Left with a broken back after the 2018 Golden Globe Race, Abhilash Tomy shares how he is leaving nothing to chance when he takes part in the 2022 race, which starts in September
Abhilash Tomy has unfinished business.
The solo sailor was left with a back broken in four places after taking part in the 2018 Golden Globe Race.
His ERIC Suhaili Replica masthead ketch, Thuriya was knocked down numerous times while running under bare poles in 75 knot winds in the Southern Indian Ocean.
The yacht was eventually dismasted, and Abhilash Tomy was rescued by the crew of a French Government fisheries patrol vessel.
The Indian commander was then medivaced onto an Indian Navy vessel, and later underwent back surgery to insert titanium rods into his spine; he also had to learn to walk again.
Back for the 2022 race, Abhilash Tomy, who has now retired from the Indian Navy to prepare for the race, has a title sponsor – the United Arab Emirates tech firm, Bayanat, as well as his long term sponsor, Jellyfish Watersports.
The boat, called Bayanat, is currently being refitted in The Netherlands, under the expert eye of seasoned Dutch boat builder Dick Koopmans.
Abhilash Tomy will then have to complete the mandatory 2,000 mile qualification passage to be able to cross the start line of the 2022 Golden Globe Race.
‘I am now permanently based in The Netherlands and will be focussing on getting the boat ready, giving the mast a good look, preparing the hull, doing sea trials and once that is over, I will do the qualification passage. If have time, I will go back to see my family,’ he told Yachting Monthly.
Abhilash Tomy has previously solo circumnavigated the world nonstop and unassisted, via the Cape of Good Hope, Cape Horn and Cape Leeuwin, in 2013, becoming the first Indian sailor to complete the voyage, aboard the 56ft fin keel sloop, INSV Mhadei.
Why enter the Golden Globe Race 2022?
Abhilash Tomy: Because I didn’t complete the last one. If I had finished the last one I probably wouldn’t have decided to do the 2022 race
What did you learn from the 2018 Golden Globe Race?
Abhilash Tomy: There are a lot of lessons. The most important is to find a good sponsor who will support you.
The second lesson is to have a good team around you so the boat is really well prepared and you have to be very well rested before the start.
And most importantly, if I run into a storm [like the one which ended his 2018 race] I will stay inside the boat.
Why choose Philippe Peche’s Rustler 36 for the Golden Globe Race 2022?
Abhilash Tomy: Because the Rustler 36 did pretty well last time.
Second it is a 36 footer and the bigger the size, the faster and safer the boat.
The boat was also available, and it was prepared pretty well for GGR 2018, so considering the time that I have I think it is a good bet.
If I had gone for a boat that hadn’t previously been in the race it would take much longer to prepare.
How are you preparing the boat for the 2022 race?
Abhilash Tomy: I am making quite a few changes.
Personally, I believe Peche set up the boat to punish himself and I don’t want to do that.
So I am putting in a furling headsail and changing a few things like putting in electric bilge pumps, more hand holds and more reefs in the mainsail [Abhilash Tomy is going for three reefs in the mainsail, while Peche had only two reefs in the 2018 race]
What storm tactics do you plan to use?
Abhilash Tomy: Last time in all the storms that I had I was really comfortable with continuing to sail the boat.
The storm that caused the accident was a very uncharacteristic storm and I don’t think any boat could have escaped it if it has been in my position.
Usually you witness that a storm itself, even if you have 60-70 knots, moves at around 10 knots but when I analysed this particular storm, it was moving at between 50-75 knots, that ’s how quickly it moved.
Because of the speed it moved, the change from wind direction from northwest to southwest happened in about 15 minutes; it was that quick.
Usually it takes 6 hours for the wind change from northwest to southwest, and because the wind changed so quickly we had waves coming from two different directions and I think that was the culprit.
I don’t think any boat of that size would not have had a knockdown in those conditions.
I won’t be heaving to, I will continue to sail the boat.
It has always worked, but in the particular storm I encountered last time [which dismasted the boat and left Tomy injured] I don’t think any tactic would have worked.
You can only plan for one train of waves, but if you have 10m waves coming from two directions, you really can’t do anything on this size of boat.
No amount of heaving to or drogues or warps will help.
I am planning to put the boat down the biggest wave and continue sailing.
I also plan to carry a Jordan Series Drogue, but my primary option will be to continue sailing the boat
How are you preparing yourself for the 2022 race?
Abhilash Tomy: I am coming into the race with a reinforced back.
It is much stronger than before but there are some problems in terms of flexibility like twisting and bending sideways or the amount I can raise my legs, but other than that there are no problems, and I think this issue will not really impede my sailing in any way.
The fact that I want to do the circumnavigation is good enough, you don’t need any other mental preparation. I love singlehanded sailing, alone at sea and I always look forward to it.
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Last time my family had a lot of reservations, but this time they are backing me more than last time.
When I visited Jean-Luc Van Den Heede‘s boat in December 2017, a good six months before the start of the 2018 GGR, his boat was completely prepared.
It is good to have that sort of readiness for the race because time was a bit short for me [in 2018] and this time I don’t want to be doing a lot of work at the last minute.
At least three weeks before the start the boat should be ready, and the boat should not be on my mind anymore.
What will your sail plan be?
Abhilash Tomy: I am going for a regular rig and a furling yankee and behind the removable stay, I will have a downwind sail made from very light cloth and after that we will have the stay.
The main will have three reefs.
Are you looking to win or get round?
Abhilash Tomy: In the 2018 Golden Globe Race, my main aim was to make it to the start line, which was a big project. This time I plan to complete a circumnavigation
How do you feel about the 2022 race having looked at the other skippers?
Abhilash Tomy: Some of them are very tough and have very interesting stories.
There are around seven to eight Rustlers so it is going to be a nice fight.
This time it will be more of a drag race as you have so many waypoints, so the fleet will be much closer than last time. There is no imagination required. I find that frustrating.
Last time, I remember the places where I made gains, like avoiding the St Helena high which caught others like Susie Goodall.
This time this is ruled out.
The second place I made gains was when I rounded the Cape of Good Hope.
I was at 40-41° South, and anybody who crossed at 37° really slowed down. Because I rounded it at 40° South I almost made 240 miles in 24 hours, and in 3 days I did 600 miles.
So I think Don [McIntyre – race chairman] is planning to put in a waypoint after Cape Town so people don’t turn east early.
Too many waypoints and too many gates will kill the race a bit.
For this race there will be no HAM radio transmissions allowed only registered, licensed maritime-approved HF Single Side Band (SSB) Radio, with discussions limited to the Global Maritime Distress and Safety System (GMDSS) weather. Weather Fax will be allowed for the race. Some of the 2018 Golden Globe Race skippers raised concerns about picking up GMDSS in the Southern Ocean. Do you share these concerns?
Abhilash Tomy: Not really. In the last race in the North Atlantic, I did not take any weather information as I was settling down [due to delays, Abhilash Tomy spend much of the early part of the 2018 race getting used to his boat and experimenting with the yacht’s sail configuration].
I used to listen in to the transmissions of other entrants and they were so widely dispersed that when they shared their weather information I had a complete picture of the south Atlantic.
So at least for the first one I was not sailing with any weather. I was just going with what I had at the back of my mind.
As 2022 will be a drag race, you kind of know the entire weather enroute.
Even if I get no weather update I can complete the circumnavigation.
The Southern Ocean weather is very predictable. If you get some good weather information it will help with racing, but with no weather information you can still go around the world.
Jean-Luc Van Den Heede consulted meteorologists and studied the weather to choose the best route which helped him make early gains in the 2018 race. Do you plan to do the same?
Abhilash Tomy: If I have time.
Are you confident you will be on the start line for 2022?
Abhilash Tomy: I hope to be at the start line, and I am doing better than last time.
In the 2018 race, I was behind and very short of money and I didn’t have enough help.
But this time, a lot of things are taken care of.
It was a brand new boat last time so I didn’t have time to sail and settle the boat [Abhilash Tomy sailed the ERIC Suhaili Replica masthead ketch, Thuriya in the 2018 race].
I sailed her in India but only in 5 knot winds. The only experience I had was sailing from the Netherlands to Falmouth and to France.
With the Rustler 36, I have already sailed the boat 700 miles from France to the Netherlands, and I also have to do the qualification passage of 2,000 miles, which will happen in June or July.
After that, if I have some time, I should be able to make some more improvements if needed.
What self-steering set up are you planning on using?
Abhilash Tomy: I will be using same windvane steering as last time, the Windpilot. It is simple and rugged and I didn’t have any problems with the Windpilot last time
What antifouling will you be using?
Abhilash Tomy: I have yet to decide on that, but it will be something that will last.
How is your celestial navigation going?
Abhilash Tomy: Last time, I sailed 12,000 miles using celestial navigation and I was very, very comfortable with that.
This time I have brushed up so it shouldn’t be a problem.
I am extremely comfortable with celestial navigation, it is one of the things I look forward to doing every day.
Even in that storm, when I had the accident, in the middle of the storm I saw the sun and I thought I would get my sextant and shoot it.
Is coping with isolation an issue?
Abhilash Tomy: No it is not a problem.
In fact, when I was checking my sailing log I have more solo sailing experience than sailing with someone else.
I love sailing alone. I would rather sail alone than with crew.
It is much less responsibility and more fulfilling.
How do you handle challenges while alone at sea?
Abhilash Tomy: You always have a plan, an alternative plan and a third plan so I go with three backups although you don’t have a backup for a spine fracture!
How will you keep yourself motivated during the 2022 race?
Abhilash Tomy: I am always motivated.
I learnt a lot of things from the first nonstop circumnavigation I did.
To prepare, I sailed 27,000 miles on the boat to feel comfortable.
Initially I was very uncomfortable being on a boat. Being on a boat is tough: everything is wet, salty, too hot or too cold, you don’t get to eat what you like eating, you can’t talk to people and you always look at the destination because the destination is some sort of a salvation.
You reach your designation, and there are people, good food, a good bed and a good toilet etc.
One day, I realised the biggest impediment for me being happy at sea was the fact I was always looking to the destination and all the things that came with finishing the voyage.
I changed my mindset.
I decided not to think about the destination or the speed of the boat or how quickly I was to reach the next port and, with that, the present moment became a lot more comfortable.
If you keep at it, it is much easier to be in the moment.
What will you miss while taking part in the race?
Abhilash Tomy: I don’t know.
I really don’t miss anything when I go sailing, but this time will be different as I have a 3 year old son and I will miss him, and my wife has made a very comfortable home so I might miss that as well.
What treat will you be taking?
Abhilash Tomy: Popcorn; lots of popcorn as I love popping corn at sea
GGR 2018 was a celebration of Sir Robin Knox-Johnston. The GGR 2022 is a celebration of Bernard Moitessier. What words of wisdom from Moitessier will you be following in the race?
Abhilash Tomy: I think Moitessier used to meditate on the boat and for some reason I stopped meditating in the last race, but this time I will meditate every day.
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