For the President’s eyes only?

Navy halts record-making mission at the last-minute; historic yacht to participate in the President’s Review

INSV Mhadei (extreme right) being welcomed into Mumbai harbour by INS Delhi and a naval tug on completion of her circumnavigation of the globe in May 2010. Photo courtesy: CPRO (Defence), Mumbai.

When in May 2010, she completed the solo circumnavigation of the globe, the Indian Naval Sailing Vessel (INSV) Mhadei skippered by Commander Dilip Donde, took Indian maritime glory to an unprecedented high. (It was a first of its kind effort by an Indian in an Indian-built boat.) More than a year of hard work and untiring efforts were further channelised towards an even more daunting task – a non-stop solo circumnavigation of the globe by an Indian. But all of that has been quietly brought to naught by an order of the Chief of Naval Staff (CNS).

Unfortunately, even as the momentum achieved was stymied, the Indian Navy (IN) is yet to clarify whether or not, such an attempt will ever be made. Certainly not at present, it looks like.

Worldover, in the past, there have been several successful attempts at solo circumnavigation of the globe. Under Commander Donde, it was India’s first where Mhadei made four port stops and managed to complete the voyage in under nine months.  (Read skipper’s blog However, as far as non-stop solo journey is concerned, apart from Japan, no other Asian maritime nation has successfully managed to complete one. Vice Admiral (retd) MP Awati, whose brainchild this project has been said, “China has begun preparing for a non-stop voyage now whereas we had it all ready. It could have been an area to beat the Chinese in but alas!” It is learnt that enormous preparations for the voyage were underway and most done when the halting order arrived. In fact it was scheduled to be flagged-off by November 2011.

“I was informed about it in August-September. It was mentioned that the navy would prefer to utilise the Mhadei for training purposes,” he mentioned. Responding to the reasoning, V Adm (retd) Awati, who retired as the Commander-in-Chief of the Western Naval Command said, “But Mhadei would still be available for all these purposes later on. We had trained, built up the momentum and most importantly prepared a volunteer officer for the job.” Asked when the world-record-making voyage would be undertaken, he replied, “Now, I don’t know. You will have to ask the Chief.”

(Left to right) CNS Admiral NK Verma, Vice President Hamid Ansari and skipper of the Mhadei, Cdr. Dilip Donde in Mumbai. Photo courtesy: CPRO (Defence), Mumbai.

Navy, on its side, had never provided anything in black and white. So when there was no commitment made, there is no question pulling out of it, sources said. “Yes there was nothing in writing from the headquarters. But there was an understanding,” said V Adm (redtd) Awati.

That apart, the navy is keen to display the Mhadei along with the 66 other ships when President Pratibha Patil arrives in Mumbai for the Presidential Fleet Review (PFR), scheduled on December 20. A naval spokesperson informed that while it was not decided when, but the solo non-stop journey was on the navy’s mind.

This abrupt halt for the Mhadei, at least for now has ensured, that instead of polishing our maritime history further, she will line up with 66 other ships at the review anchorage and wait for her turn to salute the Supreme Commander.

Sagarparikrama II: Nuts and bolts

For the non-stop solo voyage, the navy decided on a new face by zeroing down on Lt. Cdr Abhilash Tomy as the volunteer skipper of the Mhadei. But Lt. Cdr Tomy was not new in any way to the project.

While Cdr Donde was training on the Mhadei before leaving for the circumnavigation, he was accompanied by a junior officer, Lt. Cdr Abhilash Tomy. It was learnt that even while Cdr Donde was sailing on his voyage, the task of constantly tracking him was performed by Lt. Cdr Tomy and VAdm (retd) Awati. In fact, as a precursor to the ill-fated non-stop voyage, Lt. Cdr Tomy sailed the Mhadei single-handedly from Cape Town in Africa to Goa. This was on completion of the Trans Atlantic race from Cape Town to Beunos Aires held in January this year.


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