My Narrow Escapes at Sea - Part 1: Call of the Ocean

Author: 
Mahendra Rathod

After completing his M.Com., Mahendra Rathod joined the Customs department in 1990 and won promotion to Superintendent in 2002. Having served at various stations in Gujarat, he is currently posted in CGST at Ahmedabad.

Mahendra is an avid explorer of places for wildlife photography, trekking and traveling. Reading, writing and painting are his free time hobbies. He is also heavily into long-distance running, working out at the gym and yoga.

Mahendra is the author of e-book Through My Lens: Wildlife and Tribal Culture published on www.inourdays.org.

Mahendra and Jyotika got married in 1995. Jyotika is a practicing dietician and yoga coach. Their daughter, Rucha, is a civil engineer and a state level table tennis player. Their son, Milind, is a computer engineer and a wushu, taekwondo and kung fu expert. Milind has been a great asset to his father in completing his e-book. His new passion is modelling photography.

Prologue

I joined the Customs department in 1990 and started my duties in anti-smuggling unit at Porbandar at Gujarat. Those were the times when India had not embarked on major economic reforms to liberalize its economy.

Smuggling of goods including gold and silver was in full swing. Sea route from the Gulf countries to the nearest Gujarat coast was one of the chosen routes. Thus anti-smuggling operations were a challenge for the Customs officers posted in the coastal areas of Gujarat.

Luckily I was posted as a Preventive Officer at one of the coastal stations. I thus had a chance to fulfil my long time wish to explore the sea and experience its vastness and beauty.

While performing my duties at sea, I experienced some death defying experiences which not only made me stronger but also taught me the true meaning of life.

I am sharing a few such experiences via a trilogy, the first part of which starts below.


During my school days, I was fascinated to read stories about great sailors, pirates and sea adventurers. While reading, I was imagining the vastness and beauty of sea. This beautiful natural phenomenon, which I knew existed but had never directly seen or experienced.

Having been born and raised in a far inland city, seeing an ocean was an over the moon experience for me. My long time wish fulfilled, when I got selected in Customs department in 1990 after graduation and posted to Customs Division office at Porbandar.

 
Mahendra Rathod at work in Customs office

Mahendra Rathod at work in Customs office.

 

On the first day of my joining, a big photo frame wrapped with garland, hanging on a wall of office, caught my eyes. The frame was containing photo of a handsome uniformed officer. On inquiry, I came to know that the officer in the picture frame was Late Shri K.K. Nandi, Inspector of Customs, who died after falling from the patrolling boat into sea, just a few months ago.

I stood there dumbstruck for few minutes, staring at the photograph. My mind was clouded with thoughts. I was thinking that how the sea will behave with me. The thought filled me with wonder and intense longing to touch the mighty sea and feel its roar. These mixed feelings of fear and fascination drew me to sea-beach during the lunch hour on very first day.

I remember, I was very excited about being at the sea-beach for the first time. I stood there and stared at the sea with total awe. I was amazed at as to how wide it spread right up to the horizon. And how the big ships looked as if they were touching the sky. I loved the feel of the cool breeze blowing across my body. I observed the beauty of waves running towards my feet, hitting one another and taking up a different course. The water was not blue like I used to see in the movies. The beach didn’t have long benches where people could sit or relax, but that mattered the least that at that point of time.

 
Seashore at Porbandar on a fine day

Seashore at Porbandar on a fine day.

 

It became my daily routine to visit the sea-beach in free time, which made me impatient to explore the sea and experience its immensity. Finally, my long wait came to end within a few days of my joining.

After frequent short visits in the patrol boat, I was assigned for deep sea patrolling . I boarded the patrol boat along with another officer Shri Kinariwala and our well experienced marine staff. Shri Kinariwala was also experienced in sea patrolling being senior to me. We set out in the morning. Our boat was an Arab Dhow- a traditional Arab sailing vessel made of wooden planks with broad hulls. Probably confiscated one.

Water in the boat

Mahendra Rathod at the dock of Porbandar Port

Mahendra Rathod at the dock of Porbandar Port

It was such a nice day, with just gentle wind. The sky was clear and cloudless. The mesmeric beauty of sea beat was heart-swelling. I realised that the sea was it’s own master, composing it’s own symphony.

The wind, a different master, was performing duet with it’s own tune. Our small boat was making way on a huge ocean. We sat in a small cabin, during the day from where the boat was navigated.

Whole day the sea was calm, but later on I realised it was ‘calm before the storm’. In the evening, when the sun was about to go down, the sea and wind changed their rhythm. The wind became stronger and started lashing the calm sea into waves. The waves got bigger and started beating against our small boat.

The ride wasn’t comfortable any longer. After sunset it became completely dark. The wind flow had increased considerably, and the waves begun to swell . We still sat in that room keeping vigil watch through night-vision devices for any suspicious movement of any boat/vessel to prevent the possible smuggling of contraband goods in to India.

Around midnight, while discussing our further strategy, my colleague advised me to go to sleep. He showed his willingness to wake up till early morning and then I had to take over. Agreeably I went to sleep in a small cabin at the back . It was a box type wooden cabin with around 6x5 feet area and height of approximately 4 feet.

Good sleep was ruled out straightaway. One can hardly get good sleep on a bed that was bouncing up and down due to constant movement of the boat. I barely slept for an hour but was nevertheless rested.

In the early morning I awoke due to a big noise on the boat. I noticed there was some hustle bustle on the boat. It was still dark and I saw the marine wing staff rushing in panic towards the hatches (way to go into basement).

I asked one of the guys, ‘What happened?’ He stopped for a moment and told me ‘Sir, rats are swimming in the Engine Room in the basement of boat.’ Quite confused, I went to front side cabin, where my colleague was still seated.

On being asked he explained me, ‘Swimming rats indicates that the level of water seeping through the small leakages in the bottom of the boat, which remains below sea-water line, has increased to dangerous level. Any more increase in level of water can cause failure of engine fitted at the bottom of the boat and gradually the boat can sink in seawater. There was a danger to the safety of the boat.’

I further came to know that normally the ‘Bilge Pump’ which fitted in boats constantly sucks water and throws it back into the sea. But at that night, due to constant bouncing of boat on stormy waves the bilge pump was damaged and had stopped working.

This resulted in boat getting filled up.

Unfortunately there was no other backup pump on the boat. A chain of marine staff were bailing out the water with buckets, but they could only delay the inevitable.

The marine people made determined efforts to plug the leakage, but were not successful.

The marine was beginning to get worried about the consequences. Their foreheads were creased with furrows. They were really worried.

There was deadly silence prevailing over the boat and in the sea. And we were in the middle of ocean. In effect we were marooned with no help around.

As the sun became stronger darkness slowly disappeared but our tensions did not decrease.

Far away from our boat, I was able to see some Windmills on the sea shore. Looking there my colleague revealed one frightening thing. He said that the boat was almost at the same location i.e. in front of those Windmills on the seashore of Lamba village, where the brave officer, K.K, Nandi accidentally fell down in the sea in night time and died.

He told me that Late Shri Nandi was not only having good physique, but he was also a good swimmer, having won many medals . However, inspite of such swimming skills he could not survive and lost his life in the sea water.

That incident occurred in the night, so the people on the boat came to know about his disappearance in the morning only.

Recalling this incident my anxiety level went up by leaps and bounds. I had a strange feeling about all this.

The wind and waves violent in the night were fairly mellow again in the morning but the storm of thoughts continued to blow through my mind.

Every moment the water level was increasing in the boat and so was our anxiety. All of sudden, a marine officer peeped out from the hatches.

His face was full of sweat but he was basking in the glory of their success in overcoming the problem. His facial expression was indicating that finally they had succeeded in fixing the problem. The bilge pump had started functioning again.

As soon as he confirmed this good news, all of us erupted in cheers and started clapping loudly.

With a sigh of relief I looked outside of the boat. As we were rewarded by our success, the sun started glinting on the becalmed water of sea providing a picturesque view. There was a mirrored reflection of sun on the water. Enjoying this spectacle view of sunrise on sea water we continued our patrolling.

Comments

The sea has always been fascinating, exciting, and deadly ... glad you experienced only the first and second. Looking forward to next installment,

Very well said sir. But in my view the deadliness of sea provides thrill and excitement. Though I have luckily escaped from death in sea more than one time, my love and fascination for the sea have not decreased a bit. I thank you very much sir for reading the first part of trilogy and expressing your wonderful views on it. At this juncture, it would also be worth to mention here that without support of " inourdays.org " and without blessings of respected Subhash Mathur sir, my death defying experiences would not have been transformed into words. Sir, also I am happy to inform you that all three parts of my story, have been uploaded by the publisher. Hope you will enjoy the remaining two parts too

बहुत ही रोचक तरह से अपने लिखा ,एक पल लगा कि मैं भी समुंदर के थपेड़े खा रही हूँ और पानी मे फंसी हुई हूँ।हरफनमौला है आप फ़ोटो , कहानी सब पर महारथ है ।

Thank you Ma'am for your beautiful note of appreciation. Appreciation from a skilled writer like you, matters a lot for me. Hope remaining two parts will give you the same feelings.

This is an inspiring and beautifully written piece.
A shiver went up my spine when I was reading it.
You unknowingly risked your life that night but did not surrender to
the worst situation, incredible!
When it comes to survival, you need mental and physical strength to
steer you through the wilderness. You possess both.
People with extraordinary willpower do things differently,
you are indeed a unique example of two mind powers combined -
an astonishing willpower and a strong sense of determination.
These two helped you fight against all odds. The most important thing
is a sense of duty, responsibility and commitment that pays you the
courage to fight against extreme challenges.
No matter how much you want to end the narrative on a lighter note,
the reality is that you all were impossibly lucky to have survived.
Please be careful and safe!
I look forward to more of your writing.

Thank you for taking your valuable time to read my write-ups. I am humbled and touched beyond words to read your beautiful note and kind words of appreciation and encouragement- it means more than you know. I’m grateful for your words of admiration, which gave me the courage and belief that I could really do this and also same would be helpful me to grow as a writer. I express my appreciation for the trust you put in me and hope I would be able to live up to your expectations. Thank you for being a part of my journey.

Indeed you are incredible author of your stories Rathod ji. Loved and through your story 'lived' my expedition to sea also today. Keep writing. Good luck.

Thank you so much Ma’am for taking the time out of your busy schedule to put in a good word for me. I am pleased that you really enjoyed reading my articles. Your awesome appreciation and hearty wishes certainly help me to keep doing my best. I’d also like to take this opportunity to thank you for all of your leadership at work- it has truly been inspiration to work with you Ma’am. Thank you.

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