Chinese and Indian sailors vie in non-stop solo circumnavigations

Guo Chuan on the winch
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Is it competition or coincidence? At the beginning of November, Abhilash Tomy set off sailing an Indian-built boat aiming to be the first Indian sailor to sail solo non-stop around the world. Now Chinese sailing star Guo Chuan has set off from Qingdao in China's northeast, attempting to be, yes, you guessed it, the first Chinese sailor to sail solo non-stop around the world.

The two men could hardly be more different, and it is the same with their boats.

Guo Chuan is a 47-year-old former scientist who has already sailed for 12 years, becoming the first Chinese sailor to take part in the Clipper Round the World Race. He has already sailed the Atlantic Ocean in a 6.5m yacht, and earlier was the first person to cross the English Channel solo.

On the other hand, Abhilash Tomy is a serving Naval Officer in the Indian Navy. Talking of his training, he says, 'To prepare for the mission, I have been training under famed commander Dilip Donde. If I need any advice during the journey, I will contact him via the internet,' Donde circumnavigated in the same boat in 2009 on the same yacht, INSV Mhadei, but it was not non-stop.

Abhilash Tomy
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His solo attempt has been long in the making. A retiring commander-in-chief had proposed a solo circumnavigation of the globe by boat. The navy had accepted the proposal and the defence ministry had granted permission in 2006.

Guo Chuan's boat is a comparatively light Akalaria Class 40 performance racing/cruising boat with a 62ft mast. She is lauded as a fast, easy-to-sail boat with a full cruising interior. She has a fixed keel, twin rudders, water ballast, open cockpit, carbon rig and retractable carbon pole for asymmetrical kites.

Guo's Akalaria Class 40 in racing mode
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Mhadei, traditional Van de Stadt cruising boat built in India.JPG
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INSV Mhadei is a 56–foot long, 23 ton Van de Stadt traditional cruising yacht yacht with 69-foot high mast, custom-manufactured for round-world sailing, in Goa in India.

Guo was confident as he set off. 'No skipper can 100 percent ensure success before he starts the journey, but I feel I have prepared well,' he said before he set sail. 'I have been extremely busy in recent months because I have had much work to do, such as testing the equipment on board,' he added.

He is aiming to complete the 21,600 nautical miles in about 130 days, four to five months, travelling eastwards via the great southern capes.

Lieutenant commander Abhilash Tomy, already on his way, has just passed the equator heading south towards the south-west tip of Australia towards the Southern Ocean, where both sailors will spend much of their time in order to complete a non-stop circumnavigation.

Tomy hopes to complete the voyage in five to six months, a longer estimate as his boat, while sturdy, does not have the speed of the Chinese boat.

The Indian navy organized the circumnavigation as a way of making sea sailing more visible to the public. 'I hope more youngsters would be inspired to be sailors after this,' Tomy had said during a recent interview.

Both sailors will want to traverse the Southern Ocean when the weather is at its most benign, in the summer and late summer months.