NEW DELHI: He's all alone in a red boat in the middle of the Atlantic for the past 45 days. Thousands of miles away from land, 29-year-old Bhavik Gandhi is rowing his 24-feet boat, facing gale winds, storms and waves as high as a four-storey building.
But nothing can deter him from setting a world record for being the first Indian and Asian to row across the Atlantic. So far, 23 non-Asians have accomplished this feat. In fact, this is Gandhi's fourth attempt in the last one year.
The earlier three times, he had to abandon his journey due to technical problems such as a broken radar, being ship-wrecked on rock formations. "I hope my journey will inspire others to take on personal or business challenges that seem impossible and see them through," says the Stockholm-based venture capitalist.
Gandhi's trying to traverse 3,000 nautical miles (nm) between El Hierro off the coast of Spain to Antigua in 90 days. What's more, his boat has no sails, no motor, and no support ship. He's at least five days away from any kind of rescue in case of an emergency. Through this journey, Gandhi is also raising awareness for Shark Trust, a charity that promotes the study, management and conservation of sharks.
"The journey is 30% physical and 70% mental strength," he says. Yes, after 45 days, he does feel lonely and stressed. And he's still not close to the half-way mark, thanks to strong winds and waves which have pushed him north several times. Also, his mileage has been low and his rudder damaged. To top it, his water desalination equipment has stopped working and sea water has seeped in and damaged rations and equipment. What's worse, he's unable to gain distance even after rowing 10-12 hours daily. Estimates show he may take 102 days to complete the journey at 15 nm per day.
This is what he posted his website on the 40th day: "Wish I could share with you all the feeling of futility after watching the trip computer show only 19 miles of progress after rowing all day....After evaluating my position and progress for the past 40 days, I feel stressed at the slow pace of progress, watching time slip away and the hurricane season getting closer."
This season starts early this year. In fact, Gandhi may even have to change course after crossing midway. So how does he keep his moral high after row of bad days? "Everyday, I set out a different goal. Besides, I love to watch the sharks and whales that swim with me. Simultaneous sunsets and moonrises are breath-taking. Of course, the nights are pitch-dark and lonely. I have never seen this kind of darkness." It's a journey full of risks.
Even seemingly simple tasks like scrubbing the barnacles at the bottom of the boat, (these slow the boat), are risky. Smaller fish which feed off them, are food for sharks and whales. When water filled one of the boat's hold on the 40th day, Gandhi had to bail it or risk sinking as all the contents from it were kept on the deck, making the boat top-heavy.
Plus, there are speeding ships which fail to see his boat on their radar. Last Tuesday, he had a close shave when he woke up to find a Chinese cargo ship within 100 feet of him. "It was sailing without its radar on. I could have been mowed down. I radioed the crew, but they didn't understand English," he says.
But then, challenges are nothing new to Gandhi. From cycling from Stockholm to Istanbul, trekking across Siberia, he's done it all. And what does he miss most at sea? "The possibility of walking. For the past 40 days, I've just taken three steps between the deck and the cabin, backwards and forwards. I'm trying not to think about it, or I just might be tempted to put on my shoes and go out for a jog in the sea," he says wistfully.