Spirit of Adventure at Sea


It has been a little over 500 years completion of the first-ever circumnavigation under sail undertaken by Magellan. While he succumbed to death before the completion of his historic voyage, it was eventually concluded by Juan Sebastian Elcano. While this pioneering attempt is hailed for the sheer enormity of the vision, the changes in Indian maritime perspective towards the spirit of adventure also deserves an equal applause.

Today, we are fortunate to be surrounded by a sea of comfort with everything at our disposal at the click of a button. But, the idea of going out to sea for an adventure is less talked about. Thinking of undertaking an arduous task of oceanic sailing, with manual manoeuvring of the sail boat, minus the engine, does not appeal or even occur to all.

Imagine a situation where you are sailing in a boat. Quite a pleasing scene, isn’t it? Now, go on and think of your boat, that like a cradle is bobbed by waves high and low. A spray of salt-water and the oceanic essence that envelopes your being and the only sight you have is water all around you as far as you see, panning out over the horizon. Chasing the roaring winds and the squalls, feeding yourself with canned food, cook on a bobbing kitchen and resort to nothing but soliloquies to keep you entertained! This could be worse than a nightmare for most of us.

It turned out to be a dreamy affair for one audacious man. “On 19 May 2010 as he sailed INSV Mhadei into Mumbai harbour, Commander Dilip Donde earned his place in India’s maritime history by becoming the first Indian to complete a solo circumnavigation under sail.[1]

To summit Mt. Everest is considered as a proof of one’s rampant adrenaline streak. What most people are unaware of is the fact that, only 214 people have completed a solo-circumnavigation under sail which makes it the most-adventurous activity by far. Between 2010-2018, 8 Indians have completed the circumnavigation or what is called as the Sagar Parikrama in three separate voyages. And ‘The First Indian’ to achieve this momentous accomplishment was Captain Dilip Donde (Retd).

To qualify as a circumnavigation, certain international criteria are mandated. Following are the ‘accepted norms for a circumnavigation under sail’[2]:

  • Should commence and finish in the same port
  • Should cross all the meridians
  • Should cross the equator twice
  • Should not pass through any canals or straits that may require outside assistance or use of engines.
  • The distance travelled should be more than 21,600nm (40,000km), which is the circumference of the earth.

All of this was envisioned by one man who possessed a deep love and regard for the sea and its heritage. All it took was sheer grit, determination and some eccentricities to think of something at such a large scale. Late Vice Admiral Manohar Prahlad Awati (Retd) envisioned the Sagar Parikrama, where an Indian would solo-circumnavigate the globe in a first. From selecting the right man for Sagar Parikrama to the planning and execution of it all, this octogenarian was thoroughly involved.  His vision for Sagar Parikrama to be undertaken in a Made-in-India vessel shows the kind of preparedness and far-sightedness he had.

When the then Commander Dilip Donde[3] volunteered for the colossal project of Sagar Parikrama, the concept of circumnavigation was new for everyone including himself. No Indian had achieved such a feat nor was a suitable sailing vessel available in India. This was another first for the country as INSV Mhadei became a unique sailing vessel, 56ft long and based on a Dutch Van de Stadt design and was completely constructed in Goa, India.

Ten years ago, on 19 August 2009, this man-on-a-mission embarked on the voyage departing from Mumbai. With only four stopovers at Fremantle, Lyttleton, Port Stanley and Cape Town respectively, Donde sailed back to the home port-Mumbai-on 19 May 2010 etched in the pages of India’s maritime history.

Capt Donde’s journey of being the First Indian to solo circumnavigate was not an easy task! The maverick sailor had to face a lot of bureaucratic hassles before he got to sea.  He often mentions how, ‘sailing in the ocean was much easier than dealing with the paperwork on land’ in good humour. One must applaud his tenacity to maintain his composure throughout the process. More than the physical exertion caused during the sailing, we must understand the magnanimity of this psychologically daunting task. He would often talk to the boat-INSV Mhadei– who was keeping him company!  One can read his book, aptly titled as The First Indian which encompasses his entire journey between the ‘South Block and the Southern Ocean’ that makes it unputdownable in addition to his knack for wry wit that keeps us thoroughly engrossed.

Capt Donde not only paved way for other young Indians who followed suite in Parikrama-II and the Navika Sagar Parikrama but also guided and imparted training to prepare them for accepting challenges at sea.


[1] From the Blurb of ‘The First Indian’ written by Dilip Donde.

[2] Dilip Donde, ‘The First Indian’, Maritime History Society, Mumbai, 2015, p.232

[3] He retired from the Indian Navy in the rank of Captain.


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