Welcome to India: T-bone Anyone?

Imagine our pride at having sailed over 4,000 miles, unassisted, without incident and without a scratch to Esper. I haven’t mentioned that our autopilot packed up early on in the Gulf of Aden, so many of the last 2,000 miles were hand-steered. That’s bloody hard work in case you didn’t know.


Imagine, then, our horror when approaching the Indian coast, after our incident-free 4,000 miles, we were t-boned by the stupid dumb-ass Indian Navy!


It happened like this:


About 60 miles out from Mumbai ‘Roam II’ and ‘Esper’ were approaching the Neelam Heera and Ratna oilfields along Direction Bank. Our route was to take us five miles south of these rigs but what with our squiffy autopilot we had a tendency to deviate somewhat from our proposed route. In this instance we were actually closer to four miles south of the oilfields. ‘Roam II’ were even closer and were approached by a fishing vessel which, it turned out, was carrying two military personnel. We had both gone inside a five mile no-go zone.



The boat came alongside ‘Roam II’, albeit rather roughly, and two Indian navy chaps boarded, asking for boat documents and stuff. To cut a long story short Terry fobbed them off with a bottle of gin and they left, heading towards us.


Terry then radioed through warning us that the fishing vessel was heading in our direction. Because it was a heavy wooden thing adorned by many old car tyres it took almost an hour to catch up with us. We were under sail with the windpilot out and fishing line too so when they approached from behind I started to take down or put away all of the above. When they were within earshot the naval officer shouted angrily that he had been trying to hail us for the last 20 minutes on channel 06! Channel 06? Why did he think we would be monitoring this random channel number??? He then told me to talk to him on VHF Ch 05. Well, any fool knows that this is a Duplex channel where two-way communication is impossible. (Actually I didn’t know this but I quickly worked it out.) I went back up on deck to tell him this whilst Liz suggested that he just shout across his intentions since we were within earshot anyway! Clearly this chap wasn’t thinking things through and, knowing that he’d just bagged a bottle of gin from another boat, I was starting to worry that perhaps they weren’t who they said they were.





Esper safely at anchor in Mumbai, having done a runner from the navy



I went back down below to radio through to Lo to ask why the Indian Navy was approaching us, asking for our paperwork, when we were in international waters. Unfortunately we were too far out to get a response. It was at this point that I heard Liz shouting “Nooooooooooo”, which was followed by a crack and a crunch. The helms-man of the fishing vessel had only gone and driven straight into the side of Esper! He successfully smashed the toe rail and bent a stanchion (a few hundred pounds worth of damage) and I ran around the deck cursing my head off! I don’t remember the last time I was so angry, though my expletives gave away my feelings. To say I lost it would have been an understatement. There was this naval officer, on board this clumsy fishing vessel, getting angry because I’d refused to talk to him on a channel that I had not been monitoring, and then he drives the boat into the side of Esper! TWAT!!!!!!!!!


The next ten minutes, which were clouded by a curtain of red blood vessels bursting in my eyeballs, was spent telling the naval officer that I refused to show him my paper work until I saw his insurance documents. Of course he denied that the accident was their fault so I told him I refused to show my documents. The language barrier didn’t help. Actually, I think it did. At one point he told me to stop swearing at him, to which I replied that I wasn’t swearing at him, but just at the situation. When I said I was not swearing he thought I’d said ‘you are scaring me’, to which he replied ‘we are not trying to scare you’! This misinterpretation helped defuse the situation and finally registering my absolute refusal to allow him on board they backed off. They still refused to acknowledge any responsibility though.





Petty Officer Ali Kumar and crew looking pretty pleased with their handy work





The next 24 hours was utterly exhausting as we hand-steered, feeling rather despondent, through many hundreds of fishing boats. So many fishing boats, so many fishing nets. Mile after mile after mile of fishing boats. More fishing boats than fish.









Funnily enough when we arrived in Mumbai and completed our paper work one form asked the question “Were you involved in any incident whilst at sea?”. Oooh, it was so tempting to answer that question! So, so tempting, yet this would have opened a can of worms. In fact I think I would still be in Mumbai now working through the paperwork if I’d bothered to respond to that question. I’ll write about the administration in India at some point since it is laughable, but for the time being just let it be known that Petty Officer Ali Kumar is a twat and he owes me money.

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10 Comments on “Welcome to India: T-bone Anyone?”

  1. 🙂 Hehe… reading part of my own story….Of course you were not swearing at him… tsss…
    Sorry to hear of the rail, watch out. There are more boats to come…

  2. While this is NOT to be construed to be an official response from the Indian Navy, I do want you to know that we have noted (with a mixture of regret and disquiet)your report regarding your less-than-polite interrogation. The issue of straying into an Indian Offshore Development Area in these unhappy times of maritime terrorism (remember Mumbai 26-29 Nov 08?) is one that is likely to generate some vigorous response. However, that does not offer any excuse for the poor conduct of the personnel charged with maintaining watch in the area. We will, indeed, be investigating the matter, but in the interim, please accept my apologies for the inconvenience caused.

  3. Dear VP Chauhan, it is very difficult for me to work out whether your response is genuine. You don’t say who you are and you use a Gmail email as your contact. I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt at this time but I would appreciate a personal communication to my followtheboatcom. email address (just put ‘jamie@’ in front of the URL).

    In the meantime perhaps you would consider another point: we were not aware of the exclusion zone around the oil fields as, to my knowledge, this fact is not published in any maritime publication we had on board. Indeed Petty Officer Kumar told us the zone was THIRTEEN miles out and demanded that we turn around and sail back out thirteen miles! The other point worth bearing in mind is that the Indian Navy were fully aware of the Vasco Da Gama Rally’s presence and should have had some idea of who we were. We had banners and flags displaying this fact. A middle-aged couple in a British sailing boat traveling at four knots with a fishing line out the back are not normally prime terrorist suspects. I would extend the use of your term ‘poor conduct’ to ‘poor conduct and judgement’.

    I emphasize our disappointment and betrayal by officials who, representing your country, not only made us feel unwelcome but behaved in a way I would not associate with the Navy, whichever country they hail from. At this point in our journey, having sailed the entire width of the Arabian Sea, all we were looking forward to was a friendly welcome by our host country, a country which I had been looking forward to visit for many years. I look forward to your response. Regards, Jamie.

  4. Hi Jamie

    Know how you feel as we were nearly run down by the Indian Navy in the same area. We shone our spotlight on our sails and ended up crash gybing to avoid them, so then we shone our spotlight on them to no avail, they didn’t slow down and didn’t aknowledge us in any way.

    Anyway, I know you and Liz will really enjoy India. The beaurocracy is hell, but the people more than make up for it.

    Sri Lanka is easier, but hide your bonded stores really well or the customs guys will help themselves and immigration will ask for a “compliment”. Send me an email and I will give you some info regarding the check in and out in Sri Lanka.

    Tricia (ps we met in Marmaris 2007/8)

  5. The communication issue is something I have had to deal with for many years in my career, my general opinion is that the Indian people I have dealt with lack urgency and commitment, yet, get them talking about anything other than their responsibilities, they are charming, affable and well mannered people and us Brits could learn a lot from that.

  6. While most disturbed to hear of the collision, not knowing if I’d react any less heatedly, I’d like to pick up on a side track – you say your autopilot packed up, tho I reckon I’ve eyed a wunderbar windvane there. Knowing you, you’d have both – but still had to hand steer?? Plse expand as I’m learning a lot from your intrepid voyage.. so’s not to fall foul myself.

    1. Well now, Hugh, your eagle-eyes did indeed espy a very smart Windpilot Pacific Plus (which we were lucky enough to pick up in a Marmaris Marina Boat Jumble) on the back of Esper… Unfortunately a breath of wind is required for a windvane self-steering system to work and as the air was as still as the inside of a deflated lung we were on engine power. Jamie became quite ingenious at getting ‘Marge’ to work under engine power, but not even he could get her to respond to zilch wind. We are now looking into obtaining a tiller pilot to attach to ‘Marge’ as back up for when the auto pilot goes awry!

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