‘Using a toilet door to make windvane’ Abhilash Tomy, the DIY master of ocean sailing

The story of Abhilash Tomy’s circumnavigation in the Golden Globe Race 2022 has been the story of his sturdy little boat, the Bayanat. While half a dozen sailors dropped out because of equipment failure, Abhilash plodded along carrying out countless tiny and notable repairs that helped him stay in contention. A collision with a ship even before the race began, and breaking of the hydrovane (self-steering mechanism) twice could’ve deterred a lesser sailor. But not Abhilash who effected the patch-backs with epic DIY fortitude.

His boat-maker Dick Koopland, who fitted him with his ride at the start, and kitted out the Bayanat, talks about all that panned out with the boat.

What were the biggest repair challenges to the boat initially?

After the collision in the SITraN just two weeks before the start of the race, we had to repair the first meter of the bow. We managed to get her in a shed, got two professional Belgium workers to help and a kind owner of a sister ship in Belgium where we could make a mould for the bow. It cost me my holiday and two weeks working 14 hrs a day.

. Team Repair Abhilash Tomy, Dick Koopman and Ibe Steedman . Team Repair Abhilash Tomy, Dick Koopman and Ibe Steedman

What were the repairs needed during the race that he successfully pulled off?

The mainsail (the sail that is always used except in gale conditions). There are horizontal battens in it and they broke on the end connection. Happily, we had chosen to have a spare mainsail on board as well. To change the battens and later the mainsail in a rough sea is not an easy job. The running backstays support the heavy weather sail. You have to climb the mast till 10 m above deck. The repair itself is not difficult, just replacing a bolt. But at sea on a moving boat the biggest risk is you can hurt yourself.

Three other sailors had to leave the race because of wind vane failure. How did Abhilash manage that?

Windpilot is a mechanical pilot that steers the boat. It has a servo rudder that acts like a power steering with a mechanical windblade to steer the boat. Because of rough seas and a rudder hanging on the transom (at the end of the boat), the rudder receives big backlash forces on it. Although there were three spare ones, the last of them broke. Abhilash used the aluminium anchor shaft. He also made three wooden ones from his spare rudder.

The Bayanat gets ready to sail. The Bayanat gets ready to sail.

His electric system got fried too in salt water. How did he manage?

The battery bank consists of three batteries. Although two independent firms tested them, one broke. The only multimeter on board fell into the bilge in salt water and gave up. It looks like Abhilash found the wrong one and isolated it. In an emergency he can also use the start battery. There is enough solar power to fill this up in one sunny day.

Paul Willaert and abhilash tomy Belgian Paul Willaert who owns a Rustler 36 model just like Abhilash Tomy, and lent him a mold of the bow for the fibreglass repair.

Mentally what must have been the toughest days for him?

Actually I think the worst days were when Bayanat collided just before the start. Abhilash had made a promise to himself to finish this time and had responsibilities to Bayanat, the sponsor. Although I promised it would be possible to start within the allowed time span it was not in his hands and I think it also gave him big financial worries.

Which was the toughest geography?

Cape Town was mentally difficult. Although it was known long before that there was a media drop, most skippers only realized the impact of it after the start. Sea and weather conditions can be difficult and frustrating and mentally you want to stay a hundred miles from it in the open ocean. You also can easily win or lose several days by luck or bad luck.

First being asked to save Tapio who abandoned Asteria and later passing the position where Abhilash abandoned ship in the last race in 2018 must have been difficult for him.

How was it to follow the race for you?

For me following the race being more of a racer, sometimes it was frustrating to see him sailing in the wrong direction or far too slow. But my own advice was, to win the race you have to finish so don’t push the boat. Looking at the last race I expected a third place if he could prevent big damage and sailed conservative.

Abhilash Tomy with Ertan Beskardes Abhilash Tomy with Ertan Beskardes, Turkish British, and fellow skipper, who’s supported him throughout.

What was the communication like?

In this race it was nearly impossible to talk over the phone. Only at the Hobart gate could we make a video call with a boat alongside. Humour between sailors is difficult to explain. Several text messages show Abhilash still has maintained his sense of humour, so he must be in good shape. Even his secret sail is still under discussion. Interesting was that several Dutch sailors and journalists thought he was only joking. Although it is not a sail for much bigger speeds, there is a secret sail on board!!

Why are repairs at sea challenging?

Repairs made at sea by adventurers are always a challenge. Mind you, that your brain has to handle all the movement and sounds on the boat first and therefore has little capacity left. Most skippers including Abhilash do not have a long technical background for repairing things on a sailing boat.

When he damaged the servo rudder we could send a message through a coast station telling him to make extra windvane blades by using the toilet door (We used marine plywood of the right thickness for it) and for the servo rudder he could use the part of the spare rudder (right shape strength and thickness). Abhilash did it in the wrong order so the servo rudder broke again. Later he did it in the right way. But he is always very relaxed just saying that in the end it works.

What traits in his personality helped Abhilash?

Abhilash and Kirsten were fighting within a day sailing for first place. Number three is weeks behind. It shows that starting with a sturdy boat, avoiding damage and having enough spare parts on board makes the winner. Being not too eager to push hard can be an advantage here. This is still the case. Kirsten is pushing much harder but takes more risk and can break something.

Abhilash just knows he still has a chance to win and sails more relaxed. Tiredness and mistakes can easily happen if you try too hard, so in the end, this might be the best choice.

I am happy to see that the reinforcements and choices worked out great so far and will be at the finish next week.

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