PARIS: Cries of “bravo”, “shabbash”, and “congratulations” rang out in the French town of Les Sables d’Olonne Saturday morning, as throngs gathered to watch Indian adventurer Abhilash Tomy take his first wobbly steps on land after 236 days out at sea.
Locals and expat Indians, both young and old, were in awe of the 44-year-old who refused to give up, and came to be known by the Golden Globe Race (GGR) organisers as Mr Fix-it. The battered UAE-registered sail yacht Bayanat and its gritty skipper completed the solo, non-stop race around the world Saturday, overcoming every adversity thrown at them along the way.
In doing so, Tomy became the first Asian and Indian to complete the epic 30,000-mile Golden Globe Race, the longest endurance race on the planet.
It was a befitting end to a story that began in 2018 when Tomy competed in the 50th anniversary edition of the race that year. A horrific accident in a storm nearly killed Tomy and left him with spinal fractures that required titanium rods to be inserted and five vertebrae to be fused. Seeing Tomy deftly skip on the deck of Bayanat, one finds it difficult to accept that just five years ago, the naval officer had to learn to walk once again.
This time, stepping on land with his back and boat intact is nothing short of the mother of all comebacks in India’s maritime history.
“You have no idea how happy I am to be here with my boat,” said Tomy in his first interaction with people ashore. “I am happy to have completed the circle. I did not want the stigma of losing a boat, and I really wanted to get the Bayanat back, and I can tell you that the Bayanat got me back.”
The sailor was his usual witty self, joking and narrating his wild experiences. But he also knew the enormity of his feat for India and Asia. “This is the first and the only time that anybody from Asia has a podium finish in a round-the-world race in any format. So, it is a big moment for me and for everybody from Asia,” he said.
In honour of his arrival, Les Sables d’Olonne flew the Indian flag at the entrance of the channel. The military attache at the Indian embassy in France, Brigadier Zubin Bhatnagar, was at hand to formally welcome the adventurer. Tomy and the embassy delegation then sang the national anthem on stage in front of NRIs and supporters.
At one corner on the stage was a damaged composite fibre bow, evidence of his collision with Dutch cargo ship Rotra Vente just three weeks before the race began on September 4, 2022.
Founder and GGR race chairman Don McIntyre admitted that he thought Tomy’s campaign was a “lost cause”, and at the same time, proof of what the human will can achieve. “He is a fighter. He is a funny guy and I just got to say… I honestly don’t know how you got to the start line with everything that happened. The boat has done a lot of work,” said McIntyre.
With limited drinking water on board, Tomy had to stick to tough rationing. “I was drinking one cup of water in two to three days. Drinking one litre of water a day is a luxury. I was cooking rice in seawater,” he said.