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HER SE(A)E

She alights from the car in her Naval livery. But one could clearly see that she, in reality, is draped in invisible strength and dignity. The city, quite naturally, has gone into raptures over its worthy daughter Lt. Commander Patarlapalli Swathi who circumnavigated the world as a member of the first ever all-woman crew from Asia, sailing in INSV Tarini. Though she is on cloud nine, enjoying the hero’s welcome, she is absolutely down to earth and unpretentious. She narrates her story which began in humble local surroundings and recalls how she reached the top, taking life rung by rung

EXCERPTS
Setting the sail My father Mr.Adhinarayana is a cook in the Navy canteen and my mother Mrs.Rani, who worked as a domestic help, was a sailing coach. It was at her behest that I learnt to sail. I was barely 13 years old when I nailed it at the very first shot and realised that it was my true calling. I was trained at Indian Naval Watermanship Training Center and graduated from an Optimist to Enterprise Class to HobbyCatto, J24boat and the Mhadei.

The voyage
In the risk-ridden expedition, Navika Sagar Parikrama, we touched the coasts of Australia, New Zealand, South America and South Africa. In 254 days, we covered 21,600 nautical miles. Lt.Commander Vertika Joshi commanded the six-member crew.
I was the navigator and in charge of communications.

She and sea
People, often, say that one cannot be philosophical and religious about sea. But I just cannot help being both. How do we explain surviving mid-sea perils. For example, we crossed notoriously rough Tasman Sea in 25 days without any problem. Here I must recall my interaction with Chris who crossed the South Pacific all alone, surviving a Hudhud-like storm. He had locked himself inside the boat for 3 days as the waves threw the boat hither, thither, and yon. Whenever we went through troubled waters, I asked myself, “When he could do it all alone, why not seven of us?” Yes, we built such a bond with the boat that we considered it as one of us. We even interacted with it.

Waves, winds & woes
At times, sea was so still that you could see your reflection in it and at others, it would throw up humongous waves. It was like an up slope-down slope game. We braved a massive storm for 24 hours in the Pacific and a moderate hail storm with winds velocity ranging from 90 km to140 km per hour. We had to steer clear of moving icebergs. The dividing line between the sea & sky vanishes during dark nights, making it look like a black hole. The white foam was the only medium to gauge the intensity of waves. Our biggest challenge was crossing the Cape Horn.

Award and ceremony
We witnessed 14th Dec twice, once when we crossed the Eastern Coast and again when we crossed the International Dateline (Prime Meridian). We were awarded a golden shell back for this accomplishment. I crossed the Equator 9 times. Each time we cross it, we have to bake a cake and offer it to the sea as a token of gratitude.

No cradle of comfort
The boat was bereft of fan, AC, refrigerator and heater. We were facing temperatures ranging from minus zero to 47 degrees Celsius. If we wore 8 layers to bear cold, we stripped to the skin to survive the heat. We suffered sun burns & cold bites.



Life on boat
The sailor has to wear many hats and be a housekeeper, mechanic, electrician and plumber. Basically, we survived on dry provisions, energy drinks and bars. Water, water, water everywhere, not a drop to drink, was the situation. We were using sea water to all chores. We used to tie our clothes to a rope and drag them on the waves to wash. We had a RO plant which cleansed the sea water of salinity. This mineral-rich water was so heavy that two sips would fill the stomach. So we were using it for cooking. Logistic officer Payal kept us well nourished and hydrated. None of us fell sick during the sail. We had our share of entertainment as we carried music and movies and were pleasantly rewarded with some precious glimpses of aqua life.

Delay and disappointment
We were on the last leg (2,000 miles away from home) of the voyage. The rod of the auto pilot gears broke. Reluctant to press a panic button which would send the entire Navy into a tizzy, that too on a Sunday, we struggled for hours and fixed it temporarily. However, we had to halt in Mauritius to wait for a spare part to be imported from Goa. There is a set pattern of atmosphere around the Earth. So voyage should start and end at a particular time. We wanted to reach home before monsoon hits the western coast, but could not do so.

Future plans
Navy is planning a solo woman circumnavigation of the world. I am not sure of applying for it, but I am certainly in for an ensuing 15-day race from Mumbai to Muscat. Prime Minister Mr. Narendra Modi is interested in an expedition in which sailors will be drawn from all Asian countries & touch Asian coasts. I would love to be on it.

Welfare activities
I want to give some motivational lectures to the students and kindle a spark of adventure in them.

A FEW ASIDES
My mother Mrs.Rani is a Tamilian from Tiruchnapalli. My father is an Andhraite from Vizianagaram. My mother inherited the job of a maid from her mother and she resolved not to pass it on to her daughters. My parents went through a lot of hardships to see my two sisters married well and me as an officer. Even now some of my classmates are working as domestic help at Naval Park. I dread the prospect of one of them showing up at my place as a maid.

When my mother came to Goa, her first comment on entering my quarters was, “I served as a maid in a similar quarters for 16 long years and now I am the owner of one.” My father inculcated high values and sense of commitment in us. He remains the same even now. When I arrived in Vizag last week, he came to meet me only after ensuring that the food was ready at the canteen.

Childhood
I started my schooling at a Balawadi and could go only to government-run Telugu medium schools. I could not utter a word in English. But I was determined to learn it.
I used to read every English daily available and did not give up till I mastered it.
I obtained my B.Sc. degree in Computer Sciences and earned a free seat in MSc. However, I could not go for it as I passed the Service Selection Board exams. I was the youngest (20years) to join Navy as Air Traffic Controller at Dega. I was just about to go for my training and my mother was diagnosed with cancer. On compassionate grounds, I got posted here and looked after her.

Marital bliss
I had the fortune of meeting Lt.Commander Santosh Jaiswal at a Navy shooting championships which we both contested. He came seeking my hand. During our courtship, I visited him in Kerala where he was serving and sprang a surprise at him saying, “Let us get married tomorrow. It is my parents’ 30th wedding anniversary. What better muhurat do we need?” We tied the knot in an unplanned event at Kochi.

OFF THE CUFF
Three words that describe you
Funny, dedicated and loving

Inspiration
My mother

Best advice you got
From my father- “You have five fingers denoting five opportunities. Even if you close one, you miss out one.”

To relax
Sleep and music.

Compliment
I was commanding an NCC platoon & Commodore M.S.Raghunathan said, “I see a fire in your eyes. You have a very bright future.”

A trait you want to change
My being judgmental.

Awards
I received several including Nari Shakti Award (equivalent to Padma Shri).

Tip to aspirant
In Navy you may not earn as much as a corporate officer does but it gives you a great lifestyle.

Best job
ATC, a high-precision task as you are responsible for thousands of lives.

Thrilled over
National Geographic Channel will showcase our expedition.

HER THOUGHTS

  • No gender bias ever gets in the way if you are honest in your efforts.
  • Glory doesn’t come for a song.
  • We may be aware of our abilities, but we should always be ready to learn.

 
 
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