INSV Mhadei and her crew are racking up a lot of firsts, of which the Heineken Cape to Rio yacht race is the latest.
This is the first time in the race’s 40-year history that a team from India has entered and the four-man Indian Navy crew is captained by Commander Dilip Donde, the first Indian sailor to complete a solo circumnavigation.
The Mhadei, the first ocean-going yacht to be built in India, was designed specifically for Commander Donde’s round-the-world voyage. One of the people who helped with the design was Sir Robin Knox-Johnston, who co-skippered Ocean Spirit which took line honours in the first Cape to Rio.
It was during a stopover in Cape Town that the irrepressible Commander Donde heard about the Cape to Rio race and after arriving back in India two months later, began making preparations to enter.
Now he’s back with him and his crew having sailed the INSV Mhadei 5,000 nautical miles to get here. After 33 days at sea the crew was working flat out to finalise preparations before the race started on January 15, 2011.
Inevitably, given Commander Donde’s passion for sailing, entering the Cape to Rio isn’t so much about competing in the race but popularising sailing in India.
“Despite our extensive coastline, sailing isn’t big in India. We don’t have a boat-building industry and very few marinas or sailing clubs, but there’s huge potential. Last year’s voyage raised some interest and now we’re trying to sustain it by taking part in this prestigious race.”
The race will also provide a springboard for another first. The Cape to Rio will give Abjilash Tomy, who’ll be sailing the yacht back from Brazil, a chance to prepare for the first non-stop Indian solo circumnavigation starting in October this year.
Before enduring an estimated 20 days of food cobbled together in the tiny galley between watches, the crew is being given a hearty send-off by the Taj Cape Town, which is treating it to a slap-up meal in the Bombay Brasserie, one of the country’s best Indian restaurants.
After the race, the crew will return to Cape Town en route to India, where the final preparations for Tomy’s non-stop voyage will begin.
The touring Indian cricket team was treated to a taste of home when the Taj Cape Town was asked to cater a reception at the Indian consul general’s residence.
To the delight of the cricketers and some of the who’s who of Cape Town society, chefs from the hotel’s Bombay Brasserie proved why it is considered one of the best Indian restaurants in the country.