It was somewhere in the South Pacific that I encountered an emergency of such great magnitude that it threatened to bitterly sour the second half of the voyage. I was running out of an essential supply of popcorn and all that I could do was to push the boat as hard as I could, reach Mumbai as early as possible and check into the nearest theatre for the earliest movie. Not underestimating the severity of the situation, the boat clipped along the entire width of the South Atlantic with an average daily run touching 180 nautical miles, twice breaching the 200 mile mark despite sailing with a torn genoa.
Although it had been my strategy to sail conservatively and escape the Horn as uncorrupted by the sea as possible, I had calculated the second half of the voyage at a limping pace to cater for all the damage that the boat might sustain. But when we made it around the Horn virtually unscathed it was time to put that extra sail up and have some stretch marks on it to show for a fast passage. Having crossed the Atlantic thrice and twice respectively, the boat and I were stepping into familiar territory. The Mhadei’s first crossing was during the solo circumnavigation venture of Cdr Donde and it happened in the same month in 2010. A year later, in January, the boat was racing from Cape Town to Rio de Janeiro attempting its second crossing with Cdr Donde at the helm and a crew of three others which included yours truly.
My first mission after taking over as the skipper at Rio was to retrace the voyage of Pedro Alvares Cabral, a Portuguese navigator who discovered Brazil when he sailed too far West in an effort to follow the wake of Vasco da Gama into Calicut and haul in a cargo of spices. Five hundred eleven years later, I set sail from South America to India, just as Cabral had, crossing the Atlantic and then clawing up the Indian Ocean. The crossing of the Atlantic was attempted with Lt Cdr Gautam Khajuria as sole crew as we drove the boat across the ocean towards Cape Town through some severe weather that kept us occupied with upwind sailing conditions for the first three weeks out of four and becalmed thereafter. We tore the main sail only to replace it in an operation that lasted seven hours on the mast and thirteen hours recuperating, and sprang a leak in the propeller shaft that had us pumping out water every three hours for almost four weeks. The rest of the returning fleet fared much worse with one dismasting, one sinking, many broken spars, even more sail tears, and a lost rudder. All in all, it had been a sailing similar to that of Cabral five centuries and eleven years ago, with almost similar weather and similar strength of fleet, except that in doing so I left a track across the Atlantic that had almost begun to spell out my name. And again, like Cabral, everything about the voyage was pushed towards anonymity in the end.
The 12th of February was a day of celebration on account of two occasions. It was on this day in 2011 that Cdr Donde had handed the boat over to me in Rio de Janeiro atop the Sugarloaf overlooking the Atlantic with two simple standard navy issue terms – “All yours”. More importantly, on the same day the boat had turned four in the Navy and crossed (coincidentally) the longitude of 4deg West in doing so. It was perhaps more than coincidence that she was inducted into the navy on the 200th birthday of Charles Darwin and, again coincidentally, followed him centuries later to many of the places he had sailed to including Brazil, Falklands, South Africa, Mauritius, Australia and New Zealand. Two days later, on Valentine’s Day, the boat and I breached the Prime Meridian for the fourth and third time respectively and entered the Eastern Hemisphere from the west. Valentine’s Day also marked the end of some intense lovemaking the sea had begun three days ago that had left love bites for posterity. Winds constantly pushed 50 knots with waves that rose easily to 20 feet and more. The boat could be brought under control only by reefing the mainsail to slightly larger than a handkerchief. Despite my best efforts sleep remained elusive for the three days and I woke up to a nagging headache on Valentines. Perhaps, that was the cue the sea had been waiting for.
Up Next- Cape of Good Hope