SEI experimented with rafting for the first time with its â€˜Mountain to Seaâ€™ expedition from Sikkim to Sagar in 2003. It was an enchanting as well as educative experience for the team of seven seafarers led by Mr. Tapas Chowdhury.
The voyage was flagged off from Singchutam in Sikkim on March 21st, 2003. Four days of white water rafting in the swirling waters of the Teesta, cradled by lofty mountains, across Singtam, Baradung, Monipal, Mamring, Ranpo, Melli Bazar, Rangit, Kalijhora and Teesta Bazaar brought the team to Coronation Bridge in Siliguri on March 24th. The second phase of the expedition commenced on March 29th, with an added strength of two women â€“ Sushmi Saha and Keka Jana â€“ on the side. Battling the tides on kayaks, the crew voyaged from Farakka past the Feeder Canal into the mainstream of the Bhagirathi. They reached Sagar after rowing past seven districts of West Bengal in 10 days and then journeyed back to the Institute on Outram Ghat, mooring their crafts on April 12th, 2003.
The Department of Sports and Youth Services, Government of West Bengal, provided financial and logistic support for this expedition, which was a joint venture with the Academy of Adventure Sports, Government of West Bengal.
This was an innovative trip that mixed business with pleasure in exhilarating proportions. For, the purpose of this expedition was not just adventure, but also to assess the degree of pollution in the Ganga and Bhagirathi caused by industries along their banks, to judge the navigability of the rivers at various points along the course and to gauge the maintenance of tourist spots along the river bank.
The team, under the leadership of Mr. Tapas Chowdhury, set sail from the Farakka CISF Jetty on December 6th. The eight kayaks of the expedition were accompanied with a launch that had on board two environmental analysts. The intrepid voyagers navigated treacherous whirlpools as they sailed ahead of the Feeder Canal into the mainstream of the Bhagirathi and then past Raghunathgunj, Hazarduari, Beldanga, Katoya and Mayapur.
After rowing for five days along the distributary of the Ganga, the team reached Balagarrh from where they headed for Serampore and then reached Sagar Island on December 15th. A similar route was traced backwards to the River Traffic Police Jetty at Outram Ghat, Kolkata, where the indomitable seamen were given a flamboyant welcome by 20 spirited girls and boys who swam up to Outram Ghat to receive them.
One of the longest and most exciting voyages launched by SEI, Friendship â€™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 â€˜Indiraâ€™, 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 â€˜Indiraâ€™ 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. â€˜Indiraâ€™ 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 â€˜Indiraâ€™ 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.