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.

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 Years Day of 1992 by Prof. 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 Vice Admiral S.K. 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 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.