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History Sets Sail

History Sets Sail

Author: Prerana Thakurdesai
Publication: India Today
Date: May 14, 2007

Introduction: After a gap of nearly 200 years, Indian boatmakers are constructing a giant wooden ship

One nondescript corner of Nagla Bunder in Mumbai's Thane district is abuzz with activity as over two dozen pairs of hands give shape to Alanzo-I, the largest wooden ship to be built in India after HMS trincomalee in 1816. In this age of sleek cruise liners, the 162 ft-by-33 ft seven-star cruise ship will be second in size only to the 18th century's HMS Victory, the world's oldest commissioned warship in wood that played a key role in the 1805 Battle of Trafalgar.

Costing Rs 55 crore, this wonder in wood-mainly Malaysian Sal Wood-is taking shape under the supervision of B.S. Bhandarkar. "The air-conditioned boat will be fitted with state-of-the-art safety systems and a 650-HP engine," says Bhandarkar who was taken by surprise on landing the prestigious project funded by German businessman Alanzo Michael Langecker. Hunting for a craftsman to build him a Chinese Junk (ocean-going wooden ships built in China between 1368 and 1644), Langecker chanced upon Bhandarkar's company Classicraft in the Tata Yellow Pages.

The going so far has not been easy. At the time of commencing work in 2004, Bhandarkar had applied to the City and Industrial Development Corporation of Maharashtra for four acres in Belapur. Three years hence and with the skeleton of the boat ready, the plot is yet to be sanctioned. Working on a shoe-string budget, Bhandarkar rented out a plot at Nagla Bunder where he has readied the hull of the boat. "I will now have to find another place to build the deck since the boat will not be able to sail under the Bhyander Bridge with the deck attachment," he says.

Yet another hurdle was the strict licensing of wood cutting machines put in force to prevent timber smuggling. To skirt the problem, Bhandarkar installed portable machines. If all goes as per plan, the boat will be sailing in the Bahamas by May 2008. The cruise liner will have luxury rooms with decor based on Chinese, Indian and Persian themes.

Previously having built several lightweight, high-speed boats, Bhandarkar won the Boating Innovation Award at the 2004 International Boat Show, besides several awards at various international boat races. He is now keen to promote coastal tourism in India. "Not far off in time, local entrepreneurs will start sailing small ships to ferry small number of tourists to various tourism spots along the coasts, like Kandla, Murud, Sindhudurg, Chennai, Visakhapatnam and Kolkata," says Bhandarkar, charting out his plans to sail the high waters of success.

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