Commander Dilip Donde became the first Indian to sail around the world alone when he returned to Mumbai on Saturday after nine months at sea. Here are excerpts from an interaction.
How did it feel to be absolutely alone in the middle of the ocean?
I think I went through the whole spectrum of possible emotions but I rarely felt absolutely alone since the Mhadei was my constant companion. That probably explains my use of the pronoun “we” as against “I” in the blog I wrote during the voyage. The boat and you are a team, so you are never alone.
I’d often end up talking to myself. My different roles on the boat, like the chef or the skipper, were alter egos I spoke to. There was often other company like the albatross that would fly along the boat, or the dolphins and flying fish that would frolic alongside.
How did it feel to be completely at the mercy of the elements?
Being at the mercy of the elements was a voyage of discovery. There was plenty of apprehension, a lot of discomfort, and even fear. Yet throughout, there was a solid confidence in the Mhadei and a firm belief that she could weather the elements no matter what.
Even so, there were moments that left me miserable and scared. And moments that were challenging enough to make me throw caution to the wind, wave my fists at the elements, daring them to do their worst. I would go on for hours on pure adrenaline and then suddenly get deflated when the moment passed. It was quite the kaleidoscope of emotions.
There were times when I was close to despair. But then I’d tell myself that I put myself in this position voluntarily and there was no one else around to help me. So I’d curse myself for a while, wait for the despair to pass, and then start again.
What does it mean to be the only Indian to have sailed around the world?
To be honest, I don’t feel very different. I had volunteered for the project and given the Navy my word that I will take on the responsibility to achieve their aims, so I did it. So there is some measure of satisfaction there for a job well completed.
Just as I was finishing the trip, I got a mail from Sir Robin Knox-Johnston, the first solo circumnavigator in the world, congratulating and welcoming me into the Solo Circumnavigator’s club as its 175th member. It’s pretty exclusive; even the astronaut’s club has over 400 members. So that did give me a kick. But it’s momentary; you get over it and get on with your work.
How do you feel about the ocean after spending so much time at sea?
Being a career naval officer and a diver, I have always had immense respect for the ocean. It only increased by leaps and bounds as I saw and experienced more of it. That’s why whenever someone talks about me conquering the oceans through this expedition, I correct them — I am too puny to conquer the ocean, I just try and learn to live with it. The ocean is huge, immensely powerful, and completely beyond human comprehension. Whether I love the sea or hate it depends on the way it treats me and that keeps changing all the time, but I am always in awe of it.
It was downright poetic and romantic at times and sometimes extremely cruel and indifferent to my suffering — it seemed to take a sadistic pleasure in tormenting us.
And about your constant companion, the Mhadei?
It’s difficult to describe my feelings about Mhadei without getting a bit sentimental. In the last four years, I have seen her grow from a pile of wood to the fine boat she is. She has been my constant and trusty companion through the entire trip and together we have gone through experiences that really cannot be shared with anyone else. There have been times in really bad weather when, feeling absolutely helpless, I just set her up as best as I could with a silent prayer to keep me safe, and went to sleep since there was nothing more I could do, and she has weathered the storm without a whimper! At other times, she has been in trouble due to the weather or some breakage and I worked frantically to keep her safe or repair her. She is an excellent boat and after sailing her for over 30,000 Nm, I am still discovering new things about her. What can I say? Don’t think I’d be too far off the mark if I said I am in love with her!