Sailing The Konkan Coast: A Necessary Experience By Vibhav Mariwala

Vibhav shares his story about the first time he went cruising along the Konkan coast. His insights and discoveries on the country’s history and environment makes one sit back and think of the many adventures that await only a few hours from the city coast. His dialogue has a unique message for all of us. Especially the government of India, to not only think about opening up the coast for adventure but to also act upon the upkeep and infrastructure at these destinations. Read on about Vibhav’s journey, his experiences and lessons learnt on this coastal voyage. We thank him for contributing to our portal and wish him many more noteworthy experiences on the waters!

I had never been on a cruise before. I never knew cruising involved so much preparation and planning, but neither did I know that it could be so much fun and could teach me so much about the local environment and history of the Konkan Coast! So when I decided to go cruising, I was slightly scared and confused, as I had no idea what to expect. Thankfully, I was sailing with my brother, my father and my Tindal, Vinod, who made this somewhat daunting and new experience a lot of fun. What I did know was that as an aspiring sailor I knew it was necessary for me to go on a cruise.

One learns a lot more about sailing on a cruise than in training session I had an enriching experience on the cruise, be it plotting courses through ‘way points’ (Way points are markers that one plots on a map to ensure that one does not go off course) or learning how to anchor one’s boat, to adjusting routes due to unfavourable conditions, to exploring and appreciating the beauty along the Konkan Coast.

We started from Mandwa on the 27th of December at 9:00 am, and aimed to sail down to Murud-Janjira, a small coastal town 74 kilometres from Bombay. Mandwa is a sleepy fishing village about 13 kilometres from Bombay where I have spent a lot of time as a child. It serves as a good vantage point to cast off for sailing down the Konkan Coast.

My brother, Arnav plotted waypoints to mark our course between Mandwa and Murud and logged them on a GPS. After casting off, we first headed north and after a mile and a half, we turned west, on a broad reach. The winds kept on shifting; we had to be on high alert to adjust our sails accordingly. This made it tough to control the sails. While this was happening, we managed to cook a fried egg and baked beans with the boat heeling at an angle of 40 degrees. The thrill of cooking on a boat is unmatched and definitely teaches you a lot about motion, kinematics and how to not to spill one’s breakfast over. We sighted Khanderi about an hour and a half later and as we approached were greeted by a pod of porpoises emerging from the water. It is amazing to see such unique and fascinating aquatic life just three hours away from Mumbai.

After passing Khanderi, the wind died down, making it easier to control the boat, at the cost of a slow sail. With the wind having died down we had to turn on the engine to continue. The farther we got away from Mumbai, the bluer the sea became. It also looked cleaner.

We also saw a fish called ‘Ghol’, which emerged out of the water and did a little dance on the surface. It whacked its tail on the surface of the sea and rapidly jumped around for a few seconds before re-entering the water. Another time, near Kashid, a popular beach further down the coast, we sailed right through a flock of seagulls that was feeding on a school of fish. As we got closer to the flock, the seagulls moved apart as if they were the boat’s honour guard. The fish were jumping in and out of the water and some landed onto the boat.

As we approached Murud we also saw the Kansa fort perched on an island in the middle of the water. It was built by Shivaji in 1676 and he used it as a base for his planned invasion of Janjira. Moreover, it was also used to counter the influence of the Siddis in Western Maharashtra. When the British took control of India, they used the fort as a prison for political opponents. After independence, the fort was used as a port for smuggling illegal goods into the country. However, because explosives and ammunition were smuggled in to support terrorist activities, customs has sealed it off to visitors. I wish I could have explored it because its isolation would not only provide a unique ecosystem of flora and fauna but also depict a unique history, one that I do not know much about.

We arrived at Murud in the late evening, at around 5:30 pm. We had sailed 74 kilometres in just one day. Janjira is a stunning fort in the middle of the sea that was built by a Maratha fisherman-chief in the 15th century, to protect the locals from pirates, contrary to current beliefs that it was built by Shivaji. The ruler of Ahmednagar sent a Siddi commander who attacked and demolished the original fort and built a new one, which still stands today. It was so impregnable that the Dutch, Portuguese, English and Marathas failed to take control of it. When the British came to power in India, they incorporated the Janjira State into the Bombay presidency, while the Nawabs continued to rule over the area. Until 1972, people used to live in the fort, after which they moved out onto the mainland. It also has an underwater tunnel, linking it to the mainland. This tunnel was used to carry out attacks on potential enemies, as they would not know about it. The tunnel however is sealed off to the public.

 

That evening my brother Arnav and I kayaked around the fort. It was a lovely experience. I explored many kayaking routes around the area. As we were kayaking, a porpoise suddenly emerged next to my kayak, just four feet away, and I was ecstatic. It became one of the highlights of my trip. We would have loved to go kayaking up to the Kansa Fort, but it was going to get dark soon.

The following day, we went to visit the fort. I kayaked all the way to the fort from the anchored baot. The next morning was windy. The head wind made it much tougher to kayak. However, the challenge was worth it. Kayaking in the Murud Bay is a phenomenal experience. It challenges one’s navigation skills. The sea bed near Murud-Janjira Fort is rocky with a swell of 2 feet. The area is far less sheltered, making it harder to kayak. The Bay provides a unique and testing environment for an intermediate kayaker. .

Another way to get to the fort is to take a felucca from the town jetty. Feluccas are traditional, wooden boats primarily used in the Meditteranean and Red Seas. However, they are only found in Murud, along the Konkan Coast. They are not powered by engines but solely rely on wind powers and oars for movement. The sails are made of canvas and lined with rope, making them very strong, while the oars and rudder are gigantic. Whenever the helmsman wanted to turn the boat, the sail had to be pulled onto the other side, making it a very tedious task to accomplish. I was shocked by the strength of the crew. The locals have felucca regattas every March and require a crew of 7-10 people to effieciently steer the boat.

 

The trip to Murud was incredibly unique for one more reason. Three generations of sailors in my family arrived here together. My grandfather, Kishore Mariwala sailed down in his boat, while my father, brother and I sailed together. It was really nice to see how the love for sailing has passed down through my family.
The following day at noon we had a relaxing sail to Khanderi. The wind conditions forced us to sail away from the coast, as we had to avoid the shoals by the coast. The wind started strengthening at 4 pm. We adjusted the sails out and we were speeding through the sea. At 7 knots, the wind kept on rising and peaked at 20 knots. Sailing in such winds can be terrifying but a memorable and an enjoyable experience. My brother, father and I kept on fighting over who gets to steer for the next hour. We arrived at Khanderi at twilight. It was dark and choppy and took nearly 20 minutes to anchor.

The night sky was stunning. There were so many stars out that night. As each hour passed, the number kept on increasing. Under that starry sky that night we ate pasta; it was one of the most tranquil moments of my life. Nothing could ruin my mood. But the wind had its own ideas about what tranquillity meant. Later that night, the Blazing Surmai started to drift. The rocky bed did not allow its anchor to dig into any mud spots. We had to re-anchor the boat closer to Khanderi Island. The temperature had also dropped. We were shivering as the boat drifted; it was 2:30 am when we finally re-anchored. I was so relieved that Vinod noticed us drifting; otherwise we could have run aground.

 

Early next morning, we went to visit the island of Khanderi. It’s a lovely fort built by Kanhoji Angre, a Maratha naval commander in 1660. Like Kansa fort, it was built to curb the influence of the Siddis in Janjira. By 1818, it was ceded to the British, who kept it under the jurisdiction of the Bombay Presidency. The Siddis occupied Khanderi’s sister fort, Underi. Thus, there were many battles between the two regional powers. The British built a lighthouse on the island in 1867, which still stands today. It was originally powered by kerosene but is now a solar light instead. A lot of the existing canons and fort walls were built either by the Marathas or the British too.

There were a few things that I did notice on the cruise and at both forts that did disappoint me. Coastal Maharashtra has such a vibrant and rich history that very few people know about. Unfortunately, none of the forts had any information about their history. There were no signboards conveying any information about the various structures and artefacts that are there. Furthermore, both forts were covered with trash and had no dustbins whatsoever. It is really sad to see such beautiful structures in such horrific conditions. At Janjira, there are 3-4 fresh water ponds inside the fort, which are not only covered by algae but were also covered by plastic water bottles. On Khanderi, every single stone and cannon had graffiti on them! Both the forts’ walls were also broken, making it nearly impossible to walk around the island, emphasising the poor conditions that forts are left in.

 

The following morning we sailed back to Mumbai. The wind was friendly and we picked up speed, returning in less than three hours.

I learned a lot about navigation and sailing on this cruise. Cruising is a rite of passage for a sailor to obtain more experience and develop. But I also learned a few other things: I learned about the importance of maintaining our historical monuments, I learned a little bit of Konkan History, I learnt that every place has its own unique story and that it’s our duty to preserve these stories, and finally, I despaired over the mess we leave behind as visitors, when we visit such magnificent places.

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