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It Was 'Paisa Vasool': Undeterred by Injuries, Navy Officer Abhilash Tomy is Ready to Test Waters Again

Indian Navy Commander Abhilash Tomy was participating in the Golden Globe Race 2018 in September when his yacht was hit by a vicious storm.

Shreya Dhoundial | CNN-News18

Updated:January 17, 2019, 11:08 AM IST
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Indian Navy Commander Abhilash Tomy, who suffered a severe back injury in September after his yacht was hit by a vicious storm with 14-metre-high waves mid-way across south Indian Ocean, says it will take him another couple of years to fully recover from the injury.

He was participating in the Golden Globe Race 2018 (GGR) representing India in the historic race without modern navigation aids. He had to drop out of the competition due to the severity of the hit and was rescued after three days from Indian Ocean.

In an exclusive interview to CNN-News18, Commander Tomy says the experience of going through the storm was a once-in-a-lifetime moment and a complete ‘paisa vasool’. Excerpts:

Q. Yours has been an incredible journey. How does it feel to be alive?

Commander Tomy: It's good.

Q. Have you recovered from your injuries?

Commander Tomy: Not yet, not completely. My neurosurgeon has said that I've recovered, but I think I'm not back to being normal yet. It'll take another couple of years to be normal and then I'll start working on my fitness.

Q. You're the only Asian to have competed in the Golden Globe. Do you remember the moment when it happened? What you were thinking back then?

Commander Tomy: Very well. I've been through storms before…I usually look forward to storms. It's a once-in-a-lifetime moment. You get a 30 knot storm almost every week, but a 70 knot storm is...

Q. It doesn't sound fun at all.

Commander Tomy: For me, it's paisa vasool. I get my money back if I go through a storm like that. Otherwise I can always stay at home, you know what I mean. We were given some sort of warning about the storm. Nobody had any idea that this would turn out to be so bad. So the night before the 20th, I prepared the boat, took the main sail down and latched it completely. I checked the mast, checked all the split pins, I checked for cracks, damages or anything that could go wrong. I did full inspection of the boat and was prepared for the storm the next day.

When you're in a storm like this, you adjust the boat in the direction of the waves so that the boat would sail. With waves coming from two directions, it became very difficult to judge which the better way to put the boat is. If you put it in one direction, one wave slaps you. The other way round, the other wave slaps you. The first wave got to me close to noon (India time). The boat had a knock down, its boom broke. I went inside and it was a complete mess, everything was thrown out everywhere. I put things back in place ... the gas was leaking and I put the galley back in place, switched off the gas.

The side glass broke and diesel was leaking out, float boats were stuck on the roof. I put everything back, all the charts, everything back in place. Then I went out and started sailing the boat again and there was a second knock down and I found myself on top of the mast. I fell from there on top of the boom. The mast was about nine meters high and the waves were 15 meters high. I don't know by what height I fell. But I landed on the boom, fell on the deck and I thought there was something wrong with my back. I went inside and again started cleaning up the mess. Finally, after 30 minutes, I stood up and my knees were not obeying me. I was collapsing. I thought I would lie down for some time and maybe after 30 minutes I'll sail again. But it didn't improve. So I pulled myself on to the bunk and secured myself there.

Q. What happened in those three days when you were in the ocean all by yourself? It was like a black hole...how did you survive? What do you drink, eat? What was going on in your mind?

Commander Tomy: I'm lying in my bunk and the race organisers (are) asking questions and they want me to activate my EPER, which is the emergency processing indication radiator beacon. I don't know the extent of my injury — I think it's the lower back as my back has become stiff. And I decide to wait for a day, 24 hours. And maybe if the back is better, I can take the boat to Mauritius or to Australia.

Q. At any point during those three days did you think, ‘Ab toh main gaya’ (I may not survive)?

Commander Tomy: Not a chance. I'm a reconnaissance pilot in the navy. I've done this exercise so many times — gone looking for survivors, been the survivor, you know, in simulated drills. I know how this plays out.

Q. You clearly have recovered from the trauma. Has your family given an ultimatum of no more sailing?

Commander Tomy: There’s nothing like that. In fact, I was speaking to my wife one day and was kind of testing the waters. I told her, ‘Five years ago if I would have introduced myself, say as an IT engineer or something like that, would you have married me?’ She said no. I told her, ‘See, I'm a sailor, that's why you like me. So maybe I should go back to sailing’. Then she got the drift and said, ‘You get better, get fit, then maybe you can’.

Q. What about your mom?

Commander Tomy: We were having this conversation day before yesterday. She asked me, ‘I hope you're not planning to do something like this again’. And I said, ‘Maybe if I get fit I could think of these things’. And mom said that's exactly what she expects of me.

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