French ship rescues Abhilash Tomy from South Indian Ocean: All you need to know about Indian Navy Commander

FP Staff

After a multinational effort, stranded and injured Indian sailor Abhilash Tomy, whose yacht was incapacitated in the South Indian Ocean for three days, was rescued on Monday, the Indian Navy confirmed. A 39-year-old Indian naval commander, Tomy was competing in the 2018 Golden Globe Race (GGR) when his boat hit a storm. French ship Osiris had launched two Zodiac boats to reach Tomy's yacht to administer first aid and give him water before evacuation. Reports said that the weather is still very hostile.

Eighty-two days into the race, Tomy's 36-foot boat Thuriya was one of several that was hit by 80-mph winds and 46-foot waves midway across the South Indian Ocean on Friday. The Thuriya's mast had broken off when it rolled in the storm, and the yachtsman suffered what he called "a severe back injury". The organisers described him as "incapacitated on his bunk inside his boat" and his yacht is 3,704 kilometres off the coast of Perth, Western Australia.

"The GGR is iconic as it commemorates the 50th year of the 1968 edition of the race and has seasoned sailors from 13 countries with a fantastic line up of sailing crafts. Most importantly, it ups the ante for its participants. It evokes a sense of retro sailing as it comes close to the onboard conditions of the 1968/69 winning boat Suhaili skippered by Sir Robin Knox-Johnston. That means no electronic navigational aids that have come to be de rigueur in major sailing regattas."

'...Nothing that builds character better than the sea'

A reconnaissance pilot in the Indian Navy, Tomy has received top honours like Kirti Chakra and the Tenzing Norgay National Adventure Award for his non-stop solo circumnavigation in 2012-13. Tomy was the second Indian and first Asian to complete it. He is also the only Indian participating in this year's race. Tomy has also been awarded the prestigious McGregor Medal for military reconnaissance.

According to Manorama, Sir Robin met with Tomy and the other skippers who sailed into into Les Sables d'Olonne. Speaking to the paper, Tomy said, "When Robin came to my boat Thuriya, he was curious to know how many days I would take to complete the GGR. I looked at him and said 311 days, which is one day less than his voyage."

In his interview with Homegrown in June earlier this year, elemental aspect of the sea resonated in the way he looks at life altogether. "I am convinced of the fact that there is nothing that builds character better than the sea. And if one generation of our country went to sea, for a couple of months, we will be a different nation altogether".

Tomy said that the race is an emphasis on seamanship and a direct experience of sea, especially as this year's Golden Globe Race was to celebrate 50 years since the 1968-69 Sunday Times Golden Globe Race, to complete an unassisted, solo, non-stop circumnavigation of the world via the Great Capes. A key feature of the race is that circumnavigation is being attempted under the same conditions as the original 1968 around-the-world-yacht race €" which bars the use of modern technology.

"This Spartan philosophy is in keeping with my own view that a lot can be achieved with very little," Manorama quoted Tomy as saying.

"We won't be allowed to use any new technology that has been developed since then. If it didn't exist in 1968, we can't use it. So that means no GPS, electronic watches, electronic compass, electronic meter. We are permitted to use LED lights, a few solar panels and wind generators," Tomy had said a year ago.

On 20 September during a satellite call, Tomy tells the caller that the sea has started to get windy. The man on the other end of the call tells him that "a system" has started forming on top of him in the sea. "It's an interesting system. It is not coming at you, but it is literally forming over the top of you. It will be strong and it will move really fast.... fingers crossed."

"So, it shouldn't be too bad?" Tomy asks and the man says, "It's gonna be vicious, but it's gonna be short and sweet... if you know what I mean."

'Good boat for very bad seas'

Construction of Tomy's 10-metre-long yacht began in March 2016 and he officially launched it in Goa in August 2017. Tomy's yacht is a replica of Robin Knox-Johnston's Suhaili, winner of the first Golden Globe Race. Incidentally, Suhaili was built in Bombay. Homegrown reported that with its strong record of seaworthiness to make a wood epoxy composite replica of the Suhaili in India from a scratch, was the most feasible option in keeping with requirements of the race. "The boat is a strong one." according to Abhilash, "but the sailing isn't simple as the last time."

Tomy's social media timeline, starting June, has been dotted with updates on Thuriya's genesis. The Indian Navy commander has been invested in its construction starting from the "drawing board to the last rivet on the boat."

The boat which has been taken out for sea trials in Arabian Sea, travelled by road to Kochi before being shipped off to Medemblik in the Netherlands. The rules of the Golden Globe Race allows only classic production boats of between 32 and 62 feet. At least 20 production boats should have been built from the same mould for a boat to be eligible to race. "However, an exception is made if a new boat is a replica of the Suhaili. And, I am the only one who did it," reports have quoted Tomy as saying.

The yacht, based on the designs of William Atkins, is apparently meant to survive in violent short seas. "She is a very good boat for very bad seas," Tomy told Manorama.

Rescue operation

On Saturday, he managed to send a message saying: "Extremely difficult to walk, Might need stretcher, can't walk, thanks safe inside the boat... Sat phone down." The organisers said on the race website: "The Australian Joint Rescue Co-ordination Centre is working hard to assess and coordinate all possible options to rescue Abhilas Tomy who is as far from help as you can possibly be."

Tomy was able to communicate using a YB3 texting unit but his primary satellite phone is damaged. He has a second satellite phone and a handheld VHF radio packed in an emergency bag, but organisers said he was unable to reach it for the moment.

The organisers said they had urged him to try to get to the bag because it could be crucial in making contact with a plane from Australia and an Indian air force plane which might be able to fly over the area. Given the distance from land, the planes will not be able to spend long in the area, the organisers added. A French fishing boat was also heading to the scene "but may not arrive for a few days".

Also See: Indian Navy making 'all efforts' to rescue stranded sailor Abhilash Tomy; commander injured after storm hits vessel in Indian Ocean

Injured navy officer Abhilash Tomy rescued LIVE updates: Indian Navy assures that commander is conscious and in 'safe hands'

Indian Navy aircraft finds yacht of injured naval officer Abhilash Tomy 'rolling excessively' in southern Indian Ocean

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