2018 GGR / JEAN-LUC VAN DEN HEEDE OF FRANCE WINS

Jean-Luc Van Den Heede (This photo has been downloaded from the Facebook page of the French skipper and is being used here for representation purpose only. No copyright infringement intended.)

Jean-Luc Van Den Heede of France has won the 2018 Golden Globe Race (GGR) entailing solo nonstop circumnavigation of the planet in a sailboat.

According to news reports on January 29, 2019, the 73 year-old who spent close to 212 days (211 days, 23 hours, 12 minutes and 19 seconds to be exact) alone at sea in his boat – Matmut, was welcomed back at Les Sables d’Olonne in western France by Sir Robin  Knox-Johnston, the winner and sole finisher of the original 1968 edition of the race. Besides winning 2018 GGR, Van Den Heede is also now the oldest sailor to complete solo nonstop circumnavigation, reports said.

The French skipper had built up a formidable lead in the race since August 2018. However following a storm in the Pacific Ocean with damage to his mast, he had been forced to sail more cautiously, a move that affected his speed.  At one point he reportedly thought of halting in Chile for repairs, which would have taken him out of the main race and shifted him to the Chichester class reserved for those making one stop. But he avoided doing so, electing instead to continue the voyage with adjustments to his rigging. Later he also served a time penalty at sea for improper use of his satellite phone.

These developments allowed second placed Mark Slats of the Netherlands to gain on him narrowing the gap between their two boats – both Rustler 36 yachts – considerably.

News reports indicate that it may now be the turn of Slats to serve out a time penalty after his expedition manager contacted him directly about an approaching storm in the Atlantic. Such direct contact is not permitted under race regulations. As of late evening January 29 in India, the live tracker available on the GGR website showed Slats close to the Spanish coast and approximately 358 nautical miles away from the finish line in France.

Estonian skipper Uku Randmaa is in third position in the race while Istvan Kopar of USA is running fourth. Tapio Lehtinan of Finland is in fifth place. There is considerable distance between Slats and Randmaa; at the time of writing, the latter was 3520 nautical miles from the finish line on the French coast.

Matmut and her skipper (This photo was downloaded from the Facebook page of GGR. No copyright infringement intended.)

The 2018 GGR commenced from Les Sables d’Olonne on July 1, last year. The race was unique for pegging technology levels aboard participating boats at the same level as that prevailed in 1968. It was widely perceived as a return to purity in sailing. Of 18 skippers who commenced the race, only five remain in the main race at present. The rest have either retired from the race or shifted to the Chichester class.

Well known Indian skipper Commander Abhilash Tomy KC was among participants in the 2018 GGR. However he had to retire from the race following a severe storm in the southern Indian Ocean that dismasted his sailboat, the Thuriya, and left him injured. He was later rescued and upon return to India underwent surgery for the back injury. At the time of storm and accident, Abhilash was placed fourth in the race.

Update: News reports said that Mark Slats completed his solo non-stop circumnavigation on January 31, 2019 to finish second in 2018 GGR. He spent 214 days alone at sea. However a 36 hour-penalty incurred for direct communication with his team manager will have to be additionally factored in, bringing the total number of days to 216, the reports said. According to it, among those who received him at Les Sables d’Olonne was Jean-Luc Van Den Heede, the winner of 2018 GGR.

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

 

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.)

VICE ADMIRAL MANOHAR AWATI (RETD) / 1927-2018

Vice Admiral Manohar Awati (Photo: Shyam G Menon)

Sailing in India lost one of its strongest supporters with the demise of Vice Admiral Manohar Awati (Retd) on November 4, 2018. He was 91. Sagar Parikrama, the Indian Navy’s project to execute solo circumnavigation of the planet in a sail boat, owes much to him.

Circumnavigation had fascinated Vice Admiral Manohar Awati throughout his career in the navy.

But he had been unable to realize it while in service.

As he told this blog in 2013, it all started in west London soon after World War II. He was in his early twenties, freshly commissioned in the Royal Indian Navy and attending a course at the Royal Naval College. While out on a walk, he bought a book from a person selling books on the footpath near Charing Cross; it was Joshua Slocum’s account of his solo circumnavigation in a sail boat, the first such voyage done. It impressed him deeply.

“ From 1946 to 1983 I was busy being a good officer,’’ he said. In that while he would be awarded the Vir Chakra for leadership and gallantry during operations in the Bay of Bengal (1972 India-Pakistan war), serve as Commandant of the National Defence Academy (NDA) and eventually be Commander-in-Chief, Western Naval Command, sword arm of the Indian Navy. All through his career the idea of circumnavigation in a sail boat survived in his mind. Upon retiring, he persisted with his pet project. It was an uphill task. The project needed funds. The navy wasn’t quite enthusiastic; corporate India – he approached them for funds – by and large cold shouldered him.

In 2005-2006, a former cadet of his, Admiral Arun Prakash, became navy chief. He warmed up to the idea of circumnavigation. Vice Admiral Awati proposed a revised budget and added a condition that would distinguish Sagar Parikrama – he wanted the boat being used for circumnavigation to be built in India. The navy allotted funds. From this was born the INSV Mhadei, perhaps the toughest little boat the Indian Navy has known yet. Based on a Dutch design, she was built at Aquarius Shipyard, Goa. In 2009-2010 Sagar Parikrama bore fruit when Captain Dilip Donde (Retd) became the first Indian to do solo circumnavigation in a sail boat. Two years later, over 2012-2013, Commander Abhilash Tomy executed the first solo nonstop circumnavigation by an Indian in a sail boat.

Vice Admiral Awati wasn’t done. He had a few more voyages he wished to see happen. Over 2017-2018, the first of these – Indian women completing circumnavigation in a sail boat was realized when six Indian women naval officers sailed around the planet in INSV Tarini, the Mhadei’s sister vessel. In August 2018, soon after an article on the circumnavigation by all woman-crew appeared on this blog, Vice Admiral Awati wrote in: At near 92, I still have ambitions. (a) to be around to see the first Indian woman solo circumnavigator, and (b) to see an Indian sailing boat (go) through the Arctic, and finally (c) to witness an Indian sail boat circumnavigate Antarctica. All this and more shouldn’t take long to be realized if the momentum of Sagar Parikrama is maintained.

Vice Admiral Awati was among the few readers of this blog who periodically wrote in with feedback and suggestions. He wished to include the public in his enthusiasm for sailing (Sagar Parikrama and the fan following it had is excellent example of this). Compared to 2500 kilometers of Himalaya and considerable fuss around mountaineering, India has 7500 kilometers of coastline and no matching push for sailing, kayaking, canoeing, surfing or any such water-based sport. Vice Admiral Awati felt India was inadequate in its appreciation of the sea and wanted to see the trend corrected. He also knew that if it was to happen in a convincing way, then sailing as activity had to grow. When Maharashtra evolved a policy for outdoor / adventure sports, he was concerned that sailing should be both properly represented and backed by supportive policies. He sought the contact details of those in charge.

This write-up must necessarily end on a personal note.

File photo / INSV Mhadei; at berth in Goa (Photo: Shyam G Menon)

Journalists are typically awful communicators in the normal sense of the word. Newspaper offices receive so many mails and press releases daily that if you honed your skills in such an environment, you take it for granted that you needn’t respond to each personally. When world reduces to information and data, an element of the impersonal creeps in. The first time I met Vice Admiral Awati was at the Indian Navy Watermanship Training Center (INWTC) in Mumbai, when I was doing my first article on Sagar Parikrama. Captain Dilp Donde (Retd) and Commander Abhilash Tomy were also there. We were on the second floor and the lift had been kept on standby for the retired admiral, then in his late eighties, to take. He took the stairs instead and reached the interview table, a bit tired by the effort but happy for it. He spoke to the point and was very articulate; his choice of sentences leaned towards classical harking of bygone era.

Conversation around sailing over, I requested him for a copy of his bio-data, which he agreed to mail across as soon as he got back to Vinchurni in Satara, where he lived. I received the mail – if I recall correctly – the very next day. I was busy writing the article and while I perused the bio-data for material to include in the piece, didn’t reply to the mail. Two days later I got a mail from the admiral in which, he pointed out that while he had promptly dispatched his bio-data to me, I had failed to extend him the courtesy of acknowledging it. I learnt something that day. I have since tried my best to reply not only to his mails but most other’s as well. He never belittled freelance journalist for not belonging to any big media organization or writing for a blog. He recognized individual character and interest in subject. He appreciated good work and always sent in a line when he noticed instances of it. A naval officer once said this of him to me, “ he is the best chief the navy never had.’’

Vice Admiral Awati passed away on November 4, 2018. “ A giant of a man, one of our tallest heroes and greatest icons. Its truly the end of an era. May his soul rest in peace,” Admiral Sunil Lanba, Chief of Naval Staff, said in his statement available on the official Twitter handle of the Indian Navy spokesperson.

Thank you for everything sir; this blog and this writer will always remember you.

To read an interview with Vice Admiral Manohar Awati (it was done in 2013), please click on this link: https://shyamgopan.com/2013/10/27/sagar-parikrama-part-four/)

(The author, Shyam G Menon, is a freelance journalist based in Mumbai. For all articles related to sailing and Sagar Parikrama, please select from story list / archives or click on Sagar Parikrama in the categories section.)

ABHILASH TOMY RESCUED

Commander Abhilash Tomy KC; this photo was taken at the time of Thuriya’s launch in Goa in 2017 (Photo: Shyam G Menon)

Commander Abhilash Tomy KC, who was injured badly after his sailboat, Thuriya, was rolled and dismasted in a severe storm in the Southern Ocean, was rescued earlier today (September 24), reports in the Indian media said.

Upon reaching Thuriya’s location, the French fishing patrol vessel Osiris dispatched a team (with stretcher) in a small boat, which successfully shifted the injured naval officer from his sailboat to Osiris. Abhilash is conscious but tired and dehydrated, a media report quoting his father, P.C. Tomy, said.

According to an update on the Golden Globe Race (GGR) website, at the time of the rescue both Indian and Australian maritime reconnaissance aircraft were circling overhead. Weather conditions were favorable. A radio briefing was held between the Maritime Rescue Coordination Centre on Reunion Island, a doctor at I’lle Amsterdam (an island in the southern Indian Ocean not far from where Thuriya was) and the master of the Osiris before the French crew proceeded to the Thuriya in inflatable Zodiac boats to assess Abhilash’s condition and administer first aid.

India’s Defence Minister, Nirmala Sitaraman, has tweeted that Osiris will take Abhilash to I’lle Amsterdam. He is expected to reach there by September 24 evening. Later, INS Satpura – one of two Indian navy ships dispatched to the Southern Ocean following news of Thuriya’s dismasting and serious injury to Abhilash – will take him to Mauritius, the tweet said. I’lle Amsterdam is part of French Southern and Antarctic Lands, an overseas territory of France. I’lle Amsterdam has a good hospital with X-ray and ultrasound equipment, the GGR website said.

Thuriya and Abhilash were participants in the 2018 Golden Globe Race (GGR) entailing solo nonstop circumnavigation of the planet in a sailboat. Ahead of storm in the Southern Ocean, Abhilash was placed third in the race. Following the dismasting and severe back injury, Abhilash was unable to move and confined to his bunk in the Thuriya. At the time of writing, details of the injury were not known.

According to the update on the GGR website following Abhilash’s rescue, Gregor McGuckin, the Irish sailor and GGR participant who was sailing towards Abhilash’s coordinates despite his own vessel being rolled and dismasted, was still 25 miles west. Gregor was attempting to motor-sail to Abhilash’s help under a small jury rig and with neither self-steering (he has to hand-steer) nor properly working engine. He was in contact with reconnaissance aircraft and although not in distress has requested for a controlled evacuation, a decision commended by race organizers given he has 1900 miles of Southern Ocean to tackle in a damaged boat and at the present juncture, has rescue assets close by.

(The author, Shyam G Menon, is a freelance journalist based in Mumbai. For more on Abhilash, Thuriya and GGR please scroll down or select from this blog’s archives.)

INDIAN NAVY AIRCRAFT SIGHTS THURIYA

Thuriya adrift in the Southern Ocean; mast broken (This photo was downloaded from the Twitter handle of Indian Navy and is being used here for representation purpose only.)

An Indian Navy P-8I long range maritime reconnaissance aircraft has located Commander Abhilash Tomy’s sailboat, Thuriya, in the Southern Ocean, reports in the national media said today (September 23).

It may be recalled that the vessel was rolled and dismasted in a recent storm. Abhilash had subsequently reported severe back injury and inability to move around.

He has activated the Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon (EPIRB) and efforts have been underway to locate and rescue him. Thuriya and Abhilash were participants in the 2018 Golden Globe Race (GGR) entailing solo nonstop circumnavigation of the planet in a sailboat. It was Abhilash’s second such voyage. In 2013 he became the first Indian to do a solo nonstop circumnavigation in a sailboat.

Reports quoting an Indian Navy spokesperson said that the naval aircraft saw Thuriya adrift in the Southern Ocean, its mast broken and hanging alongside.

Further the official website of GGR informed that Australian authorities have dispatched an executive jet to the coordinates of the stricken boat. The aircraft will also overfly the boat of Irish skipper and GGR participant Gregor McGuckin, which too was rolled and dismasted in the storm. Notwithstanding an unreliable engine (likely due to fuel being contaminated when the boat was rolled and dismasted in the storm), loss of self-steering (he has to hand-steer now) and finding that the spinnaker pole he used to improvise a jury rig was bending in the strong wind, Gregor is attempting to motor-sail his way to Abhilash. The two are only 80 miles apart, the latest update on the GGR website said. Also expected to head Abhilash’s way is Estonian sailor and GGR participant, Uku Randmaa, who was 400 miles west of both Gregor and Abhilash.

Additionally, the French fisheries patrol vessel Osiris is heading to help Abhilash. Osiris has medical facilities onboard. Although he cannot move around and appears confined to his bunk due to the back injury, Abhilash has confirmed to race organizers that he can move his toes. In first responder circles, when assessing injury, the ability to move one’s body extremities is usually taken as a positive sign. Abhilash has indicated that he may need a stretcher when help arrives. Quoting Abhilash’s latest message to race organizers, the GGR website informed on September 22 (as an update to what it reported earlier the same day) that he can move his toes but is feeling numb and cannot eat or drink. The grab bag containing more emergency communication equipment remained difficult for him to access.

As per information on the GGR website, Australian authorities are also repositioning a search and rescue plane to Reunion Island to assist with the rescue efforts; this is in conjunction with the Anzac class frigate HMAS Ballarat, preparing to leave Perth for the area where Thuriya is. The Indian Navy has already sent INS Satpura and the tanker INS Jyoti to the southern Indian Ocean, where Abhilash is.

(The author, Shyam G Menon, is a freelance journalist based in Mumbai. Please scroll down or select from archives for more on Abhilash, Thuriya and GGR.)        

2018 GGR UPDATE / THURIYA ROLLED AND DISMASTED IN STORM, EFFORTS ON TO RESCUE ABHILASH TOMY

Commander Abhilash Tomy KC (This photo was downloaded from the Facebook page of Commander Abhilash Tomy and is being used for representation purpose. No copyright infringement intended)

Efforts are on to rescue Commander Abhilash Tomy KC, participant in the 2018 Golden Globe Race (GGR), after his boat, the Thuriya, was rolled and dismasted in a severe storm in the Southern Ocean.

According to information available on the GGR website, the incident has left Abhilash injured.

In a communication to race organizers on September 21, he said that he has a severe back injury and cannot stand up. At that time the Thuriya was 1900 miles south west of Perth, Australia.

In a subsequent update on September 22, GGR has quoted Abhilash confirming activation of the emergency beacon (EPIRB). The boat’s external YB3i unit continues to provide tracking information but the power line to the boat’s batteries has been damaged. The update which said Abhilash is on his bunk in the boat, said that he was using the portable YB3 texting unit – which is a back-up – for messaging.

The boat’s primary satellite phone has been damaged. There are additionally an aviation hand-held VHF phone, a second satellite phone and a second YB3 unit in Abhilash’s Emergency Grab Bag.

The Thuriya, soon after the boat was launched last year; view from aft. At this stage her mast wasn’t fitted; that happened later(Photo: Shyam G Menon)

But he cannot reach it given the state he is in, the update on the GGR website said.

Last reported on this blog, Abhilash was in fourth position in the race. He had subsequently improved to third position. Besides Thuriya, the powerful storm rolled and dis-masted the Hanley Energy Endurance, the boat in which fellow GGR participant, Gregor McGuckin was sailing. However Gregor is otherwise alright and following emergency repairs, was slated to sail towards Abhilash’s coordinates. He was reported to be 100 miles south west. Another GGR participant, the Estonian sailor Uku Raandma was also in range; he was reported to be some 450 miles away from Thuriya.

According to the media, the Indian Navy and Australian rescue authorities have swung into action to rescue Abhilash.

(The author, Shyam G Menon, is a freelance journalist based in Mumbai. For more on the 2018 GGR please scroll down or select from archives.) 

2018 GGR / RACE PASSING THROUGH INDIAN OCEAN

Commander Abhilash Tomy KC (This photo was downloaded from the Facebook page of Commander Abhilash Tomy and is being used for representation purpose. No copyright infringement intended.)

The 2018 GGR, which began July 1 from France, is now passing through the Indian Ocean, albeit way down in the southern hemisphere. The race with technology levels pegged back to what prevailed during the 1968 GGR entails a solo, nonstop circumnavigation of the planet in a sail boat. It is adventure, refined.

More than two months since the 2018 Golden Globe Race (GGR) commenced from Les Sables-d’Olonne in France, the race leaders are past Cape of Good Hope and Madagascar. They are well into the Indian Ocean; the region they are in qualifies to be Southern Ocean. As of September 13, 2018, they lay far out at sea in the southern hemisphere, south-south west from the Indian peninsula.

Among the world’s great capes, the next one for them to rendezvous with is Cape Leeuwin, Australia. Well past this cape at Storm Bay in Hobart, Tasmania, the participants will have a brief meet up with race officials and media. According to race rules, the participants will pass through a `gate’ and drop all sail on the boat if it is safe to do so. The entrant may moor, anchor, motor or drift but may not re-cross the gate to continue to Cape Horn until at least 90 minutes has elapsed. During this time when the nonstop, unsupported character of the race will continue to remain intact, the participants can pass on any photos, films, letters they may have. They will also have to display their `safety pack’ for inspection. The pack – it contains a portable GPS chart plotter – is meant for use in emergency and a broken seal (indicating the pack was opened) denies the participant any official ranking in GGR or GGR trophies. He / she can however continue in the event under `Chichester Class.’ Further instances of stopping anywhere or breaking the seal of the pack, will disqualify the participant from the event, altogether.

As of mid-September, of 18 sailors originally participating in the 2018 GGR, seven had retired from the race while one stood relegated to Chichester Class. Commander Abhilash Tomy KC of the Indian Navy – he is the sole participant from India and only invitee from Asia – was among those still in the race. At the time of writing he was in fourth position. He had made some significant gains in the preceding days. The race leader by sizable margin was Jean Luc Van Den Heede of France. He was followed by Mark Slats of Netherlands, Gregor McGuckin of Ireland and Abhilash in that order.

The 2018 GGR features solo nonstop circumnavigation of the planet in a sail boat. It is a repeat of the original GGR of 1968, which produced the first solo nonstop circumnavigation in a sail boat; the distinction went to Sir Robin Knox-Johnston of UK, who accomplished the voyage in the India built-Suhaili. The 2018 edition is unique for pegging technology aboard participating sail boats, to the same level as in 1968. No digital devices have been permitted. Navigation is done using a sextant. Abhilash is the first Indian to do a solo nonstop circumnavigation in a sail boat. The 2018 GGR is his second attempt at solo nonstop circumnavigation. For the race, Abhilash is sailing in the Thuriya, a replica of the Suhaili built in Goa at Aquarius Shipyard (for more on the Thuriya please click on this link:  https://shyamgopan.com/2017/08/11/2018-golden-globe-race-ggr-meet-the-thuriya/).

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