Commander Dilip Donde is the first and only Indian to circumnavigate the world solo. The officer successfully completed his epic voyage on May 19 at Mumbai on Indian Naval sailing vessel Mhadei. The Vice President of India, Mr M Hamid Ansari and the Chief of Naval Staff, Admiral Nirmal Verma were present to welcome home the intrepid sailor. The officer, a Clearance Diver, is presently posted at the Indian Naval Watermanship Training Centre, Mumbai and was awarded Shaurya Chakra on Independence Day. Whilst at Kochi to deliver a talk on his experiences, Cdr Roy Francis caught up with the legendary sailor.
What was your motivation to set course for this unchartered waters?
When I volunteered to do this project I had absolutely no idea about solo circumnavigation under sails. It sounded like a good idea, I was asked if I was interested and I volunteered in an instant without giving it any thought! Its only once I started reading up on the topic to prepare my project report that I started realising that this was something far bigger and difficult than what I had thought it would be but that also made it more exciting.
Your test of will commenced with your close association from the boat building stage. Can you describe your experiences at the boatyard?
One of the conditions of the project was that the boat was to be built in India. No one had built such a boat in the country so far and I had never seen a boat being built. So we were in unchartered water right from the word go. They were exciting times, learning new things, working over 14 to 16 hours a day at the yard with the boat builder, Mr Ratnakar Dandekar and his team at Aquarius Fibreglas Pvt Ltd.
How did you cope up with the mental battle of loneliness in the wide ocean and physical battle with the elements?
I used to be busy most of the time as there are a lot of things that are required to be done on a boat. You are sailing her all the time, in addition you need to cook, sleep, navigate, communicate effect etc. With such a busy schedule loneliness was never a problem. I would call it solitude not loneliness.
Your blog www. sagarparikrama.blogspot.com was a big hit in the worldwide web and was very interestingly written too. That was a powerful and novel way to touch a chord with the people following your progress. How did you hit upon the idea?
It was conceived and designed by my good friend Cdr Anshuman Chatterjee and served as a journal of the voyage that I could share with the world.
Can you talk a little about the preparation and shore support arrangements during your voyage?
I volunteered for this project in 2006 and we started constructing the boat on the Christmas of 2007 and sailed her for the first time on January 23 last year. The preparation for the voyage continued till the day of my departure. At all the ports, my shore support crew Lt Cdr Abhilash Tomy and the boat builder, Mr Ratnakar Dandekar would join me and together we would get her ready to sail the next leg. The administrative arrangements at foreign ports were being looked after by the respective Defence advisors.