City anchor: 1st circumnavigator relives Bombay memories

Before him, there was no official sea-route for unassisted, non-stop circumnavigation. "Nobody had done it before," says Sir Robin Knox-Johnston, 73, as he slurps a handmade mango icecream at Taj Ice Cream in Bhendi Bazaar.

"I last had mangoes when I lived in Breach Candy. Theek hain, theek hain," he nods, eyes closed, relishing a flavour last tasted four decades ago.

Today it's an accepted norm that a circumnavigator has to round the three capes (Cape of Good Hope, Cape Leeuwin, Cape Horn), a norm Sir Robin set being the first to sail solo, non-stop around the world, between June 14, 1968 and April 22, 1969 in a Bombay-made (it was not Mumbai yet) yacht named Suhaili.

In Mumbai for the Maritime History Society lecture on 'Ocean Sailing' to throw light on those 312 days he sailed Falmouth to Falmouth, and of anecdotes of how a mayor's scheduled haircut delayed his official reception, or his underwater shark photography, he is appreciative of Indian Navy's circumnavigation aspirations with circumnavigator Abhilash Tomy.

He spent the better part of Tuesday navigating through the city, where he worked between 1961 and 1964, looking for curios at Chor Bazaar, trekking between congested stalls at Crawford Market (he recalls his vegetable shopping days in 1961, when he would walk "all the way from Yellow Gate") and picking Iranian delicacy at Britannia And Company at Ballard Estate with Indian Navy's circumnavigator Commander Dilip Donde.

Walking to the Ballard Estate building of Mackiinnons, his merchant agents when he worked with British India Steam Navigation Company, he is impressed to see "not much has changed, except the spaces were quiet open". The two sea-bells Ekma-11 and Egra-1911 are still at the entrance, a last reminder of the old days.

In 1964, his stint over, he decided to sail back home to United Kingdom, in a self-made ketch, with his brother and a friend. Experts from Indian Ocean Exploration, an independent government body, helped in setting the weather and wind schedule. An Atkins William boat design was purchased, and tweaked a bit. The position of the mast was changed to get "better bounce".

... contd.

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