We all love to travel and try to get away from the routine mundane life of ours by exploring. We want to see the world for sure but how many of us really have the opportunity and the courage to leave the so-called ideal life and get into something adventurous as trotting the globe on a yacht? Let me introduce you to someone who is an inspiration and broke all the rules to become the first Indian woman as well as the first Asian woman to sail around the world in a yacht. Yes, you read that right, we have an Indian woman who did that feat way back in 1987-1988 when the world was not as digitalised as today, and there was no social media which carried news faster than lightning.
Ujwala Patil Dhar, born in Karanjawde Sangli, India to a farmer. Youngest of the seven siblings, she was adventurous as a child and was introduced to athletics, rifle shooting, flying, rock climbing, mountaineering, and at the same time, yachting was introduced by a friend. She graduated in economics and did a diploma in journalism and continued her adventurous side of her alive. She has won over 150 medals in shooting and participated in State, National Level, and Pre Olympic Trials.
Her first tryst with sailing long distance was at the age of 23 in 1978 where she sailed from Mumbai to Colombo in an open sailboat in 24 days. She went on in 1979 to sail from England to Mumbai where her yacht sunk in the Red Sea as it hit a reef. The navigation equipment here had failed due to some technical glitch. She took help of a life raft to survive on it for 4 days with barely any food or water till a Norwegian ship rescued her. In 1981, she sailed from England to Mumbai again via the Suez Canal.
All these trips made her confident and she decided to embark sailing the globe with the Government of India promoting her for this trip. On 13th June 1987 at the age of 32, she embarked from Mumbai with a crew of 3 members to sail the globe. Ujwala was the navigator, and she did complete this journey of 24,000 nautical miles in a total of 22 months of actual sailing in 2 different stages. Jaykus-III touched Gateway of India on October 15th, 1988.
However, the journey was not smooth, the yacht almost capsized in the Pacific due to a bad storm. Heavy winds and massive waves in the Pacific Ocean caused the yacht to almost capsize. But ‘Tandel’ went crawling on an almost toppled yacht to cut the main rope and release the sail thus releasing the air from the sails and making the yacht return to its normal position.
They also hit a sandstorm at Cartagena, Spain as they were leaving the harbour. She could see a different formation of clouds on the horizon. She realised these were sandstorm clouds as per the navigation books that she had studied. The captain was not ready to turn back to the harbour. However, after a lot of persuasion by her, he decided to turn back. As they docked at the harbour, a massive sandstorm struck. It had a speed of 120 miles per hour. By midnight, many damaged yachts came for shelter to the harbour.
Ujwala got back to India much stronger mentally than physically ready to face any challenges in life ahead. She was awarded the Padma Shri by the Indian Government in 1991 and also received various rewards globally. Ujwala got married soon to settle down in Mumbai with two daughters and worked as a journalist.
She inspires me immensely and gives all women a reason to think beyond our limits and go explore the world. I hope her story will make some of you out there to just go ahead and do what you believe in life.