COASTAL SAILING : Packed With Challenges And Adventure!

India’s west coast offers a varied experience for those who wish to discover what coastal sailing and living onboard a sail yacht is all about. It is a way of life which needs a lot of adjustments. It comes packed with challenges and really tests you… physically, mentally and spiritually! Whether you sail the harbor and want to graduate to coastal boating or you are one of those competitive and experienced yachtsman seeking mile-building for higher certification in the future, the article below gives you insight on the trials and adventures endured by Homi Manekshaw , Nikhil Sawant, Trunal Helegaonkar and Nadar Muthulingam while sailing a 45 footer sail yacht down to Sri Lanka and back along India’s picturesque coastline earlier this year.

The 45 foot yacht was built as a fast ocean racer/cruiser with 3cabins, 8 berths, 3 showers and 2 toilets. The voyage from Mumbai to Colombo and back (1950 nautical miles) was divided into five segmented passages. Each passage would last from 2 to 5 days with planned stops for replenishment of fuel, food and water. The whole trip took 27 days in all; 15 days of sailing time and 12 days of halting at various ports. The purpose of this voyage was mile building. That is to train and prepare the crew for offshore passages and build miles for their RYA Yacht Master Offshore exams. The West Coast Marine Sailing School is the first RYA accredited Training Centre in India, certified for theory courses. It also welcomes yachtsmen who want to train for higher certification and for mile building.
The team consisted of :
1. Homi Manekshaw – Master
Homi has vast sailing experience in various types of sailing dinghies and yachts. He has clocked 3000 nautical miles as skipper of yachts during offshore sailing passages, in the last 24 months.
2. Nikhil Sawant – Navigating Officer
Nikhil has sailed in Enterprise class Nationals, the 420 class Nationals and MRAI regatta. He has sailed in dingies in the harbour and this was his first offshore passage.
3. Trunal Helegaonkar – Deck Hand
Trunal is a dingy sailor of international repute. He has recently distinguished himself as a member of the Indian yachting team which won the Silver Medal at the Asian Games at Bejing in 2010. This was his first offshore passage.
4. Nadar Muthulingam – Deck Hand
Nadar has sailed in a lot of National regattas and in the club boats. He performed the most important function of cooking up savory meals while we were underway. This was his first offshore passage.

Preparations for the Journey:

Homi describes the meticulous preparation made before the journey to ensure everything went according to plan. “We had a four week period preparing for the trip. Nikhil played a major role in getting the yacht ready with Trunal chipping in whenever he was in Mumbai between his competitions and celebrations (of having won the Silver at the Beijing, Asians). Nadar joined the team in the last week and helped put together the victuals. Two days before we sailed we lived on board, loaded her with victuals, fuel and water. Food was of the type that would stay without refrigeration; pulses, rice, dried meat and fish, eggs and fruits like oranges, watermelon and bananas. (During the stopover in Goa, we loaded up with Goa Sausages!) For sweet dish we packed different jellies. For milk we carried tetra packs. We poured over the charts to plan our passage and checked the yacht over and over.”

They also equipped themselves with multi-tiered security. A Marine-tracker would give their exact location. Mobile phones would catch network only when close to the coastline or at ports. A VHF with DSC function in case of an emergency comes in handy. When abroad, coastal sailors are also recommended to make a Sail Plan, a document which is submitted to authorities for clearance as well as for persons to know the exact route with stopovers for efficient rescue operations.

Disciplined Routine on board:

Each person was allowed to carry as little as possible. Once into the voyage the crew realized that they were overloaded with clothes and other stuff as three to four pairs of clothes was more than sufficient for a trip of this type. They bathed and washed clothes every alternate day as the water was just 400 liters between the four of them on a five day passage on the average. So the daily, average supply was less than a bucketful! (25 liters)

For a day – night sailing passage the ideal number of crew for a voyage of this type would have been six. The crew was shorthanded at four persons doing day and night passage. With the right complement of six persons they could have had four hours on watch and eight hours of rest, as is normally done on a sea passage. The crew on board went through challenging times with four hours on and four hours off. After three days the strain was telling on the boys so they had to innovate! The first set of two crew would be on a 6 hour watch from 0400 to 1000hrs (6 hrs) in the morning. The next two did a 6 hr watch from 1000 to 1600hrs in the evening. Thereafter it was a four hour on, four hour off system till 0400hrs the next morning. This system allowed them to rotate watch and get 6 hours of sleep in the dark hours, every alternate day.

“Since such was our condition food was cooked at fixed times -1000hrs breakfast, 1400hrs lunch and 2000hrs dinner. Lights, water, sleep and everything that you take for granted on land was in short supply and had to be used wisely and frugally,” remarked Homi.

The Challenging Journey:

“The trip was a challenge. Right from getting to know the yacht, getting her ready for a sea passage, planning the passage to setting out with a trainee crew. Our navigation skills were put to test every time the sunset. Besides the normal chartwork, we had to avoid by guessing where we could get ensnared by the unmarked fishing nets or where we may run over an unlit fishing boat with the fisherman/men fast asleep within it. When we faced the first spell of strong winds and the yacht tilted, everything landed on one side of the yacht, including the cooked food! Can you imagine the mess? The challenge was cleaning it up! During rough weather, we would come off watch dripping with sea water from head to foot; cold and weary. We slept on wet cushions, trying to get as much rest before our next spell on the deck. Feeding ourselves and using the loo at an angle (as the yacht was at a tilt) was another experience!

Going down from Mumbai to Sri Lanka the winds were favorable (in direction). We had the temperature reduce as we went further south till we finally hit stormy weather off Cape Comorin and onto Colombo. On our way back the wind direction was such that we had to be on a close haul, beating our way up the coast especially after Kochi. By and large the weather in Jan/Feb was fine. From Mumbai we stopped at Goa for 12 hours to replenish fuel, water then sailed on to Kochi. Met with heavy winds of 20+ knots and tore the fore sail, but made it to Kochi in 4 days. Got the sail repaired and replenished the stores, fuel and water. Did our immigration checks and set sail for Galle, Sri Lanka.

We met a lot of helpful people all along our voyage but the Kochi authorities need special mention for them being very much “yachtie” oriented. Kochi is a much sought after destination by “yachties”. They have set up a separate cell at the port office for yachts arriving and departing Kochi. All the forms are simple and are made out for yachts as opposed to Merchant Vessels elsewhere. The Customs and finally the Immigration too are very friendly and efficient. We went through the whole gamut of formalities in about 3 hours. At Goa and Colombo we had an agent thus we had a “Smoothie” experience at all ports of call.

A lot of fisher folk passed us by and we had some good fish bartered for 2 cans of beer! Dolphins kept company at many places like off Khanderi, Shrivardhan, Goa, Gulf of Mannar and finally in the Mumbai Harbour too. Whenever we passed rocks off shore we had a lot of fish in the water. During stopovers we cleaned the boat with fresh water, bathed and washed our clothes, had a warm/hot meal, rested without being tossed out of bed, and yearned to go back to sea. We also visited the local bazaars in and around the ports/harbors.
After about 40 hours of sailing from Kochi, around sunset, we sighted Cape Comorin (Kanyakumari), the last sight of Indian main land. Now we faced a high-sea passage to Galle. Hardly 5 nautical miles after passing Cape Comorin, we got hit by strong winds of 30 to 33 knots and swells of 3 to 4 meters. The sky was overcast and we could see nothing in the sky – no stars, no moon and no sun. The yacht heeled over till the edge of her deck was touching the water. The sails tore, the instrumentation went off and the auto pilot gave up, all this within a span of 45 minutes of leaving Cape Comorin. We trimmed our sails to bare minimum, held on and steered the yacht to keep her on course. We changed our course to head for Colombo instead of Galle. We had food, drank tea and slept the sleep of exhaustion for the next 48 hours till we sighted Colombo.

We spent 7 days in Colombo repairing the damage but the Auto pilot could not be fixed, getting the sails stitched and waiting for the weather to calm down. We tied down everything on board, prepared sandwiches and bid adieu to Colombo. Our passage back to the Cape Comorin was no different from our outward passage to Colombo, except for one thing; we covered the distance in a record time of 27 hours through the rain and storm. Everybody called their homes to announce their safe arrival on the Indian waters. Four days after leaving Colombo we were in Kochi. We had to run out of Kochi in less than 24 hours as the port was being closed to vessel movements for the next 3 days due to the visit of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on 11th Feb to inaugurate the Vallarpadam Container Terminal at Kochi. Hence we sailed out of Kochi into the sunset… Within 16 hours after arrival.

By now the team was thoroughly trained and we enjoyed the sail back to Goa. At Goa we halted for four days to soak in the hospitality of the Goans and to have some fun. From Goa to Mumbai was a milk run in comparison to all that we had faced previously. We got down to packing and singing and planning what we would do on reaching Mumbai.”

Documentation and Authorities to be dealt with:
The statutory documents you need to carry are passports for all on board, and the boat’s papers like her registration certificate, insurance policy, radio license etc. You need to check what papers and permissions will be required at each port you intend to call on your passage. Generally you have to deal with three different authorities at least; the Port Control, the Customs and the Immigrations departments. This you have to do in domestic and foreign ports. There is a lot of scope for streamlining and making it a single window formality and Kochi needs to progress to that level while others need to catch up with Kochi who has set an example. If a foreigner would like to make a similar trip while holidaying in India, the process is the same and the only extra document he needs to have is a Visa.

More and more people must go out on the waters for fun, may be just a morning or evening out. Sailing safely, with proper instruction will build up this culture and other business will follow. We have lovely weather, beautiful beaches and a wonderful coastline waiting to be explored in a sustainable and responsible manner. The decision makers (Politicians, policy makers, Club committees etc.) must align themselves to make this happen now. Some have managed to get “Yachting” on the Tourism map and in the 10 yr Sports policy of the Govt. of Maharashtra. Let’s hope bigger better things follow!


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