Millennium Post

INSV Mhadei just 900 nautical miles away from its final destination

The challenge is to reach the finishing line. That line is Rio de Janeiro, Brazil’s fun city. The Indian Navy Sailing Vessel (INSV) Mhadei – the boat that has circumnavigated the globe twice already - had begun sailing from Cape Town in South Africa on 4 January. Now, Mhadei is about 900 nautical miles away from its final destination Rio.

The boat has a four member crew with Commander Dilip Donde as the skipper. But there is a twist in the tale of this navy crew: for the first time in the service’s history, a young lady officer, Lieutenant Commander Shweta Kapoor has taken to manning the boat. Asked by Millennium Post, how it feels to be the only woman amidst all the men or ‘brother officers’ as they are called, Kapoor says: ‘Well…it wasn’t any different than my work place where I share the space with other male officers. In fact, I have ten officers there.’

She explains the rationale for her inclusion: ‘Our Indian Armed Forces be it Navy, Army or Air Force as an organisation has a far greater ratio of male officers than women officers, so right from the beginning from the time we are trained in the academies to the time we get our appointments, sharing space with fellow officers is very normal and doesn’t feel anything different.’

She adds more: ‘At no point was there any kind of different treatment because I am a woman, in fact I have never been more equal in all my years of service.’ That in other words, was the reason the navy brass had put her on the boat; to make a point about its gender neutral stance.

Commander Donde, when questioned, says, ‘The lady officer is a boat crew first, then a naval officer and lastly a lady. So it wasn’t too different really. She did not have experience of being at sea so the rest of the crew had to teach her various nuances of navigation and seamanship and enable her to take on the tasks required to be undertaken at sea. Other than that there was no differentiation.’ 

The Cape to Rio race has a long history of more than four decades. It began with a South African yacht taking part in 1968 in the European races and returning to home base in Cape Town, before being handed over to the country’s navy. This event had begun the talk about Cape having its own race. Two cities were in contention for being the destination: Rio in Brazil and Australia.

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