Abhilash Tomy in second place but old injuries act up
The 2022 Golden Globe Race (GGR) took a twist recently with British sailor, Simon Curwen, who was leading, opting to enter the Chichester Class following damage to his boat’s windvane in the Pacific Ocean. With this, South Africa’s Kirsten Neuschafer has become the new race leader although she is still separated by a significant distance from Simon.
Indian sailor, Abhilash Tomy, currently in second place (after Simon Curwen shifted to Chichester Class) is not far from Kirsten. An update from January 27, 2023, available on the GGR website and which disclosed the setback suffered by Simon, mentioned that Kirsten and Abhilash are apart by just 50 miles. The race is still far from over; the participants have to cross Cape Horn at the southern tip of South America and sail up the Atlantic Ocean to Les Sables-d’Olonne in France to complete the solo, nonstop circumnavigation of the planet they set out to do.
The current edition of GGR had commenced in early September, 2022, from Les Sables-d’Olonne. It is a repeat of the original GGR of 1968-1969, in which Sir Robin Knox Johnston of the UK became the first person to do a solo, nonstop circumnavigation in a sail boat. Onboard technology levels in the 2022 GGR are pegged to near similar levels as prevailed during the first race decades ago. If the nonstop nature of the race is breached for some reason, then the participant can continue in the Chichester Class, named so after Sir Francis Chichester, who sailed solo around the world (from west to east) with one stop at Sydney, in 1966-1967. On January 30, the GGR website while confirming Kirsten Neuschafer as the new race leader of 2022 GGR, informed that Simon Curwen would be heading to Chile for repairs. The news of his opting for Chichester Class has been posted on Simon’s Facebook page as well.
Since race commencement in September, there have been drop-outs due to damage to boats and one incident of a boat sinking. There were fifteen men and one woman as participants at the start of the race. As of January 31, 2023, three men and one woman remained in the main competition with three others continuing in Chichester Class. The lone case of a boat sinking – it occurred in the Indian Ocean – had seen the current race leader Kirsten Neuschafer and Abhilash Tomy move to the aid of the stricken sailor, Tapio Lehtinen. Kirsten effected the rescue, a feat that won her the Rod Stephen Seamanship Trophy from the Cruising Club of America.
Abhilash Tomy was a participant in the 2018 edition of GGR. That time, his boat was rolled over and dismasted in a storm in the southern Indian Ocean. Besides damage to the boat, the mishap left Abhilash with serious injuries to his back. He was eventually rescued in an effort that featured maritime assets from India, France and Australia. Later Abhilash had to undergo surgery and extensive rehabilitation following which, he worked his way back through walking, to sailing and flying planes. Since retired from the Indian Navy, he returned to the GGR as a participant in the 2022 edition. The initial phase of the 2022 race was tough for him as he had to deal with the mental trauma of sailing the seas leading to the region of his 2018 accident and get past the area. Unfortunately, while in the Indian Ocean, he suffered a fall on his back and his old injuries have started acting up under the rigors of solo, nonstop sailing.
When one is alone at sea, one has to do everything aboard the boat oneself and this entails long hours of staying awake and working. The GGR website said in its update of January 30 that Abhilash – he had a recent instance of steering by hand for 12 hours during a gale – has been enduring “ back pain and numb limbs.’’ He spoke to doctors who gave him exercises to regain control of his leg; the medical team has also advised him on pain treatment. He will be resting for some days before returning to his work. However, given he won’t be racing during this time and would be sailing under reduced sail with a view to keep the boat comfortable, it may temporarily make his progress slower and the route longer than that of Kirsten.
“ Abhilash is safe and does not require any assistance and is in complete control. He knows he must rest now, so the pains do not return again. GGR is closely monitoring the situation,’’ the event website said. Abhilash is the first Indian to sail solo and nonstop around the planet in a sail boat. He achieved it in 2012-2013 as part of the Indian Navy’s Sagar Parikrama project.
(The author, Shyam G Menon, is a freelance journalist based in Mumbai.)