If you are optimistic—and privileged—enough to be thinking of a post-pandemic/post-vaccine vacation, you might want to check out what Dilip Donde is up to. In 2019, nine years after he became the first Indian to complete a solo, unassisted circumnavigation of the globe under sail, the Hindustani classical music buff acquired a sailboat and named it Antara, after the second stanza of a composition in a raga.
“After I retired from the Indian Navy (in 2016), I missed having a boat, and that’s when I heard of this sailboat that was looking for a buyer. The Mhadei (the boat in which he completed the circumnavigation) was the ‘mukhda’ (the first part of a composition) of my life, so to speak. The Antara is what’s next,” says the former Naval commander who coached the six-strong, all-women crew of the INSV Tarini that circumnavigated the world in 2018. Donde was also part of his mentor Robin Knox-Johnston’s voyage along the coast of Greenland and Iceland the same year.
The Antara is part of the 54-year-old’s plan to offer an experience of sailing “far away from the sight of land”. With his partner and first mate Sucheta Jadhav, who crewed in the 2017-19 Clipper Round the World Yacht Race and sailed across the South Atlantic, Donde took several guests on board and out into the ocean on the Antara before the pandemic struck.
Now Donde, who is based in Miramar, in Goa, is waiting for a good wind to set sail again.
The Antara, designed by Dutch firm Van De Stadt and built in Goa, is a 40-ft sailboat that can accommodate about six people, and is equipped with bunk beds, a bathroom, and a gas stove.
“We make it clear that this is by no means a cruise ship experience. You won’t get butler service in here,” says Donde. “But there is room all around, you are comfortable, there is good food, and most importantly you are safe. We encourage guests to read the winds, familiarise themselves with navigation charts, and also learn how to helm,” says Donde.There is also the singular opportunity to sail with Donde himself and to find out more about the irresistible pull of the ocean. The bunch of people who have sailed on the Antara so far—from a 10-year-old sailing with his father to an Army officer in his late 70s—have been curious about Donde’s adventures, but he is equally keen that they feel less intimidated by the ocean and by sailing.
“We provide them with my book in advance (The First Indian), so they have lots of questions. And, I hope, their time aboard will encourage them to sail more often, let their hair down, sail out of the harbour and witness extraordinary things such as bioluminescence in the ocean on a windy night,” says Donde.
The Antara’s longest journey so far has been from Mumbai to Goa, which took around three days, but since it is also certified to sail all over the world, the Andaman & Nicobar Islands, Mauritius, or the Maldives are fair game.