Panel Discussion
PMI South Asia

Navika Sagar Parikrama—Circumventing BarriersIndian

The Navika Sagar Parikrama mission of the Indian Navy is a fitting example of leadership, bravery and a sense of adventure prominent in the armed forces. In this voyage, six women naval officers circumnavigated the globe in the first-ever such mission on an Indian-built sailboat, INSV Tarini. The expedition lasted 254 days, which began in Goa in September 2017 and completed in May 2018.

At the panel discussion moderated by Cdr. Abhishek Kankan (Retired), the discussion delves into the crew’s selection process, the preparations, challenges and lessons learned. Below are the panelists who were part of the crew.

Lt. Cdr. Vartika Joshi (Retired.), Nao Sena Medal (NM), Indian Navy—An Indian Navy veteran who is the first skipper from Asia to have led an all-women crew around the globe.

Lt. Cdr. Pratibha Jamwal, NM, Indian Navy—Joined the Indian Navy as an air traffic controller. She ventured into open ocean sailing in 2014 and undertook the first cross-peninsular voyage by an Indian woman from Goa to Port Blair.

Lt. Cdr. Aishwarya Boddapati, NM, Indian Navy—Was one of the six officers selected for the Navika Sagar Parikrama mission in 2016.

Lt. Cdr. Patarlapalli Swathi, NM, Indian Navy—Was commissioned in the BarriersIndian Navy in 2011 and appointed as an air traffic controller at Vishakhapatnam Airport.

Lt. Cdr. Shougrakpam Vijaya Devi, NM, Indian Navy—Serves in the Indian Navy and posted at the National Defence Academy as an instructor.

Lt. Cdr. Payal Gupta NM, Indian Navy—An experienced expeditionary sailor who has clocked more than 47,500 nautical miles on sailboats. She participated in the Cape2Rio race across the South Atlantic in 2017.

The idea of Navika Sagar Parikrama was conceptualized by late Vice Admiral Manohar Prahlad Awati, who was known as the father of the Indian Navy’s circumnavigation adventures.

When the Indian Navy decided to organize an all-women mission to circumnavigate the world, there were 500 women naval officers in service. Many came forward for the mission, namely Navika Sagar Parikrama, but only 50 women made it to the shortlist. Finally, six of them were selected.

Lt. Cdr. Aishwarya Boddapati said, “The inspiration for an all-women crew came after Commander Abhilash Tomy of the Indian Navy finished his solo nonstop circumnavigation of the globe. Many women officers came forward for this mission, but the selection process was rigorous.”

Some of the officers backed out after opposition from their families. Lt. Cdr. Payal Gupta said, “Once you join the armed forces, your family in a way gives up on you. I saw the ocean for the first time when I joined the Indian Navy. Until then, my parents had not known anything about sailing. Even I had refrained from telling them much.”

A critical factor for the success of the mission was the type of boat being used. Lt. Cdr. Vartika Joshi, the team leader, said, “The boat needed to be stable and safe enough with a robust design to steer an uncertain marine environment. Initially, the boat was designed for a solo sailor. It then underwent some modifications to fit the six members of the expedition.”

For someone who had not seen the sea before, venturing into the unknown was not child’s play. Lt. Cdr. Shourgrakpam Vijaya Devi, who grew up in Manipur, which is miles away from the sea, the fear of the unknown was unnerving. She said, “But it was this fear that motivated me through the expedition. I knew I could not go wrong anywhere and must strive for the best at all times.”

The voyage started from Goa and completed its first leg in Fremantle, Australia. After that, the crew headed to New Zealand. Lt. Cdr. Pratibha Jamwal said, “The next leg meant crossing the South Pacific, which was the longest and most difficult experience. The sea was rough, which necessitated meticulous preparation of our boat.”

Added Lt. Cdr. P. Swathi, “Projects never go as planned. In the armed forces, we can only plan for the next hour. In this mission, we had planned to take the east to west route so that winds gushing from behind would make the sailing easier, faster and less fuel consuming. But we had to take detours because of the sea conditions.”

Narrating their hardships, the crew said that human psychology changes when exposed to unknown dangers. The crew hardly got 3 to 4 hours of sleep on a good day. Contact with their families was minimal, which took an emotional toll on the crew.

As the weather and sea conditions grew worse, the crew changed the route or diverted the boat to the shore. The voyage showed the importance of keeping plans flexible. A key lesson for the delegates was the need to make a broad plan to tie in with the project goals but complement that with micro planning to manage a wide range of what-if scenarios and unforeseen circumstances