Lakshadeep Expedition: Rowing & Wind Sailing (1994-95)

Friendship ’94 (Gujarat-Lakshadweep-Cochin-Calcutta)

One of the longest and most exciting voyages launched by SEI, Friendship ’94 covered a total distance of 6,000 km. The expedition started from Okha (Dwarka, Gujarat) and navigated the restless waters of the Arabian Sea and the Bay of Bengal to reach Calcutta after touching Lakshadweep, Minicoy and the Maldives.

The craft chosen for the journey was ‘Indira’, a 27-feet long non-motorised, fibreglass whaler powered only by sail and oars. Another significant feature was the absolute absence of electronic navigation aid.

The crew, a mixture of fresh and seasoned hands under the command of Ranjit Karunakar of the Institute and Lt. A. Saran of the Indian Navy, set sail from Okha on January 10th, 1994. Battling the chilly Northerly wind, they reached Bombay on the 16th, steering the ‘Indira’ across a rather rough patch at the Gulf of Cambay. Touching Goa on the 30th of the month and Mangalore on the 5th of February, the boat made for the open sea. Soaring swells and a gusty wind made the going tough. Indira reached Kavaratti in Lakshadweep on the 10th of February, but not after getting severely damaged due to navigational errors. With help from the INS Sutlej, the boat arrived at the naval-base at Cochin for necessary repairs and set sail again on the 1st of March. The voyage was interrupted once more near Kanyakumari because of inclement weather conditions and communication failure.

The expedition was resumed on February 21st of the following year, this time under A. Bose of the Institute and Lt. V. Anand of the Indian Navy. In this phase, there were quite a few hurdles to be crossed. ‘Indira’ arrived at Paradeep Harbour on March 7th, but when the men set sail again, they drifted back to the harbour due to a strong Northerly headwind. There was no choice but to wait for a favourable Southerly wind. Finally on March 16th, 1995, the navy ship C.G.S. Jijabai escorted ‘Indira’ up to the Eastern Channel Light vessel at Sandheads and the vessel entered the Baratola river on the evening of the 17th.

The mariners reached Diamond Harbour on the 18th and then Uluberia on the 19th, only by pulling in favour of the equinoxal spring flood tide on the Hooghli. Indira reached her final destination, Outram Ghat in Calcutta, on the afternoon of March 21st.

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