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Sailing to inspiration: All-woman circumnavigation crew weigh anchor UWC

Sailing to inspiration: All-woman circumnavigation crew weigh anchor UWC

After sailing for nearly seven months and conquering rough storms, the world’s first Indian all-woman circumnavigation crew were welcomed and honoured on campus this week in true UWC fashion.

Students, staff, alumni and friends of the University saluted the six crew members as inspirational change-makers, after their stopover in Cape Town on Tuesday 13 March - their their last port of call on board the Indian naval sailing vessel INSV Tarini.

They set out from Goa, India on 10 September last year, and had visited Freemantle, Australia; Lyttelton, New Zealand; and Port Stanley in the Falkland Islands before docking in the Mother City.

For a voyage to qualify as circumnavigation, the sailing boat has to start and finish at the same port, cover a distance of at least 21 600 nautical miles and keep south of the three great capes of the southern hemisphere. It must also cross all longitudes in the same direction, cross the equator twice, not use any canals or be driven by the boat’s engine.

The crew were hosted by the University management; the High Commissioner of India to South Africa, Ruchira Kamboj; the deputy director of Sport and Recreation, Sumayya Khan; and Western Cape Health MEC Nomafrench Mbombo, UWC alumna and former staff member. The event was attended by staff, students, alumni and friends of the University.

In her talk, centred on Breaking stereotypes, breaking standards set by society and questioning the limits placed upon people, Kamboj said the journey of the six women was outstanding, inspirational and “truly idiosyncratic”.

“Considering that there are many more attempts to climb Mount Everest every year than circumnavigation, what they have achieved is truly special. I congratulate these women on not only daring towards greatness or making their country proud, but also on breaking the notion that such an accomplishment only belong to the few.”

Kamboj noted that society will never be stable until women of all backgrounds are given equal rights, and until all ethnic and minority groups are liberated - until we establish “an equal base for everyone to rise”.

“More than ever,” she said, “we are in need of action, of bold thinking and fresh ideas, and I see no better place for the conception of greatness than within a university.”

Delivering a speech on behalf of Sport and Recreation Minister Tokozile Xasa, Khan said the INSV Tarini crew have become symbols of hope and excellence in a world full of gender equality naysayers.

“This event happens right on the heels of International Women’s Day [whose theme was ‘press for progress and get motivated’] and the arrival of this vessel in our shores could not have come at a better time,” she said.

Khan added that the fact that it was an all-woman crew was especially significant, given how male-dominated the navy has been historically. She called on students to take up jobs in the navy and get involved in maritime sports such as sailing.

“This is testimony to the victories that the women of the world have scored on many fronts. These are new frontiers that need to be conquered, and women all over the world are entering this field and re-imaging this institution..”

For INSV Tarini’s captain, Lieutenant Commander Pratibha Jamwal, the entire journey had been one of personal discovery.

“If we have to make a difference in society each one of us needs to know himself or herself and make a difference on your individuality first, then on society,” she said.

She described navigating choppy ocean waters amid a raging storm on their way to the Falkland Islands – much to the amusement and appreciation of the audience.

“We had been monitoring the storm ten days in advance and we were hoping that we would not encounter it. We were watching the movement of the storm wind building up and how it was building up.

“Three days prior we started re-coursing so that we do not hit the eye of the storm to keep us away from the areas of maximum wind. And when it actually hit us it didn’t give any pre-indications that it was coming. It just picked up and gives you a fraction of a second to react. All six of us were out on the deck and all of us were manning the steering wheel. It was almost like a movie, to see the wind blowing at 140 km/hour and tides rising up to nine-ten metres high. This was an experience of a lifetime.”

The crew thanked their mothers, who had supported them throughout their journey.

“Six brave mothers from India gave us the thumbs-up,” said Lieutenant-Commander Patarapalli Swathi. “My dad said ‘you are sending your child to die’ and my mother said ‘close your eyes, pack up, you will be back home’.”

The crew left Cape Town the next day, and is set to reach India in just over a month.