Tarangini, the Indian Navy's only sail training ship, is on a 15-month voyage around the world. Commander Prabir Poddar is one of the officers aboard.
Life is so different at sea. Surrounded by waves, with no land in sight, questions of where you have come from or where you are bound for, even what year, or month, or day of the week it is, become relatively unimportant.
Days blur into one heaving rhythm. Sunrise, noon, sunset, at night the wheeling of stars from east to west, the lullaby of the waves, the hauling and veering of the wind, the rotation of watches, the work involved in caring for the ship -- these are the only things that have reality and immediacy. All else seems to pale into insignificance. The ship and the ocean are our world, and our shipmates the only people who matter.
Our ship's passage around the globe will be in six legs, through the Arabian Sea to the Red Sea and via the Suez Canal across to the Mediterranean and Atlantic Ocean, on to New York.
Being one of the three Asian navies that operate tall ships, we intend to participate in a series of tall ship events while in North America, organised by the American Tall Ship Association in the Great Lakes region.
After that, we will navigate through the Panama Canal and the Pacific Ocean to Australia. Before terminating the voyage at Mumbai on May 1, 2004, we will call at a few southeast Asian countries. The entire voyage is expected to cover a distance of 33,000 nautical miles.
The role of sail training ships is often questioned in the present high-technology age, and sail training certainly cannot justify itself on mere sentiment. Besides providing an ideal platform for basic seamanship, the main values of a sail training ship lie in its unique utility to foster the 'old-fashioned' virtues of courage, camaraderie and endurance.
A sail ship helps to instil the basic qualities of humility and prudence, which are inseparable from safe and successful seafaring, and there can be no doubt that the experience gained by a young trainee on such a ship will stand him in good stead throughout his career.
This voyage will take our ship to 36 ports spread over 18 countries, where interactions with regional navies and other authorities are envisaged. It has generally been accepted that the voyage will provide an opportunity to re-emphasise building 'bridges of friendship' across the oceans.
The objective of the voyage is not merely to expose young officers and sailors to the sailing operation of bygone eras, but to develop a spirit of adventure and inculcate in each man the laudable qualities of teamwork, cohesiveness, physical and mental agility, and the ability to face challenges with confidence, resoluteness and a positive attitude.
Built by Goa Shipyard Limited, Vasco-da-Gama, Tarangini is a three-masted vessel. Designed by the famed Colin Mudie, she provides a sail-training capsule for officer cadets of the First Training Squadron and officers/sailors of the Indian Navy.
The name 'Tarangini' comes from the Hindi word tarang, which means waves. The crest of the ship depicts a mother swan teaching her offspring to swim and fly -- in other words the ship's role in officer training. The swan glides and dances gently over the waves like a sailing ship at sea and the spread wings resemble the white sails of the ship from afar.
With a complement of six officers, 32 sailors and 30 cadets, the ship hopes to instil among the trainees the indefinable 'sea sense'.
Flagged off on January 23 from Kochi, we unfurled her sails as soon as she reached open waters. As the wind filled the sails, the engines fell silent and we set course for our first destination, Djibouti in East Africa.
The distance to Djibouti from Kochi is 2,050 nautical miles and was covered in 18 days.
Djibouti was typical of Africa. People were poor but with the loveliest of hearts, always willing to lend a helping hand.
From Djibouti, we sailed to the land of Pharaohs -- Port Suez in Egypt. The passage saw the calm Red Sea turning cruel and turbulent, testing the skills of one and all on board.
Navigating through the Suez Canal, we called in at Alexandria, the oldest port in the world. The breakwater solid stone built during the time of Alexander, a reminder of the past, greeted us as we entered the port.
The crew thoroughly enjoyed its stay in the port and the sightseeing trips eased the memories of the furious waves en route. The men had occasion to visit The Bibliotheque du Antiquity, or Library of the Antique, the Roman amphitheatre, the Pillar of Pompeii, and the War Memorial.
Iraklion, a seaport in Greece, was the next destination. The visit generated much interest in the crew, since it was our first European port of call. That the Greek civilisation is amongst the oldest in the world was interesting enough; and then there were the snow-clad mountains, the clear waters and lovely beaches, grazing cattle on green meadows...
The candid charms of the Greeks, and the Hellenic Navy in particular, and the stroll down the streets of the ancient city of Rythamon made the visit to Iraklion much cherished.
The passage from Iraklion to Palermo in Italy was quite an eventful one, with the ship encountering the full fury of nature. A day into the passage, gale winds swept the Mediterranean with such sudden ferocity that we did not have time to strike down the sails.
The high velocity winds and heavy swell tossed the ship as high as 10 metres. The ferocity subsided only after 18 hours and left the ship minus her main sails, which were shredded to pieces. It was an experience we will never forget.
Tarangini has since reached the United States. Prabir promises to post more at a later date.