12th March 2000

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Breaking waves in little yacht

On the final leg of a millennium expedition voyage to Asian countries, the Trishna embodies the Indian Army's spirit of adventure

By Laila Nasry

In calm waters: The 'Trishna' in Colombo last week"It's sooo small," was my first impression upon glimpsing the 'Trishna'. Having expected big flapping sails and a spacious deck, my first sight of the yacht was a disappointment.

"They couldn't have sailed all that way in this!" my disbelieving mind persisted. It was then that the magnitude of their achievement dawned on me.

This was no story book "Sinbad the sailor" type adventure. This was the real thing. Here was a 37-foot yacht, taking on nature in all her elements, choppy seas, stormy skies, gale-force winds. But for the crew, it is their unsatiable passion for sailing that motivates them.

The sailing ship Trishna which docked at the Colombo port on March 7, was on the final leg of its Millennium expedition voyage.

Having sailed on November 29 from Mumbai, the four-month voyage is a goodwill mission to several neighbouring Asian countries, the Maldives, Sri Lanka, the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore. The crew also studies the ecology and environment of the areas they visit and succeeded in highlighting large-scale poaching in the Nicobar Islands.

The expedition is organised by the Indian Army's engineering corps. Skipper Major Sandeep Patel and his five- member crew are civil engineers, attached to the Indian Army, which encourages adventure activities to develop camaraderie, team spirit and leadership and also to enhance the spirit of youth among its personnel.

The army engineers boast of "firsts" of many kinds. They were the first Indians to sail around the world, the first to sail from UK to India and the first Indians sailing during the turn of the millennium close.

However the new millennium dawned five days later for them as the sunrise could not be viewed due to cloudy, overcast skies. "We had a little celebration on board that night," the skipper said.

Their voyage has not been smooth sailing all the way. "We had a rough time in the Bay of Bengal, on our way to the Andaman Islands from Galle. The waves were around 25 feet high and the wind speeds were around 40 -45 knots," said Major Patel.

"Another time in the Straits of Malacca, I thought we might go overboard because suddenly the wind picked up to 45 knots and the yacht almost toppled. At that moment there was a ship almost at our stern. It was one of our toughest experiences," he added.

However the 'Trishna', built by Nautors of Finland is well able to cope with such situations being equipped with a depth sounder, wind instruments, speed log, radio direction finder, VHF, HF, HAM radio sets, GPS (Global Positioning System), INMARSAT, a six-man life raft, INMARSAT telephone and other safety equipment. A noteworthy feature of the expedition was the fact that not a single transmission from their mission control in Mumbai was missed.

Facilities on board are adequate, though spartan.The cabin is small and cosy, prompting one to remark that it was ideal for a honeymoon couple! Equipped with the basic necessities such as bunk beds, a folding table, a closet, a jumble stove for cooking with an oven for baking, the magazines, radio tapes and Winnie the Pooh soft toy lying around are proof enough that it is a second home for those on board.

The yacht is manned on a rotation basis. Of the 12-member team four are permanent. Generally there are six members which include the captain on board.

Of them one is the "mother of the day" and cooks and cleans. The remaining four take turns to man the other tasks.

However life for these sunburnt, rugged souls is not just sun and surf. Not only are they away from home and their loved ones, on a diet of rice and dhal but they also have to comply with the discipline of being on board which includes not shaving and using just one glass of water for the entire toilet routine in the morning. "It would be a luxury to get back home and as much as we have enjoyed this voyage we can't wait to get back," said Major Patel voicing the opinion of many on board.

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