The first Indian by Dilip Donde is the story of the first Indian solo circumnavigation under sail. It is surprising that with thousands of years of maritime history, no Indian had ever attempted a solo circumnavigation so far. Maybe we do not care for such things, maybe no one thought it was important enough or maybe someone attempted but did not finish it to tell us the story. And maybe someone managed to do it but history writers forgot to write about him. However, we are fortunate to have a first-person account of Cmdr Dilip Donde who successfully sailed around the world solo in a sailboat. A cherry on the cake is that he did it a boat that was built right here in India.
Dilip Donde tells the story of his journey as well as the journey of his boat Mhadei.
Well Prepared is Half Done
They say ‘Well prepared is half done’. The first half of the book is dedicated to the preparation of this great expedition. This is where you get introduced to the Indian Navy – a rather distant organization for most Indians. You get to hear a lot of uniform humor. You get to know the Indian bureaucracy – even with those who are as much a part of it. One also gets to know the privileges and perks that come with working for the government and in particular the ministry of defense.
Building the Boat
My biggest learning from the first half of the book was the building of the boat. I learned how the designs are acquired and tinkered with. The wood and the moisture it should have, the tapestry of big and small instruments it needs to be fitted with. And the redundancy that needs to be built in to ensure safety in the seas. The boat looks small enough but it has to withstand the forces of the oceans in all kinds of weather. Even when she is built in India, a lot of parts come from around the world. The small rituals that the team did when it was commissioned, when it first touched the waters and when it first sailed can make you feel a bit emotional.
Dilip brings out the enormity of the task with his narrative when he shuttles between the corridors of South Block and boat manufacturing unit at Divar Island in Goa. You almost feel the excitement and disappointments that he goes through. You admire his diplomatic skills to handle all kinds of people and get his way around the way he wants.
Voyage – Solo Circumnavigation
The second half, of course, takes you on the voyage where you go around the world along with Dilip Donde. As someone who has no clue of the world of sailing and sailors – this was a huge introduction. I got to know many sailing terms. And got to understand how sailors manage the waters and the winds that meet them in strange combinations everywhere. Since Dilip Donde did the circumnavigation with 4 stops – I got to know the four ports he stopped at. When he is struggling to keep the boat parts working, you almost sit down there on the deck with him and hope you can help him.
Liveblogging by Dilip Donde
Dilip Donde was live blogging from his boat – yes he had access to broadband – must be a dream come true. And has re-shared his blog posts in the second half of the book. Since he was sailing solo, he created a crew of himself. And divided himself into 3 different personalities for his readers – the cook, the skipper, and the crew. He created quite a curiosity and confusion in the minds of his readers as is evident from the funny interview transcripts that he shares.
You have to read this book as an adventure story. And remember that the author is not a professional writer. Although I must say he is very good at creating characters and with sprinkling humor.
The First Indian has been published by Maritime History Society. So you may have to make a bit of effort to get it. I hope it is soon re-published by a regular publisher.
Read it to get inspired.
Buy The First Indian by Dilip Donde, Story of the First Indian Solo Circumnavigation Under Sail at Amazon.