Riders on the storm: Six women get ready to sail the world

Bodapatti remembers her maiden voyage to Mauritius from Goa earlier this year aboard INS Tarini. As it tossed and turned, water filled the deck and soaked the women on board. And Bodapatti found herself thinking back to the time when she had bravely opted to be part of the crew that was to circumnavigate the globe. “I had thought being on the sea meant just sitting back and looking at the waters. Then, our auto pilot went on a blink and the radar packed up. I felt an unfamiliar sense of dread and realised what the sea truly was,” says the 28-year-old naval officer. It was her first experience of sailing the high seas and it taught her never to take anything for granted. A BTech graduate, Bodapatti says that her schooling at the Air Force station in Hakimpeth in Hyderabad (her father worked with the CISF), had a lot to do with her choice of career.“I saw lots of planes flying (Hakimpeth air force base was very close by) and joining the air force first came to mind. But then I saw the naval uniform and it just looked so smart,” she says with a grin. Bodapatti’s always sought out adventure, though, whether it’s in her love for bungee jumping or river rafting.The idea for this ambitious expedition was apparently floated a few years ago by the Indian Navy, which had already notched up records with the iconic sailboat Mhadei, commissioned in February 2009. Mhadei made two solo circumnavigations in 2009 and a non-stop one in 2013, before the Navy decided it was time to push the boundaries further. Women don’t typically go to the sea in the Navy, and solo circumnavigation would be practically unviable. Hence, the concept of Navika Sagar Parikrama — the First Indian All Women Circumnavigation of the Globe — was born. Almost immediately, a look-out was sounded for volunteers from the Navy.One of the first to come on board, however, was Lt Commander Vartika Joshi, who will now lead the expedition as the skipper. “I volunteered for this for the same reason I joined the Navy — to explore the oceans,” says the 28-year-old BTech graduate from Rishikesh, Uttarakhand.Growing up near rivers — her mother taught at a college in Rishikesh and father worked in Garhwal — made Vartika keen to explore the waters more. “The oceans were the next logical step,” she says, adding that her family was delighted when she joined the navy and again when she opted for the circumnavigation. On what qualities led to her becoming captain, Joshi says, “Perhaps, my ability to be balanced, not take hasty decisions and take each person’s opinion into consideration when deciding things.”Are they prepared for the challenge ahead? The answer is a resounding yes. “We’ve undergone intensive training since 2015, not to mention the many sailings from Karwar to Porbandar within India (2015 to ’17), and Rio to Cape Town to Mauritius (2016 to ’17) on international waters,” says Lt Commander Pratibha Jamwal, 28, and a BTech from Himachal Pradesh. “We’ve been especially trained to work with the boat’s equipment and its repairs because that’s one of the biggest challenges out in the waters,”

 

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