In a rowboat to the Andaman Islands
There were other daring young men who set out on a dangerous voyage from Calcutta to a group of islands in the turbulent Bay of Bengal, known as the Andaman.
Lt. George Albert Duke and is teammate Pinaki Ranjan Chatterjee were the two young adventures who set out on this daring voyage on February 1969. They wanted to prove to the world that they could complete this long voyage about 1500 kilometers without the help of engines or sails on the boat.
Although this expedition was thought of long ago, they actually set to work in 1967 A by 2 meters at its broadest. It had bottom to make rowing easier. There was no cabin for the men to sleep in. but it had two watertight compartments that were full of air. In case the boat capsized it would still float because of the air in these compartments. Besides, these compartments would be used to store the sailors’ navigation books, charts, medicine and matches. Special provisions were made to carry 64 gallons of drinking water to the bottom of the boat as nobody can survive on sea water. There were canvas bags to carry tinned food to last two people for sixty days.
This little boat was named `Khanoji Angre’ after a famous Maratha Admiral. It had a lamp mast fitted with a radar reflector which would enable the boat to be picked up on the radar screen of sea –going vessels. The crew also had a wireless transmitter set, a transmitter radio, a 16 mm camera to capture the marine life of the bay. Last but not least they carried a lot of shark –repellent as these waters were infested with sharks.
The day of voyage dawned bright and shiny with a billowing breeze. Cars lined the road on either side of the strand. What really caught the eye were crowds-there were thousands of people from every walk of life. The man-of-war jetty was packed with more than 20,000 people. A bang and a flash from a flare pistol by Tenzing Norgay started the expedition off. This was followed by bursts of cheers from the throng as the `Khanoji Angre’ began to move slowly down the amber brown river Hooghly.
The expedition had started. Numerous tugs, ships and scores of small boats surrounded the `Khanoji Angre’ as it sailed downstream. They blow their fog horns and sirens as the crew waved and cheered the sailors. As the boat sailed on, the banks of the river were lined with men, women and children, who cheered and blessed the two men on their daring voyage. They took six days to sail down the river Hooghly. They passed Budge, Falta, the Hooghly point, diamond harbor, Haldia and the Sagar islands. There were crowds of people to bid them Godspeed.
Remember we know about the silting of the Hooghly which meant that boats and ships had to be piloted down the river to avoid the shallow parts. This little boat was piloted downstream by Lt. Commander Rathin Das. On the sixty nights on the sixth night they reached the sand heads, where they bid goodbye to their pilot and friends.
Life on board was easy. They had to row for eight to even eighteen hours a day. They ate out of tins and located their position each day by astro –navigation. When they felt very homesick, they would try to cheer each other up. Sometimes they were so tried and worried that they ended up arguing or quarrelling with each other. Once they could not be seen on the radar screens and the AIR announced that they were lost.
The first seven days after they left the sand heads were extremely difficult. They were caught in the local tidal currents. They rowed all day, at times to find themselves back in nearly the same place. How their arms must have ached! After many attempts they decided to row east instead of south. This turned out to be a good decision as they caught the Burma coast current and made rapid progress since then.
The next hazard that the sailors met with was an unpredicted storm. There was an earthquake at Guwahati and another in Indonesia. These caused a storm that gave those three days of hard fighting. Sometimes they were forced to tie themselves to the boat for fear of being washed away.
These unhappy events were followed by a happy meeting with the Indian Naval Ship `Ranjit’ on 18 February. The sailors enjoyed their hot baths, hot tea and a hearty meal on board. But more than anything else it gave them a boost of morale.
After this encounter they set their course for the Preparis islands to escape the Burma current. This was quite easy. Land was sighted at 7.30 am. On 2 March but this was not where they wanted to land. So they altered their course again this time to cross the Preparis South Channel to the Great Ceco island about 60 km away. The last three days were very difficult due to the strong cross- currents. They rowed with great determination keeping the end in sight. The coral reef around sand fall island prevented them from landing on that uninhabited island. They crossed the shark infested; treacherous coral channel on 3 March and landed on the soft sand of a golden beach. There they stood for a moment in the boating hugging each other. They had reached; they had rowed across the unpredictable Bay of Bengal. The islanders of these northernmost Andaman Islands greeted them on every side with a warm welcome.
This was not the end. They climbed to the highest point of the island, to the top of the seven-storeyed lighthouse rising about 100 meters above the sea. Here they hoisted that they had carried with them. They spent three days on the sandy beaches fringed with tall graceful coconut palms swaying in the sea breeze, further island were thick forests of ebony, rosewood and teak which are valuable for their wood. Some parts of the forests were cleared to grow rubber, fiber plants, sugar-cane, rice and groundnuts. In the middle of these islands you can find hills where coffee and tea are grown.
The native people of the Andaman, the aborigines, are small and dark. They are a Negrito race called Onghies, and are one of primitive people. They eat fruit and fish and paint their bodies with colored wet clay. They live in the forest, away from the centre modern civilization.
The Andaman Islands were used as a convict settlement till 1921. Many of the people that the adventurers met were Indians who had been jailed there long ago.
They began their homeward journey on 10 March and although it took less time to return, the sea was so rough that the little `Khanoji Angre’ was tossed up and down. Again, they tried themselves to the boat, as they did not want to be eaten by the sharks that followed them. The return journey was even more tiring as by now both men were quite ill. They reached Calcutta in April. They had been away for six days. What a lot they had to tell other people about their wonderful adventures!
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