Golden Globe Race skipper Abhilash Tomy shares his experiences of ocean storms and the tactics he used to cope with heavy weather

Solo sailor Commander Abhilash Tomy took no warps or drogue for the 2018 Golden Globe Race.

His previous circumnavigation around the globe was in the 22 tonne 56ft cruising sloop INSV Mhadei, a fin keel.

Building a replica of Sir Robin Knox-Johnston’s Suhaili and then shipping it from India to Europe caused delays, and meant he didn’t sail the ERIC Suhaili Replica masthead ketch Thuriya as much as he would have liked before the start.

He was also preparing up to the last minute which left him exhausted.

The Golden Globe Race skipper Abhilash Tomy's dismasted yacht

The dismasting of Thuriya in the Southern Indian Ocean left Abhilash Tomy with a broken back. Credit: Indian Navy/GGR/PPL

He slept for long periods while in the North Atlantic, only starting to experiment with the ketch’s sail configuration after the Canaries.

Keeping the stay sail on permanently gave him ‘a nice overlap between the jib and the main sail’, and by mid September he had moved up through the fleet to third place.

But when the storm hit, Tomy found himself struggling to steer.

Thuriya was lying under bare poles beam on to crossed seas in 75 knot winds when she experienced multiple knockdowns before dismasting on 21 September 2018 in Southern Indian Ocean, 39º38’S, 077º23’E.

Like the other boats in the area, Race HQ had warned Tomy about the impending storm, although 50 knots was expected.

Suhaili replica in the Golden Globe Race

Abhilash Tomy didn’t start really racing until after the Canaries. Credit: Christophe Favreau/PPL/GGR

He prepared the boat, which was too slow to outrun it. It was also too late to try and side step the extreme weather.

Thuriya was much smaller and lighter [than INSV Mhadei]. I found it very difficult to steer when the wind really picked up, irrespective of the sail configuration. I didn’t have too much experience sailing a long keel.

‘We had waves from two directions. I really don’t know if warps or drogue would have worked very well in that situation. Obviously, it would work well if you had one huge wave after another following in a proper train but if in two direction and almost equal height I really don’t know if it would work.

‘There isn’t one solution to fit every boat. The first rule is don’t get into it,’ noted Tomy, who said the 44º South latitude to starboard limiting line should have been lifted earlier by Race HQ, rather than a day before the storm.

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The knockdown left Tomy with a back broken in four places and needing rescue.

Just weeks earlier, he had found out from his wife, via an obliging ship, that he was to become a father for the first time.

Golden Globe Race skipper Abhilash Tomy lying in hospital

Abhilash Tomy credited his seamanship for his survival. Credit: @indiannavy

‘When I realised I had lost the mast and injured my back and could not stand up I thought maybe the positive thing is that I can be with her during the pregnancy. That really helped me deal with the situation,’ he said.

He was rescued by the crew of the French fisheries patrol boat, Osiris before being taken to a hospital in Île Amsterdam. He was later transferred by helicopter to the Indian Navy frigate INS Satpura for ongoing medical treatment before returning to India.

Read the full report Storm Tactics From The Golden Globe Race in the Summer 2019 issue of Yachting Monthly – Available here: