Bhagirathi-Hooghly Kayak Expedition (2000)

North Bengal – Sagar Island – Calcutta

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.

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.

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 20 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, Arindam Bose and Sub Lt. S.R. Ayyar of the Indian Navy on board, sailed at a fair speed. The said Expedition under the leadership of Arindam Bose. Sub Lt. S.R. Ayyar from Indian Navy shared the leadership as Joint Leader of the Mission.  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.