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City engineer first Indian to cross ocean in paddle boat
Vijay Mohan
Tribune News Service

Chandigarh, March 18
A 34-year-old software engineer from Chandigarh, Sher Singh Dhillon, has paddled his way into the record books by becoming the first Indian to cross the Indian Ocean on “human power”. As part of a global circumnavigation mission called Expedition 360, he traversed the high seas in a paddle boat along with team leader Jason Lewis.

The boat had left the shores of Mumbai on January 29 and reached Djibouti on the eastern shores of Africa today noon after battling winds, waves, ocean currents and other challenges over a 1,835-mile expanse of unpredictable waters for 49 days and nights.

“It has been immensely satisfying and exhilarating to complete a successful voyage cross the ocean,” Sher Singh told The Tribune over satellite phone from Djibouti.“ It’s great to know that you can go just about anywhere on your steam rather than relying on powered transport,” he added.

Expedition 360 is described as an attempt at one of the last great firsts for circumnavigation -- to circle the globe using only human power through bicycle, pedal boat, rollerblades, kayaks, swimming and walking, with no motors, sails or any other powered transport. Three-quarters of the journey, totalling about 35,000 miles, has so far been completed. The expedition had started from Greenwich in Britain 13 years ago and is expected to culminate this year at the same place. Jason is the only person to have remained with the team since its inception in 1994, while different persons have participated in different legs.

“According to records held by the UK-based Ocean Rowing Society, Sher Singh is the first Indian in history to cross an ocean by human power,” Jason said. Sher Singh is presently employed with Hewitt Packard in California. His father, Air Cmde R.P.S. Dhillon, is a retired Air Force pilot settled here. Sher Singh, who periodically visits his parents, is expected here next week.

The 26-foot wooden boat is powered only by pedals and named Moksha, which in Sanskrit means salvation. Specially designed for the expedition, it has ferried members 15,000 nautical miles of the ocean and carries the names on her hull of about 4,000 people who have helped the expedition across the world.

Jason and Sher Singh encountered a number of challenges while traversing the Indian ocean. “On our first day out from Mumbai, we crashed into the unmarked wreckage of a sunken ship, damaging the underside of the boat and destroying the rudder,” Sher Singh said. They limped back to port to replace the rudder.

A week later, their water desalinater conked out and the coast guard arranged to have a passing ship drop off 180 litres drinking water, allowing them to just survive the rest of the voyage. There were two instances when they almost collided with big ships, including a tanker.

“The ocean can be very discerning and unpredictable. Heavy winds threw us off-course several times,” Sher Singh said. “Upon the final approach to the Gulf of Aden, a fierce current pushed us south toward the island of Soqotra, one of the world’s most-feared areas for pirate attacks. Days earlier, a UN cargo vessel was hijacked in the area and the crew kidnapped for ransom,” he added.



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