Lieutenant Commander Shweta Kapur has become India’s first female Naval officer to be on board a ship in the high seas. Right now she is sailing to Cape Town as part of the four-member crew of the Mhadei.
Expected to reach Cape Town at the end of the month, Shweta has been in constant touch with her father over email. In her messages she has reiterated no fat corporate salary would induce her to change her career choice. “It’s amazing to be sailing across the Arabian Sea, and till now the ocean gods have been kind. Have had a good deal of rolling and pitching, but all is ok. Have learnt to adjust with it, pulling and putting sails. It’s good that am with three experienced officers, who keeping baanto gyan (teaching) at all times. Guess, by the time this voyage of mine gets over, I would be with an amateur watching keeping degree,” she told her father in an email conversation even as she is sailing.
An adventure sports enthusiast, she is on board the Mhadei along with Commander Dilip Dhone, Cdr M V V Satish, the trainee skipper and Cdr J Bedi. Having joined the Navy in August 2007, Shweta, daughter of Captain Sanjiv Kapur, was commissioned as an officer in the Navy’s Education Branch.
“It is a great feeling when I think that my daughter is part of the Mhadei crew,” Capt Sanjiv Kapur told The Sunday Standard. “Her adventure-seeking nature is nothing new to us. This is not the first time she has volunteered for an adventure,” he said. Besides scuba diving, Shweta enjoys sky diving and open sea swimming, apart from serious sailing. A postgraduate in physics, she has been part of the Navy’s marching contingent for the Republic Day parade thrice—in 2009, 2012 and again in 2013; the year it won the best award in its category. The military is in the Kapur blood; Shweta’s younger brother Sumit Kapur is a Lieutenant in the Army.
The woman sailor has already done about 5,000 nautical miles on board the Mhadei.
In her messages to her father, Shweta noted on November 27, just a couple of days after Mhadei sailed out of Karwar that she saw “about 50 dolphins swimming and jumping past” early that morning.
Three weeks later, the Mhadei crossed Mauritius and the Reunion Island. “Technically, saw the two from about four miles out. Passed by at night and it was lovely to see the lights. So saw two countries from afar in just 24 hours,” she wrote. “Have crossed the Tropic of Capricorn now and am about 551 miles away from Madagascar. Another 700 miles to Cape Town. Should reach there on December 27,” her mail said.
Just a day before writing that mail, Shweta had raised the main sail all on her own. “It takes quite a lot of strength to winch it up. You’ve to use a lot of your shoulder and back muscles to raise the whole sail, which is about 20 metres in length, that too in the sea state when there is lot of motion. Saas chadh gayi (was breathless),” she narrated her experience. The Mhadei crew would be participating in the reputed annual Cape-to-Rio yachting race between Cape Town in South Africa to Rio de Janeiro in Brazil, said to be one of the toughest in the world, starting January 4, 2014. After the race, Shweta will sail back in the Mhadei, reaching Mumbai sometime in February, 2014.
The Navy began to induct woman officers for shore-based services in 1991. It began giving permanent commissions to women only a couple of years ago on the basis of a Delhi High Court order in another case involving Air Force women officers.
Born to Rule the Seas
Mhadei is an Indian-built yacht that was launched in April 2006 and delivered in February 2009 by Aquarius Fibreglass at Goa. In the four years since, Mhadei has been part of two Indian solo circumnavigation of the globe, first in 2009-10 under its skipper Commander Dilip Dhonde, who was awarded the Shaurya Chakra for the feat, and again in 2012-13 under its then skipper Lt Cdr Abhilash Tomy, who was awarded Kirti Chakra for achieving the feat without a stop at any port on the way. The boat has clocked over 60,000 nautical miles, sailing through all oceans of the world. Mhadei is named after the parent stream of the Mandovi river in Goa. The 17.1-metre, 23-tonne boat built of wood core fibre glass has a 25 metre mast almost equal to a seven-storey building. It has five sails—one each of mainsail, Genoa, Jib, two Gennakers and a Storm Jib. Since this was the first time a boat of this size and complexity was built in India, some specialised equipment were imported, of which the mast and rigging were from South Africa, the sails were from New Zealand, engine from Sweden and deck fittings from Europe. Mhadei is perhaps the single most important factor in the success of India’s two solo circumnavigation efforts, codenamed Sagarparikrama and Sagarparikrama-2, for its ability to stand up to the punishment inflicted by the elements. The design for the boat was bought from Van de Stadt Design Bureau of Netherlands and Goa’s Aquarius Fibreglass built it.