I am back: Indian sailor in UAE boat calls mum after returning to land, first time in 236 days

During the race, competitors sail solo, non-stop, around the world via 5 Great Capes and return to their starting point, and are not allowed to use technology available after 1968


Nasreen Abdulla

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Abhilash Tomy in his boat sponsored by Abu Dhabi-based geospatial AI solutions provider Bayanat. Photo: Supplied
Abhilash Tomy in his boat sponsored by Abu Dhabi-based geospatial AI solutions provider Bayanat. Photo: Supplied

Published: Sun 30 Apr 2023, 12:32 PM

Last updated: Sun 30 Apr 2023, 6:07 PM

After circumnavigating the earth solo in 236 days as part of the world's most gruelling yacht race, the first thing Abhilash Tomy did when he stepped on land was to call his mother in India.

"I told her I am back," Abhilash said, speaking to Khaleej Times over Zoom from the finishing point in the French town of Les Sables-d'Olonne. "I felt like the Terminator saying that," referencing Arnold Schwarzenegger's blockbuster dialogue.

Participating in the Golden Globe Race 2022, Abhilash made the journey in a boat sponsored by Abu Dhabi-based geospatial AI solutions provider Bayanat, which carried the race number '71'– a tribute to the UAE's founding in 1971.

Abhilash admitted that the race was one of the toughest things he has ever done in his life and that he faced several challenges during the trip. "At one point, my sail tore, and I had to mend it," he said. "While stitching it, it started to rain heavily. So, I took the sail inside and started working on it. It took me a total of 26 hours to mend it."

Abhilash speaking to Khaleej Times over Zoom after completing his race.
Abhilash speaking to Khaleej Times over Zoom after completing his race.

During the race, competitors depart from Les Sables-d'Olonne in France and sail solo, non-stop, around the world, via the five Great Capes and return to their starting point. The race has unique requirements and stipulates that contenders can only use the technology available in 1968 when the original race occurred.

Missing milestones

For Abhilash, the most difficult part of the race was missing his family, including his wife and two sons. "I missed several milestones while I was on the race," he said. "My younger son started school during this time. I missed my elder one's 13th birthday, so I missed him being a teenager. Also, my father had surgery while I was away. My brother became a father. A lot of things happened during my trip."

However, he said the team at Bayanat went out of their way to ease his longing. "While I was in Cape Town, a team member came by on a boat and held up his laptop," he said. "From about 50 meters away, I saw the video of my son's first day at school where he was sitting on a school bench. That moment was precious for me."

Returning to the race

Abhilash battled through fierce storms and months of solitude while coping with significant damage to his boat to complete the race that almost took his life once. In 2018, the specialist maritime reconnaissance pilot was in 3rd position after 82 days when his boat was damaged in a storm. He suffered a life-threatening injury with a broken spine that almost left him paralysed.

"When I went back home in a wheelchair in 2018, my wife was pregnant with our second child," he said. "She had to care for herself while nursing me back to life. It was a challenging time for me."

Abhilash said he is grateful to his wife and mother for willingly allowing him to return to the race. "My wife said that she would let me return to the race only if I had a good team and did my preparations thoroughly," he said. "And by God's grace, I was able to put together an amazing team and got a great sponsor in Bayanat."

According to Abhilash, this trip boosted his confidence. "I first circumnavigated the earth in 2012," he said. "In 2018, I was trying to recreate that but failed. This year, I can finally say that I am not a one-time wonder. I am a skilled and determined sailor."

Environmental impact

This is the third time Abhilash has attempted to circumnavigate the world, and he said he saw strange things happening at sea. "I saw flying fish at 41 degrees south," he said. "That is not where they are supposed to be. I got sunburnt in a place where it was supposed to be cold. I saw an Albatross too far south. Warm currents are going where they should not be, impacting the environment in many ways."

Bayanat has been doing significant scientific work during Abhilash's course to advance marine research and environmental conservation. He collected water samples from various oceans that will be analysed for the presence of microplastics and to detect pollution.


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