Large capacity solar ferries will change the environment of our inland waterways. Sandith Thandasherry’s city-based firm is the only one that makes such vessels

Obviously, designing and building ships or boats are not something one decides to do one fine day. For Sandith Thandasherry it was something that he always wanted to do. And when the first vessel he designed and also helped build touched the waters it was the realisation of a long-cherished dream. Today, 36-year-old Sandith’s design and construction firm, Navgathi, designs for shipping companies across the globe and has successfully branched out into specialised vessels like solar boats.

Graduating in Naval Architecture from IIT Chennai, Sandith worked for two years in a shipyard at Bhavnagar, Gujarat. The turning point was when the US company, now defunct, Sandith joined in Mumbai, sent him to Hyundai Heavy Industries, Ulsan, South Korea. “The mission was to build a team that would engage independently in design and construction. The five years spent ,at one of the world’s best ship building yards, were invaluable experience. The two years that I was leader of the team we must have undertaken the design and construction of at least 25 vessels, most of them huge oil tankers,” says Sandith who functions out of his office at Kalamassery.

Instead of being content, as most people tend to do, with his present job Sandith began dreaming about having his own boatyard or even a shipyard. That’s how I decided to do my He decided to pursue an MBA and was part of INSEAD, a top business school in France.”

Armed with the degree and plenty of confidence Sandith launched his own firm Navgathi in 2008. “Initially, we did not get into manufacturing for we did not have the funds. So we offered ourselves to designing for shipyards. Some of the yards in the State, like Master and Century took interest in us. Our first independent project was a river-sea container. This is in its finishing stages. Even as that was happening we completed another river-sea vessel, which incidentally became the first one from Navgathi to be completed. We had made dredgers but this was the first sea going vessel.”

In the six years of its existence Navgathi has expanded its horizons and created a niche for itself in this fiercely competitive field. “Yes, we have grown. We now have 35-40 engineers and administrative staff working for us. We have some regular clients like Mediterranean Shipping Company for whom we do all their ship analysis, designing and all related services that we can offer.”

Along with this Sandith made the tacit move to make specialised vessels like dredgers, solar and ambulance boats. “This is what we are focussing on now. When Maharashtra Tourism wanted a wooden boat with IRS certification they selected us after an open tender. They are like our own houseboats but we needed to give it a Maharashtrian look. Two of them have been launched at Kudal and two more will be functional by the end of this month. The Maharashtra government have now given us an order for three ambulance boats to ply along the Sardar Sarovar Dam.”

For the solar boats Navgathi has joined hands with Alt.En, one of the most experienced zero emission boat builder with years of expertness in naval architecture, hydrodynamics of hull and screws, electric propulsion and battery management. “Our new venture, NavAlt will bank on Navgathi’s local expertise and Alt.En's technology. We will provide boating industry with a more efficient and environment friendly alternative to conventional ferries and cruise boats. We have got a work order from the Kerala State Water Transport Department for solar boats with a capacity of 75 passengers to ply between Vaikom and Thavanakadavu. We provide the design and Alt.En the technology. Asia has a growing boating industry and we now look to providing a change to the existing ferries and cruise boats that will be free from air, water, noise pollution, rising fuel cost, and fuel availability.”

Sandith’s endeavour becomes important because it is not simply about modifying an ordinary boat into a solar powered one. It is a technological jump that can change the way waterways are being used today. He feels that solar boats are the future but governments, organisations and others are only slowly waking up to this fact. “ We have designed a unique hull that betters the performance of the boat by consuming lesser energy and increased speed. We launched the first one in 2008. This was a 10 passenger boat for cgh earth, the hospitality group for their property at Kumarakom. In fact, this one won a place in the Limca Book of records for the fastest solar boat. And recently the one we designed and built for Central Institute of Fisheries Technology has gone operational. We are at present, the only company in the country that can construct solar ferries that can carry 75 to 180 passengers. ”

Manufacturing space is Sandith’s new challenge. Ideally his dream of a shipyard or a boatyard is where half of the area would be sheltered with controlled environment and where the hull is made. The rest of the space can be used for outfitting and storage. “We lease out yard space today even as our own space is under construction. If everything turns out well we might soon start building at our own yard. And I’m sure it will happen soon.”

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