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Destination- Cruising the Indian West Coast

by IBI News/Sail-World Cruising on 29 May 2006
Goa - the alluring beaches SW
The news that India has its first fully equipped marina in Goa starts to make the cruising sailor think of the west coast of India as a possible destination. Already the bureaucratic restrictions, once making it a pariah for cruising sailors, are easing. Certainly it’s a fascinating culture, with a welcoming population, a fast growing economy, and a wealth of tourism possibilities.

The marina just finished is in the capital of Goa, Panjim. Built by Mumbai businessman Rajiv Somani who already runs the H2O water sports complex in Mumbai, it had taken some years to get the government permissions to build the marina.

According to Rajiv: 'We were planning to build a marina for a long time and it's nice that Goa gave us space in time to cater for the first yacht rally to arrive, the Vasco da Gama Rally.'

Not content with a marina in Goa, Somani has plans for a similar facility in Mumbai, and even a second one in Panjim. 'We have also applied for space in Mumbai which will be built with the co-operation of the Tourist Authority and the Mumbai Port Trust. I can't say when the Mumbai marina will be ready since acquiring all the permissions can take some time. We are hopeful that after seeing the Goa marina the Mumbai authorities will give us the space. Before building the Mumbai marina we have plans to develop a second one in Goa'.

But what about the rest of the west coast?


KOCHI (PREVIOUSLY COCHIN)
Kerala, the most southerly state on the west coast of India, is the richest state of India, with a per capita income far higher than average. When you visit it’s easy to see why, The soil is dense as chocolate, the countryside jammed with waving palm trees and tropical vegetation. The winds hit the high mountainside dropping floods of water every year on this western coast, while starving the east coast. The rich soil of the hillsides produce a marvellous range of crops – cardamom, tea, coffee and a plethora of tropical fruits. The coastline is riddled with waterways which carry these precious crops to market, and the people, blessed with such riches are shining with health and peacefulness. This is not the India of our childhood imaginations – poverty stricken and dusty – this is a land of plenty – with so much they can afford to be generous to the strange yachtie visitor. And generous they are, with their time and their smiles. It’s a wonderful experience for the cruising sailor to visit Kerala and its chief commercial harbour city of Cochin(now Kochi).

However, this is where the yacht’s inventory that you should have made at home will come into its own. You are best to have EVERYTHING on the inventory, as otherwise you may find valuable things ‘confiscated’. Formalities can all be completed in a couple of hours, as long as you ‘go with the flow’ and don’t start telling anyone ‘how it is done at home’ or ‘how it should be done’ . this is India, and they are going to do it their way.


There is no marina, or anything remotely like it in Cochin, but there is an anchorage so calm and protected, and with such good holding, people leave their boats there for weeks while they tour India. As anywhere, of course, it pays to have someone ‘keep an eye’ on your boat while you are absent. There are ‘boat boys’ who make their living by doing your laundry and taking your rubbish, also arranging anything else you might need like fuel, and they are also used to being charged with the caretaking responsibility while you are away.


Water can be obtained at a small fee from the beautiful Bolgatti Palace Hotel where you are anchored. Getting to the stipulated anchorage can be however, an adventure in itself, as the way in is very shallow. No matter how shallow your draft, it is advisable to get a ‘boat boy’ to lead you in, as there are no buoys showing the way. The bottom, however, is so soft that you can actually dredge your way in if necessary. Don’t even think about doing it except at high tide.


Mumbai (previously Bombay)
Apart from being able to stop in Panjim in Goa, and Cochin in Kerala, yachties have already found, even with no marina, quite a reasonable welcome in Mumbai. The ill-famed bureaucracy is not too bad these days, and can all be completed in two or three hours.
Yachties also find an excellent haven at the Royal Bombay Yacht Club, located just north of the Taj Mahal Hotel, and the entry procedures can be arranged there with a minimum of fuss (for India). For a small fee you can become an honorary member of the club and use the facilities. You’ll also find the members helpful for repairs, and the anchorage is very safe for leaving your boat if you wish to go travelling.

Royal Bombay Yacht Club
Phone: 22042602, 22854258, 22022039

The Future:

Bureaucracy has been a major obstacle in developing marinas in India and many projects have been muted with little result to date, so the announcement of the Goa facility is seen as a real breakthrough by much of the industry.

India is at the early stage of leisure boating with no more than 1,000 leisure boats estimated to be in the country. The booming economy and change to a more consumerist lifestyle is fostering interest in leisure boating, with the India International Boat Show in Cochin being held annually in October.

Rajiv Somani, who built the first marina, believes that the ‘yacht culture’ in Mumbai is at a very nascent stage and there is a lot of scope in this industry. 'It is a long term vision that my company H2O has undertaken. The Mumbai-Goa coastline is almost 7500 km long. There is a lot of scope for growth in this industry. Before we build a Marina in Mumbai, we are planning to build another one in Goa. Since Panjim already has one, we will build the other one further up,' explained Rajiv.
These marinas serve as a very integral part of the infrastructure cities along a coast. 'It is not just people with yachts that can come here. A lot of people who have boats can also be stationed here. The marina can allow more ferry services for increasing water transport. Besides, it is a nice spot for domestic tourists. Indians can be exposed to a new lifestyle,' he adds.
With almost 200 boats and about 50 yachts owned by people in Mumbai and Goa, the marina is a timely construction. 'We are going to concentrate on the Mumbai-Goa coastline for a while to encourage this industry here.'

However, on a negative note, there has been some piracy reported near the southern tip of India near Cape Comorin. Yachts are advised to keep well clear of the coast in this area. One needs to remember that Tamil Nadhu, unlike Kerala, is a very poor state of India, not blessed with the rainfall and rich soil of its western neighbour on the other side of the mountains. This could account for the comparative prevalence of piracy and theft problems in the area.

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