Sailing on the sea past sundown sounds exactly like the kind of activity that sheepish romantics would line up and pay for. But would they still pledge their fan-dom to the activity if they knew that the waves had tacitly decided to have their share of fun the same evening?
Earlier this month, I was on a night sail from Goa to Mumbai, prepping for my forthcoming Mumbai-Goa excursion. On board with me were my cousin Shaunik Chaturvedi, my wife Monika, and sailing instructor Umaji Chowgule.
It was about 10 pm on a full moon night. The array of lights from the ships docked in sea was just as dazzling as the blanket of stars overhead. We were roughly 11 nautical miles (20 km) away from the shore, with waves as high as six feet trying to prostrate our humble 21-foot-long transport. The sea had decided to vigorously shake its shoulders that night, and I had a strong intuition that we'd be done for if the merciless beating continued. So it did.
The waves weren't our only problem. The wind, too, happened to change course and blow straight in our direction. We decided to shift a bit to the left and then tack in to ward off the no-sail zone, where the boat would just stall. But before we'd turned windward, the boat ploughed through in the direction of the wind as if being reprimanded and led back for treading a forbidden path. "Bear away, bear away," I screamed, but the boat was unresponsive.
Shaunik was at the tiller. He hurriedly tacked back to our original position. The shifting of the boom could have thrown us overboard, but thankfully nothing happened. Nothing. The boat continued to rock back and forth, drifting in the same direction. We had only just begun to panic when the actual problem surfaced; and it dawned on us why nothing had been working the whole while. Floating away lazily, only a few feet away from us, was our rudder, done in by the strong wind. Twenty km into the sea, far from help and hemmed in by the elements, our rudder had decided to sail solo.
Umaji was incredulous. The rudder had never before broken away in his sailing career of 20 years. He could feel panic and exhaustion working on our psyche. Sailing without a rudder, though difficult, is possible. It just requires exercising a lot of caution and banking on fate, which didn't seem too pleased with us anyway.
How do you keep your nerves calm when something goes drastically wrong at sea and you're without assistance? You start by shutting out the vastness of the ocean and letting the dread of the darkness fizzle out. Once that feat is achieved, you get cracking on all the other work there is to be done until you reach safe grounds.
As for us, we first set to bring down the halliard and disassemble the sail. We got the shades down and tied all the ropes back. Then we exhumed our outboard motor, which we had in reserve, and set it up. Even then it took us about an hour to get back to shore. I guess what saved us that night was how pressed for time we were. I don't know what led us to dismantle the sails in mid-sea and fit out the motor. It was all so instinctual -- now that I think about it, it feels like a jigsaw falling into place.
Salil Chaturvedi will sail from Mumbai to Goa on December 3 to mark World Disability Day.
As told to Aalap Deboor