Nicobar Expedition: Rowing & Wind Sailing (1992)

SEI scripted marine history with its Nicobar Expedition, an audacious voyage from Calcutta to Indira Point, the southernmost point of India, on an open glass fibre boat powered only by sail and oars. The boat, christened ‘Indira’, measured only 27 feet in length and six feet in width.

The explorers were all veteran sailing hands, Arindam Bose, Ranjit Karunakar, Subha Ranjan Saha, Bishnu Pal, Bimal Karak and Susanta Das from the Institute and Lt. D. Pant of the Indian Navy. Bose led the crew from Calcutta to Port Blair, whereupon Karunakar took the helm till the end of the journey at Indira Point. D. Pant shared the leadership with both in the two phases.

The journey was flagged off on New Year’s Day by Satyasadhan Chakroborty, Minister-in-Charge of the Department of Education, Government of West Bengal. The crew reached Sagar Dwip, 157 km from Calcutta on January 4th and received the last replenishments at the pilot ship on January 13th. From then on it was water, water, all around as the Indira cut through the tricky waters of the Bay of Bengal. The voyagers navigated in classical style, by the position of the sun, the stars, the planets and the moon, using primitive manual equipment like the sextant. They sighted land on January 24th – Landfall Island of the Andaman group of islands – and reached Port Blair on 27th January, having covered a distance of 920 nautical miles (1,656 km) on the high seas. There they presented the expedition flag to Admiral S.R. Chand of the Indian Navy.

After a brief respite, the crew cast off from Port Blair on January 31st and sailed over a distance of 300 nautical miles. They crossed the treacherous Ten Degree Channel to reach Campbell Bay of the Great Nicobar Island on February 6th. They were received by Mr. Virendra Kumar, Assistant Commissioner of the island.

There being no suitable landing place for the boat near the shore, the team travelled 51 km by road to reach Indira Point on 8th February, and presented the expedition flag to the lighthouse men.

This sailing and pulling expedition, organised jointly with the Indian Navy, marked a high point in the Institute’s career. The primary aim of the venture was to fire the youth with a fervour for adventure sports and establish stronger ties of friendship with the youth of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands. The mission was crowned with success as the Nicobar Expedition was judged the best Offshore Adventure of the Year 1992 by the Yachting Association of India and was also awarded the prestigious Admiral Ramdas Trophy.

Andaman Expedition: Rowing & Windsailing (1991)

Sampriti O Anusandhan Abhijan (Calcutta-Andaman)

The year was 1991 and history was in the making. In the name of friendship and discovery, a crew of five young men and one woman resolved to row to the Andamans over a distance of 760 nautical miles in a humble sailing boat. The craft chosen for the perilous journey of Calcutta to Port Blair was a 28-inch non-motorised wooden boat of yacht design with a spectacular red and white sail. The boat, named ‘Pinaki’ after the founding father of the Institute, started for the sea from Outram Ghat on January 5th, 1991.

It was smooth sailing till Sagar as the Pinaki, with Sona Ghoshal, Subha Ranjan Saha, Ranjit Karunakar, Nasiruddin and Arindam Bose under the leadership of Sub Lt. S.R. Ayyar of the Indian Navy on board, sailed at a fair speed. Of course, there were the routine hazards like precarious shallow patches of waterways, wrecks and fishing stakes and nets, but none of these proved to be any serious obstruction. At Sagar replenishments were procured and the Pinaki set sail for Sandheads on January 12th.

The sea was rife with dolphins, flying fish and sharks and the shores of the Andamans seemed like a distant dream. Violent gusts of wind flung the vessel from troughs to towering crests of four to five metres in height. The boat drifted off westwards by about 110-112 km. Finally, as the sea pacified, the crew contacted the warship — I.N.S. Kirpan — which was responsible for provisions. The Kirpan commander instructed the Pinaki to approach the stern side of the ship instead of the starboard side as planned.

The blow fell as the Kirpan drifted towards Pinaki. The giant hull of the gigantic ship banged into the boat and Pinaki’s mast got stuck in the deck hooks of the ship. Within minutes, the foredeck of the humble boat was shattered and other fittings destroyed beyond repair. The voyagers were rescued but the tragedy lay in that they could not reach their destination, which now lay only 200 km away. The expedition was thus called off, and the explorers returned home with leaden hearts, but several firsts to their credit and plucky tales of survival to narrate.

Round India: Rowing & Wind Sailing Expedition (1988)

Maitree Yatra (Calcutta-Rameswaram, Delhi-Calcutta, Cochin-Porbandar)

round-indiaSEI plunged into the world of marine adventure sports in a blaze of glory with its first major expedition (Maitree Yatra) with trainees from the Institute on January 12th, 1988.

The run-up was marked by intensive training and a trial voyage that set off on the first day of the year. A sailing boat with complete equipment travelled up to Sandhead and returned to base on January 5th.

Maitree Yatra was conceived to celebrate 40 glorious years of Indian independence and give a call to dedicate the nation to the cause of communal harmony, national integration and world peace. The three-phased expedition, launched in collaboration with the Indian Navy and extensive government patronage, was envisaged as a Yatra round the country by a rowing boat and canoes.

The first phase consisted of a 56-day journey from Calcutta to Rameswaram along the sea coast by the historic boat, ‘Kanhoji Angre’, used by the founder of the Institute, Dr. Pinaki Ranjan Chatterjee in his expedition to the Andamans some 20 years back. Back in 1969, Dr. Chatterjee, along with George Albert Duke of the Indian Navy had rowed the non-motorised Kanhoji Angre – given by Garden Reach Ship Builders and Engineers – for 32 days to reach Port Blair in a pathbreaking expedition.

The Maitree Yatra was flagged off by the chief minister, Mr. Jyoti Basu, and the Union Minister for Information and Broadcasting, Mr. Ajit Panja, on January 12th, 1988, also celebrated as ‘Youth Day’ to commemorate the 125th birth anniversary of Swami Vivekananda. The entire journey was unescorted.

The valiant voyagers, under the leadership of Mr. Rathin Mukherjee, one of the secretaries of the Institute, included Sarbasree Malay Bhattacharyya, Ranjit Karunakar, Tridib Chowdhury, Arindam Bose, Ajoy Roy and Prabir Roy from the Institute and Lt. Chandrasekhar of the Indian Navy. They sailed past Paradwip, Vishakhapatnam, Kakinara, Madras, Pondicherry and Pamban to reach Rameswaram after covering about 2,500 km by sea. Received by sundry dignitaries along their way, the crew succeeded in spreading the message of the Yatra among the local people of the shores they touched.

The second phase of the Maitree Yatra was a journey by kayak from Delhi to Calcutta. It was flagged off on Independence Day, 1988, by the then Prime Minister of India, Rajiv Gandhi from his residence, and subsequently from Okhla Bridge on the Jamuna by the Union Minister for Sports, Mrs. Margaret Alva. The crew, once again under the command of Mr. Rathin Mukherjee, paddled across 2,400 km in 41 days, touching Agra, Etwah, Allahabad, Varanasi, Patna, Farakka, Nabadwip and Chinsurah, before reaching Babughat on 26th September.

Kanhoji Angre set forth on the third and final phase of the Yatra which commenced from Cochin on November 18th. It was flagged off by Commander-in-Chief, Southern Command, Vice Admiral L. Ramdas of the Indian Navy and Dr. Sheuli Chatterjee, Secretary General of the Institute.

The destination was Porbandar, but the voyagers faced an unforeseen obstacle. Soon after they sailed from Bombay, the sea turned turbulent and the wind turned opposite. As a result, the boat drifted back to Bombay. On the advice of the Western Command, Indian Navy, the expedition was held up at Bombay till the wind changed course.

The voyagers, however, were determined to complete the journey. So great was their enthusiasm that the Indian Navy granted them permission and the last lap was undertaken from Bombay on April 11th, 1989. They were escorted by the coast guard vessel, CGS Rajhans, under Lt. Commander Sekhar. The final phase was completed under the leadership of Ranjit Karunakar.

The seamen reached Porbandar on April 14th, 1989, having covered about 6,142 km over a period of more than a year.