When Miramar was Spared Another Shipwreck

By Ashwin Tombat
16 September 2017 00:19 IST

Two recent events are behind today's story, which is more of a narration about an incident, rather than a opinion piece. The grounded casino ship 'Lucky Seven' is still stuck on the Miramar sands at the time of writing despite several attempts to get it off. Despite three tugs together trying to tow her off on Thursday, the tow rope snapped and the salvage attempt had to be abandoned.

Quite separately, last Sunday, six brave young Indian Naval women officers set off on an epic voyage around the world in sailing yacht 'INSV Tarini'. They were flagged off by India's new Union Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman, also coincidentally a woman. These girls have trained very hard and long under the watchful eye of their mentor, Capt Dilip Donde (Retd), the first Indian to sail around the world solo.

INSV Tarini's sister ship, INSV Mhadei, has sailed around the world twice. The first time, it was sailed by Capt Donde. The second circumnavigation was non-stop, with Cdr Abhilash Tomy at the helm. Few sailing yachts manage two circumnavigations. That INSV Mhadei did is a tribute to her builder, Ratnakar Dandekar of Aquarius Shipyard, located at Divar island in Goa.

The reason circumnavigations are hard on the boat is the long passage through the Southern Ocean (the ocean between the Earth's habitable landmass and Antarctica). Here, winds of 60km per hour and 12-foot waves are considered mild weather. Winds can go up to 100km per hour and waves to the height of a three-storied building very regularly. This takes a heavy toll on any boat.

On Thursday 27 July 2017, I was at a little café in the Goa Tourism Development Corporation (GTDC) resort on Miramar beach in Panaji, having coffee in the evening with Goa Yachting Association (GYA) President Col Milind Prabhu (Retd). At about 5.40 PM, we decided to take a look at the grounded casino ship 'Lucky Seven', to see whether the salvage operation was making any progress.

As we walked along the sand, we suddenly saw a sail boat. Its sails were down, and it was at the point where the surf breaks in the bay, probably 250-300 meters away. Within a few minutes, we realised that she was stuck in the sand.

On bare poles, with no sails hoisted, the boat was lurching violently from side to side at a steep angle, as she was hit by the waves. She was pointing westward, out to sea, and the stern was towards us. As we watched, the boat continued to roll hard from side to side; her mast and rigging shuddering from each impact by the surf.

This went on for about 20 minutes. During this period a 'Drishti' life guard tried to approach the boat on a jetski. He approached cautiously. Because the boat was rolling at steep angles, he couldn’t get close.

By then, the crew on the boat (we didn't know at that point whether it was Mhadei or Tarini — later we learned it was Mhadei) hoisted its foresail. That's when I took a photograph of the boat. But it is this smart move on the part of the crew that saved Mhadei. In due course, the boat stopped rolling and, after a little while, rotated and freed itself from the sand.

The boat then turned around and headed towards the Mandovi. The crew appeared shaken by what had just happened, because the foresail remained hoisted for another five minutes or so, on the wrong side, before it was freed and furled.

That's the irony. INSV Mhadei, which faced the terrors of the Southern Ocean so successfully, was nearly laid low by a humble sand bar in Goa. Had it not been for some quick thinking by the crew, it may well have ended on the beach, right next to Lucky Seven...!

The boat has most probably sustained damage, definitely to the mast and possibly to the keel, maybe even the rudder. Mhadei should be dry-docked and thoroughly checked out. It is the pride of Indian sailing, and both Goa and the Navy are really fortunate that it did not suffer the same fate as 'Lucky Seven'.

Disclaimer: Views expressed above are the author's own.

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Ashwin Tombat

Ashwin Tombat has been the Editor of Gomantak Times and Herald. Worked as an Associate Editor of national magazine Gentleman in Mumbai, before shifting to Goa. Loves sailing, also participates in Marathons. Has worked as an activist in students's union and trade unions in Maharashtra. Also an artist of Street Theatre during student days.

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