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First Indian round-the-world sailor braves 'furious' weather

STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Dilip Donde is the first Indian sailor ever to attempt a round-world solo voyage
  • Donde has had to battle giant waves and furious winds on his almost-year-long trip
  • If he successfully completes the voyage, he will arrive back in Mumbai in mid-May
  • The sailor spoke to CNN about fear and his various states of mind
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(CNN) -- Furious winds, giant waves and lack of sleep have all plagued the journey of Dilip Donde, the first Indian to attempt sailing solo round-the-world.

But, Donde remains unruffled: The Indian navy commander hand picked by the Navy for the voyage told CNN he had anticipated the violent weather in the rough far southern waters that skim the Antarctic coast.

"Sailing through the Southern Ocean, it was bound to happen some time so I was expecting it, though that does not make it any more comfortable," he said. Donde set off in August 2009 and is hoping to reach Mumbai by mid-May.

Donde has blogged throughout his voyage, giving regular updates as well as breaking down various sailing jargon for the uninitiated, like the famous Beaufort Scale.

The scale, is the international standard for determining wind speeds based on observable sea conditions, such as the height of waves. The scale goes from zero (no wind, glassy sea) to 12 (hurricane winds of over 100 kilometers per hour and "phenomenal" seas with waves that can sometimes reach above 17 meters).

And in the open ocean, often days away from help, these conditions also have a palpable psychological effect on a sailor's state of mind, according to Donde.

Sailors seek out the exhilaration that comes from sailing in strong winds -- just under 40 km/h is ideal -- but it's a fine line, and as winds get stronger, delight can be tinged with anxiety which can quickly turn into terror.

Fact Box
Beaufort Scale Psychology
1: 1-3 knots = Boredom
2: 4-6 knots = Mild pleasure
3: 7-10 knots = Pleasure
4: 11-16 knots = Great pleasure
5: 17-21 knots = Delight
6: 22-27 knots = Delight w/ anxiety
7: 28-32 knots = Anxiety w/ fear
8: 34-40 knots = Fear w/ terror
9: 41-47 knots = Great terror
10: 48-55 knots = Panic
11: 56-65 knots = 'I want my mom!'

While on a brief stop in South Africa, 42-year-old Donde spoke to CNN about his own state of mind while at sea and how rough weather can affect it.

CNN: What has your most extreme day on the boat like?

I was sailing through winds gusting to 55 knots (101 km/h) and waves of up to nine meters high in the "furious fifties" through the Tasman sea between Australia and New Zealand.

Rounding Cape Horn was bad too with steep breaking waves, strong currents and winds gusting to 45 knots (83 km/h) in the "roaring forties." And, yes, it was bitterly cold in those latitudes.

Do you ever worry that you could be seriously injured?

The biggest worry when the sea is violent, is always falling off the boat. When the sea is dangerous, visibility is low and you get thrashed around. The boat is on auto-pilot so if you fall it continues alone. I wear a harness.

When you are going through bad weather all your attention is focused on keeping the boat in one piece ... so there is not much time to start thinking about death. If the boat is alive, you're alive.

That probably helps in keeping your mind focused and [away from] worrying unnecessarily about other things that may or may not happen.

How scary does the weather get?

When you are in the middle of nowhere there is little choice: One has but to keep going if the weather turns nasty, so you just grin and bear it, keep the boat safe and tell yourself that "this too shall pass."

But I have probably experienced all the states of mind except for "I want my mummy!" (see factbox) although it has come pretty close.

Do sailors secretly hope for giant waves and storms, because it makes the experience more exciting?

I don't think so. While you do hope for good winds, you always hope that the sail will be as uneventful as possible. Any sailor will try his best to avoid a storm.

Why do sailors constantly push themselves in to extreme situations?

Probably there is an element of thrill; of understanding oneself and the elements better. With long-distance sailing, like everything else in life, you get a package deal of good days and bad days.

It is wonderful to sail on a good sunny day with a clear sky and moderate breeze, and one has to be ready to suffer the bad weather as and when it comes. The good days more than make up for the bad ones.