It is said, “What doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger.” The living proof of that is Abhilash Tomy, retired pilot of the Indian Navy, who returned triumphant yesterday to claim second position in the Golden Globe Race 2022, a journey of circumnavigating the world on a sailboat, about five years after a previous GGR race nearly took his life.
Tomy, now 44, had entered this race in 2018, but the sea claimed his boat. He was rescued, hospitalised, and had titanium rods put in his spine. He was the only repeat entrant from that year in the 2022 race. The first position in the latest race was claimed by Kirsten Neuschäfer, 40, from South Africa.
Tomy sailed on a United Arab Emirates-registered boat named Bayanat, sponsored by a UAE-based company of the same name that deals in geo-spatial technology powered by Artificial Intelligence. In contrast, Tomy had a boat powered by 1968 technology, because that was the rule of the race. According to the GGR website: “The 2022 Golden Globe Race will require all entrants to use only the same type or similar equipment and technology that was carried on board Robin Knox-Johnston’s 1968/69 race winning yacht Suhaili.”
The use of the decades-old technology for the Golden Globe Race reminds one of the legendary 1947 Pacific Ocean voyage of the Norwegian adventurer Thor Heyerdahl on his balsa raft Kon-Tiki.
Without the aid of technology, the true mettle of the adventurer is revealed. In Tomy’s case, he proved his resilience over a period of eight months, crossing about 31,000 nautical miles of the three navigable oceans of the world, all by himself on a 36-ft sailboat.
The sight of the Indian tricolour in Tomy’s hand when Bayanat returned to the marina and his singing of the Indian national anthem Jana Gana Mana later were incredibly proud moments for India.
As Tomy returned, with a smile that belied any fatigue, his journey was hailed as making maritime history by the media and by his friends and supporters.
The Golden Globe Race 2022 had started on September 4, 2022, from the Les Sables-d’Olonne marina in France. The winner Kirsten Neuschäfer was the first to return to Les Sables-d’Olonne, making it back by April 27 and claiming first place. Abhilash Tomy returned on April 29, claiming second place.
Neuschäfer had finished the circumnavigation in 233 days, 20 hours, 43 minutes and 47 seconds. Tomy finished it in 236 days, 14 hours, 46 minutes, 34 seconds. While 16 contestants had started sailing for Golden Globe Race 2022, not many were left in the race towards the end. Reportedly, Neuschäfer and Tomy sort of raced against each other for a week before the winner was decided.