam G Menon

The 2018 Golden Globe Race (GGR) has entered its final phase.

It is poised to see its first finisher in the next couple of weeks.

By the second week of January 2019, of 18 skippers at the start of the race, only five remained in the main race. Of them, four – Jean-Luc Van Den Heede, Mark Slats, Uku Randmaa and Istvan Kopar – were back in the Atlantic having sailed that much around the world.

As per updates on the race website, 73 year old-French skipper Jean-Luc Van Den Heede sailing Matmut, a Rustler 36 Masthead sloop, was in the lead. He was followed by Dutch skipper Mark Slats with Uku Randmaa (Estonia) and Istvan Kopar (USA) trailing him in that order.

Both Van Den Heede and Slats – the two are incidentally sailing identical Rustler 36 yachts; Slat’s boat is called The Ohpen Maverick – were at latitudes corresponding to North Africa on the map. At one point in the race, the French skipper held a massive lead of more than 2000 nautical miles over his nearest competitor. That has since declined. Media reports said that Van Den Heede damaged his mast in a storm; the boat got tilted badly and in the process the mast took a beating resulting in slackened rigging. Although he made temporary repairs at sea and avoided diverting to Valparaiso in Chile for repairs ashore (which would have shifted him from the main race to the Chichester class assigned for those availing one stop), he has had to subsequently proceed in a more measured fashion. Later, he served an 18 hour-penalty for improper use of satellite phone and has also had to put up with a windless, calm sea in the North Atlantic. Thanks to all this, Slats has been closing the gap.  Checked on January 11, 2019, distance to finish (DTF), for Van Den Heede was 1943.5 nautical miles. For Slats, it was 2133.9 nautical miles.

The 2018 GGR began July 1 from Les Sables-d’Olonne, a seaside town in western France. The race involves solo nonstop circumnavigation in a sailboat with technology aboard participating vessels pegged at levels which prevailed in the first GGR of 1968.

The 1968 GGR had only one finisher – Sir Robin Knox Johnston of UK in the India-built Suhaili. It was the world’s first solo nonstop circumnavigation in a sailboat. Sir Robin completed his journey in 312 days. Compared to this, Van Den Heede and Slats were at their earlier mentioned positions in the North Atlantic by the 194th day (as per GGR website) of the race. Van Den Heede holds the current world record for single-handed westabout circumnavigation. According to information on Wikipedia, the westward route for circumnavigation is harder as it faces the dominant winds and currents. There are fewer attempts in this direction. In 2004, Van Den Heede completed this route in 122 days, 14 hours and three minutes.

(The author, Shyam G Menon, is a freelance journalist based in Mumbai. For more on 2018 GGR please go through the blog’s list of recent posts, explore Sagar Parikrama in the categories section, visit the blog’s archives or simply scroll down to see earlier posts.)

ION LAZARENCO TIRON / 2018 WORLD OPEN WATER SWIMMING MAN OF THE YEAR

Ion Lazarenco Tiron (This photo has been downloaded from the Facebook page of the swimmer and is being used here for representation purpose only. No copyright infringement intended)

Ion Lazarenco Tiron of the Republic of Moldova was recently voted the 2018 World Open Water Swimming Man of the Year.

The list of nominees had included Rohan Dattatrey More of India. The winners were selected by the public in a global online poll.

According to information available on the website of World Open Water Swimming Association (WOWSA) others in the nominees list for Open Water Swimming Man of the Year  were Benoit Lecomte of France / USA, Cameron Bellamy of South Africa, Diego Lopez Dominguez of Spain, Ferry Weertman of Netherlands, Igor Lukin of Russia, John Batchelder of USA, Jose Luis Larrosa Chorro of Spain, Kristof Rasovszky of Hungary, Lewis Pugh of Great Britain / South Africa, Maarten van der Weijden of Netherlands, Ned Denison of Ireland, Vladimir Mravec of Slovakia / Australia and Yaroslav Pronin of Belarus.

The WOWSA Awards honor people who best embody the spirit of open water swimming, possess the sense of adventure, tenacity and perseverance that open water swimmers are known for, and have positively influenced the world of open water swimming. About Ion Lazarenco Tiron, the WOWSA website said: Ion planned and accomplished his first major open water swim with a 235 km Swimming Marathon Nistru – Unites Moldova charity stage swim that took 8 days – and raised lots of money and awareness for charity. He forged on and ultimately developed a massively hardened veneer and a tough mental attitude in his adopted Ireland. This year (2018), he culminated his four-year Oceans Seven journey with a successful crossing of the Cook Strait. Along the way in the midst of receiving a slew of awards in Ireland and completing an Ice Mile, he has completed the Triple Crown of Open Water Swimming as well as crossings of the Strait of Gibraltar (4 hours 41 minutes), English Channel (13 hours 34 minutes), North Channel (16 hours 23 minutes), Catalina Channel (12 hours 1 minute), Molokai Channel (18 hours 11 minutes), Tsugaru Channel (11 hours 20 minutes) and Cook Strait (11 hours 5 minutes). He was the first person from the Republic of Moldova to achieve the Oceans Seven and completed a 100 km 3-day stage swim called the Swim of Peace in May together with Avram Iancu on the river Prut between Romania and Moldova to celebrate 100 years of unity.

Hailing from Moldova, Ion moved to Ireland in 1997. An April 2017 article by Sorcha Pollak in The Irish Times, shed light on how Ion commenced his tryst with long distance swimming. In 2011, he read about Tunisian swimmer, Nejib Belhedi, who swam the entire 1400 kilometer-long coastline of Tunisia. A maverick swimmer with many long distance swims to his credit, Belhedi is perhaps best remembered for a set of branded solo swims he created, called World Iron Swim, wherein between 2015 and 2017 he pulled boats of increasingly greater weights. In 2011, Belhedi undertook the swim along the Tunisian coastline as a call for peace not only in Tunisia but in conflict zones around the world. Moldova had experienced its share of unrest in Transnistria, a narrow strip of land between the river Dneister and Ukraine. Inspired by Belhedi’s example, Ion decided to swim the Dneister, which runs through Ukraine and Moldova before emptying into the Black Sea. Following this initial swim, Ion returned to Ireland and decided to pursue Oceans Seven. The first person to accomplish Oceans Seven had been Irish swimmer Stephen Redmond, in 2012.

Rohan More (left) with Ion Lazarenco Tiron (Photo: courtesy Rohan More)

In February 2018, India’s Rohan Dattatrey More completed the Oceans Seven challenge. In 2017, the Pune-based endurance swimmer was selected for the year’s Tenzing Norgay National Adventure Award given by the Indian government. Oceans Seven brought Rohan into contact with Ion. The two swimmers first connected on Facebook. An actual meet-up took time. When Rohan reached Ireland to swim the North Channel, he had the good fortune to train with a friend who was known to both Rohan and Ion and had been with the latter when he successfully swam the North Channel. The two swims – Rohan’s crossing of the North Channel and Ion’s – were apart by about a month.

It was in January 2018 that Rohan finally met Ion. That month, Ion had wrapped up Oceans Seven accomplishing the final swim on the list, the crossing of New Zealand’s Cook Strait. Rohan’s window of opportunity was due in February. They met on the beach at Wellington. Cook Strait separates New Zealand’s North Island and South Island; it connects the Tasman Sea to the South Pacific Ocean and runs next to Wellington. Ion shared his observations of the swim across Cook Strait. “ He guided me well,” Rohan said. Cook Strait was the last swim for Rohan too in his Oceans Seven project. “ Ion was the eighth person to accomplish Oceans Seven. I was the ninth,” Rohan said. At the time of writing, as per Wikipedia, 13 people from around the world had successfully completed Oceans Seven with Rohan being the first (and as yet only) Asian on the list.

For more on Rohan, please click on this link: https://shyamgopan.com/2018/07/13/rohan-more-gearing-up-for-a-new-challenge/

According to the WOWSA website, other 2018 WOWSA Awards winners included Aleksandra Bednarek of Poland as the World Open Water Swimming Woman of the Year, the Great British Swim by Ross Edgley as the World Open Water Swimming Performance of the Year, and Icebears  Hintertux of Austria by Josef Köberl as the 2018 World Open Water Offering of the Year. Incidentally, among those nominated for World Open Water Swimming Performance of the Year, was Nejib Belhedi.

(The author, Shyam G Menon, is a freelance journalist based in Mumbai.)

THE ARCHITECT

Divya Tate (Photo: Shyam G Menon)

As of 2019, Divya Tate’s company – Inspire India – was organizing three annual events in long distance cycling that are qualifiers for Race Across America (RAAM). She is also national representative from India for audax cycling, the culture of brevets (BRMs). Known for the events she anchors and her experience with long distance bicycle races, Divya however relates to cycling in a much wider sense.

For freelance journalist exploring the small universe of ultra-cycling in India, especially the segment dealing with brevets and races designed to serve as qualifiers for Race Across America (RAAM), it didn’t take long to notice a common intersection for several individual story lines – Divya Tate.

Three of India’s RAAM qualifiers are organized by Inspire India, the company she helms. She also oversees the India chapter of randonneuring, the sport of long distance cycling with roots in audax cycling.

Divya however is not all about cycling or sports.

Divya and children on her bicycle; from an old article that appeared in Times of India (Image: courtesy Divya Tate)

Born 1966 in Nagpur, she learnt to cycle when she was around 9-10 years of age. She recalls that her parents – her father served in the Indian Air Force (IAF) – were having a lunch party at home when that specific moment of riding her bicycle independently, arrived. “ It was euphoric,’’ she said. Cycling was part of her general love for the outdoors, something you found plenty of in life spent with the defence forces; most air force stations Divya traveled to with her family had its share of open spaces. That view of world narrowed when her father after leaving IAF joined Air India and the family shifted to Mumbai. The long shadow of roads dominated by traffic and life gone indoors in concrete jungle loomed. Worse, probably in anticipation of city life and its restrictions, her cycle was sold off. “ My access to the outdoors was lost,’’ she said. She counted her days to freedom. Once she passed out from A.F. Petit School in Bandra, she attended junior college at St Xaviers and then proceeded to study architecture at Rachana Sansad. In 1991-1992, she finally got the liberation she sought from Mumbai’s congested environment with limited access to the outdoors. She moved to Pune.

Cycling to Junnar (Photo: courtesy Divya Tate)

Within a few weeks, she bought herself a bicycle – a Hercules Rock Shox, a model hailing from the early generation of geared bikes sold in India. It was pretty heavy too. Mumbai life had taken its toll. “ My first ride on that bike was horrendous. I could barely cycle five kilometers and I was done,’’ Divya said. But she took to riding it regularly, the daily jaunts fueled in part by some other developments in her life. “ At this point, I was in a bad marriage,’’ she said. Besides being a source of enjoyment, cycling was also good therapy taking the mind off problems at hand and reconnecting individual with universe. She periodically took time out to ride in the countryside around Pune. These were the years preceding Internet forums and networked groups in sports. Divya was oblivious of any keenly interested leisure cyclists around. There were of course those into bicycle racing. A focused lot, their company wasn’t Divya’s cup of tea; at least then. For her, being in the saddle was invitation to take a wider view of life, contact with nature and existence restored. After her second child was born, her marriage broke up. In 1998, she called it quits on that front. “ I had to start from scratch. Cycling played a big role in helping me maintain equanimity and have a sense of resolve. I was literally in a pea-soup fog kind of situation,’’ she said. A simple contraption composed of frame on two wheels and powered by rider’s effort, the bicycle spelt independence for Divya at this financially tough juncture in her life. Her children were in kindergarten. Often, she dropped them off on her bicycle. According to her these trips on the cycle were great for parent-child bonding.  By the time they were 7-8 years old, the children too had their cycles and were spending time with Divya in the outdoors. From where she stayed in Pune, to where the roads gracing the countryside commenced, wasn’t a long way off. “ We spent much time outdoors,’’ she said.

From a bicycle tour in India (Photo: courtesy Divya Tate)

Interestingly, following her divorce, Divya veered off architecture. She got deeply involved with environmental work including volunteering for the purpose. Then, after a visit to a farm she cycled to Junnar and wrote about it. It was her first article getting published in the media. Environmental work, cycling, writing – it became a pattern. “ Nobody did it back then. Cycling opens up your mind. If you look at it, you will notice a link between cycling and environmental activism,’’ Divya said. Back in college, she used to make earrings out of wire and junk and sell them. Later she got around to working with mosaic. Around the time her marriage broke up, she took to mosaic work more. “ I gave up my architectural practice and took up creative work. I enjoy aesthetically pleasing work. I actually discovered that we could live and be happy on very little. A lot of people get trapped in material life,’’ she said. It wasn’t long before this exploratory streak dislodged established practices in other areas of her life. The next bastion to fall was medicine; she weaned her family off allopathic drugs. “ Eventually I was beginning to see the cracks in our educational system. We seem to make people for an industrial environment. Education was one more institution after marriage and allopathic medicines that I was disagreeing with. I ended up divorcing that too,’’ Divya said laughing.

From a trip in Europe (Photo: courtesy Divya Tate)

Around the time her children were in the fourth-fifth standard, she pulled them out from school. Thereafter it was homeschooling. The homeschooling community was very small those days; in Pune she could locate only two other families who had opted to do so. Divya believes that nature has wired all human beings to learn. Human beings are like sponges. It is teaching that is unnatural. “ The institution of education as we have it suffers from agenda. People are being taught for a purpose. My kids will manage. I just have to have the confidence that they will. Today, the obsolescence of education as we know it is becoming really evident. Now it is more about how you think and how you use it. The former edifice is crumbling. It is good to see that,’’ she said. This activist edge is visible in Divya’s perception of cycling too. Somewhere around the time of her divorce, she had attended a Critical Mass meeting in Pune. Critical Mass is an event usually organized on the last Friday of every month; it has no stated agenda except for cyclists to assemble at assigned hour and place and cycle through city / town streets. It began in 1992 in San Francisco and according to Wikipedia, a decade later the events were being organized in over 300 cities worldwide. Although its participants have argued that Critical Mass should be viewed as a celebration, it has been described as a monthly protest by cyclists to reclaim roads. Her interest in Critical Mass provides insight into how Divya relates to the world of cycling. For her it exceeds immediate physical activity and acquires the dimension of a whole way of life. That is uncommon in India’s amateur cycling and running scene, where philosophies built around activity is still the refuge of only a few. For the vast majority, sport remains action; an adrenalin-rush even as life continues mainstream, materialistic and motorized.

At India’s first BRM in 2010 (Photo: courtesy Divya Tate)

The ascent of social media brought BRMs (the brevets of randonneuring) to Divya. Here too, the activist in her wouldn’t take things lying down. When she first stumbled upon BRMs in an Internet chat, it was packaged as something that “ separated the men from the boys.’’ She couldn’t let that pass. She signed up for the brevet. “ In all fairness when I signed up, that sentence was removed,’’ she said. Until then she had only done bike packing trips including in France (about which she wrote in the media). She borrowed a friend’s bike for the ride in France; all her trips in India were on steel bikes. “ The BRM I signed up for was a 200 kilometer-one. There were 3-4 of us who went from Pune to Mumbai for it. I finished the BRM within cut-off but not gloriously,’’ she said. What that event did was make her aware of longer BRMs – those spanning 300,400, 600 and 1200 kilometers (the last mentioned being in France).  She wished to do it but wasn’t mentally prepared to trade in her view of wider universe for the typical cyclist’s narrower, competitive view. She recalled a meeting of brevet enthusiasts she hosted at her house in Pune where she was struck by the nature of conversation – it was all about training and technicalities. “ It didn’t seem my scene. I just wander around the countryside on my bicycle,’’ she said. On the other hand, somebody like Alan Tonkin who had done Paris-Brest-Paris (PBP) twice wasn’t built like a cyclist. It made her think she should also be able to do PBP. Given you had to become a super randonneur (SR – doing brevets of all the major distances in the same year), she registered for a 300 kilometer-BRM. It took her two attempts to complete it successfully.

Receiving an award at 2015 PBP after India registered the highest membership growth in audax community worldwide (Photo: courtesy Divya Tate)

Randonneuring itself was nascent in India at this time. Brevets of all distance categories were not yet around. BRMs were begun in the country by Satish Patki, longstanding cyclist from Mumbai. Slowly and rather unexpectedly, Divya found herself entrusted with organizing the events; by 2010 she ended up organizing India’s first 400 kilometer-BRM. She also completed the ride within cut-off. Next she organized a 600 kilometer-BRM from Pune to Kolhapur and back. This one, she couldn’t participate in because she broke her knee cap ahead of the event. Divya secured success in the 600 kilometer-brevet in 2011 becoming the first Indian woman to become SR. That year she headed for PBP.

2015 PBP; part of the Indian team (Photo: courtesy Divya Tate)

The run up to PBP had showed her that a cycling community existed in India. In Paris, amid some 5500 SRs gathered for PBP, the magnitude of the community she had come to belong to grew even further. “ It wasn’t just event organization; there was also the people who turned up all along the way to support. It was an incredible welcome, a link to like-minded community. For me, it was another phase of transformation,’’ Divya said. In 2011, of 15 people from India who participated in PBP, only two finished within cut-off. The rest, including Divya, ended up Did Not Finish (DNF). That year end, Divya became national representative for audax activities in India. The growth in audax cycling since has been significant. In 2011, BRMs were held at 3-4 locations (cities of origin). Now (early 2019) it is close to 60 cities and towns. Cumulative membership at all these locations has crossed 10,000.  “ Of that, about 5000 should be active,’’ she said.

Fred Boethling, president, RAAM, during his visit to Deccan Cliffhanger (Photo: courtesy Divya Tate)

Among the cyclists Divya met at one of the early BRMs organized in Pune, was Samim Rizvi from Bengaluru. Samim had attempted RAAM. He was a pioneer from India. “ That was the first time I heard of RAAM,’’ she said. In 2012, she went to crew for Samim at RAAM. “ I saw a fabulous event. I also saw a lot of people from BRM culture because there is this overlap between brevets and ultra-cycling,’’ she said. On the other hand, there was little of that overlapping in India. Simultaneously, there was growing interest in RAAM in India probably because of Samim’s repeated attempts and also the unsuccessful bid by Sumit Patil. Divya crewed at RAAM on more occasions – in 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015 and 2016. In 2013, she attended a RAAM seminar for crew and racers. Besides RAAM, she has crewed at Race Around Europe in 2015 and Race Around Austria in 2016 and 2017.

Officiating at 2014 RAAM; with Joe Barr at the finish (Photo: courtesy Divya Tate)

“ My attitude was – this is not rocket science. This is something that can be learnt and shared with community back home in India. What we needed to do was get rid of our chalta hai approach. That won’t work at RAAM,’’ she said. By the end of 2013, she was convinced that the ecosystem of ultra-cycling races and races to qualify for RAAM (RAAM qualifiers – RQ) in India deserved to grow bigger. In February 2014, she organized the first edition of Deccan Cliffhanger (DC) connecting Pune and Goa.  It added to the number of RQ races in India. In 2015, Fred Boethling, president of RAAM, visited India to see that year’s DC. Same year in the world of BRMs – the other cap Divya wears, 60 people from India participated in PBP. Approximately 33 per cent of them finished the race, she said. She also collected an award at that edition of PBP for India registering the highest growth in membership in the audax community worldwide.

From Race Around Austria (Photo: courtesy Divya Tate)

Apart from organizing DC, Divya has been promoting the need for cyclists to get familiar with crewing. Ultra-cycling becomes successful only when cyclist and crew work together efficiently. “ At 645 kilometers, DC completed within assigned cut-off qualifies you for RAAM. But it does not prepare you for RAAM. I have been telling people right from day one that crewing is important. If you are going to take on a monster race like RAAM then at least go and see what the monster is before you take it on – right?’’ she said. DC concludes every year with an informal sharing of experiences. Divya also got around to holding seminars in Pune on the subject of crewing. But that sharing and talking wasn’t enough. You needed a multi-day race with distance to match that would drive home the need for cyclist and crew to work together. “ That’s how Ultra Spice was born,’’ she said of the second race Inspire India started. Against DC’s 645 kilometers, Ultra Spice – another RQ, it goes from Goa to Ooty and back – spans 1750 kilometers.

Deccan Cliffhanger (Photo: courtesy Divya Tate)

As yet Inspire India’s flagship is DC. According to Divya, it is not a money spinner. “ Not many ultra-cycling events worldwide make money. Only the top 10-20 per cent will find sponsors,’’ she said. Further in DC’s case, as the most attended race in the Inspire India fold, it also offsets the losses other races – like Ultra Spice – must endure before they stabilize. To compound matters, 2017 was a tough year. Even as race revenues grew only organically, the events had become bigger and Divya also did more seminars. Atop that stretched situation, India’s newly introduced tax regime – GST, made its presence felt. That year DC faced a big financial loss despite hike in registration fee for participants. The loss was avoided by another hike in fees in 2018. Divya’s appetite for races however didn’t stop with two on limited budget.

The route used for Ultra Spice (Photo: courtesy Divya Tate)

According to her, when Fred Boethling visited in 2015, she had said that she would add a new race every other year. In April 2018, while driving in Coorg with a colleague from Inspire India who had just opened a hostel in Ladakh, she decided to commence an ultra-cycling event in Ladakh. “ We decided in April, did the recce in June and held the race in September. Among the world’s ultra-cycling events, this is the one at the highest elevation,’’ she said of the 600 kilometer (372 miles)-Himalayan Ultra. The event is the first RQ with mandatory sleep time, a measure introduced to guard against the effects of altitude. Steps are afoot to increase the distance at Himalayan Ultra, maybe add another 300 kilometers.

Himalayan Ultra (Photo: courtesy Divya Tate)

A few things strike you when you enter Divya’s apartment in Pune. There are houses and there are homes; this one felt like home, it had a lived in feel to it. You also sensed use of space and design. To one side, separated by glass door, was a room containing stuff that went into organizing bicycle races. There were banners, posters, fluorescent vests for visibility in traffic and those plastic cones kept on roads to mark space. Stacked against the wall were three bicycles; an Orbea cyclocross model, a Trek MTB and an Orbea road bike. A fourth one – a Ridley road bike stripped to its frame – was suspended from the ceiling. Divya’s son was into racing; he has been part of the Maharashtra state cycling team. As the races in the Inspire India fold grow, Divya’s motivation to host is as usual – universal. The Indian environment is a composite of contemporary generation in the midst of thousand year-old memories of how life must be lived. With such conservatism around, living a life of one’s choice is daily battle. Divya has had her fair share of struggle in this regard. But as most people know, directly confronting set beliefs in India merely cements it further. What works is the oblique approach; alternative lifestyle incentivizing a different stream of thoughts and priorities with much patience shown to let it sprout roots. Life by cycle is alternative. Hopefully, that alters our imagination. “ I see whatever I am doing as vehicle for social transformation,’’ Divya said. She may have stopped being architect in the conventional sense. But the flair survives, in another field.

(The author, Shyam G Menon, is a freelance journalist based in Mumbai.)            

SCOTT 60 YEAR RIDE

Cyclists assembled for the Scott 60 Year Ride at Seawoods, Navi Mumbai (Photo: Shyam G Menon)

Scott Sports India hosted the Scott 60 Year Ride at multiple locations in India on Sunday, January 6, 2019.

According to an email from the company, received a couple of days ahead of the event, the ride was planned to be held at 30 locations simultaneously.

In the Mumbai region, the ride was scheduled at four locations – Kalyan, Thane, Andheri and Navi Mumbai.

An estimated 278 participants had signed up for the ride in Mumbai while the total number of participants across locations was 1200, the email said.

After the ride at Seawoods (Photo: Shyam G Menon)

The ride commenced at 7 AM on Sunday and lasted for an hour.

Company officials confirmed that the ride was held at all locations as planned, sole exception being Delhi where the duration of the ride had to be kept short due to unexpected showers.

The event in Navi Mumbai featured the Scott Technology Center at Everest Cycling Culture, Seawoods, as assembly point. The ride was on the adjacent Palm Beach Road. Jaymin Shah, Country Head, Scott Sports India attended the event.

(The author, Shyam G Menon, is a freelance journalist based in Mumbai.)