Kerala tourism's hottest attraction, the houseboat will come in a new fibreglass, eco-friendly model, this monsoon season, finds out K. PRADEEP
Years ago, when A. G. Sudhakaran decided to build strong, steel boats there were many who dismissed it as a wild dream. There were others who sniggered, some who said that this boat would sink quick and deep. Sudhakaran went on to construct steel fishing boats and Kochi's first-ever `junkar' that plied between Fort Kochi and Vypeen. His company ran into rough weather but Sudhakaran's vision never dimmed.Today, Samudra Shipyard (P) Limited, Aroor, managed by his three sons, Jeevan, Harish and Arun, who now stay at Edakochi, has made pioneering strides in the `art and science of boat building.' They have now given shape to another innovative holiday idea - a traditional `kettuvallam' made out of fibreglass. This is the first of its kind in the country.
By tying together massive planks of wood, these giant boats, with a covering of bamboo and coir, were traditionally used to ferry rice and other goods. This indigenous boat has been redesigned in a scientific manner with improved facilities."We have replaced wood with glass fibre reinforced plastics. There were many reasons that prompted us in trying out this model. The most important factor was non-availability of good wood. Even if we do manage to get it, it takes a long time to make one hull and deck, say around 75 days. Then it calls for frequent maintenance. For our fibreglass houseboat we have introduced innovative structural forms but kept the traditional look intact. Glass fibre is light, strong, and can be easily moulded into any complex shape. Moreover, it is durable with minimum maintenance. And importantly it is not affected by marine growth and saline water," informs S. Jeevan, CEO, Samudra Shipyard.
One of the most significant aspects of this new version of the `kettuvallam,' is the superstructure. In the traditional design the superstructure shell is made of a metal or bamboo frame. This is covered with bamboo mats. This gives its traditional look."What we have noticed is that this kind of structure decays very fast. This means that the bamboo mats will have to be replaced once in two years. Not just the mats the coir ropes that bind them will also have to be replaced. We have also seen that the rooms and furnishings are often contaminated with the dust that tends to fall from the bamboo ceilings. All this calls for high maintenance cost."This exciting innovation is the result of extensive research and market surveys. "We must have spent at least 15 months in the planning, research and development of this new design. We have taken the help of the best brains in the country to make this dream a reality. For this project we have been assisted by the Advanced Composites Division of the Technology Information and Forecasting Assessment Council (TIFAC), the Department of Ocean Engineering, IIT, Chennai, has designed the hull, while the entire fibreglass superstructure has been designed by the Industrial Design Centre, IIT, Mumbai."Like the traditional houseboats, this exotic barge, named `Dwaraka,' comes with two bedrooms with attached toilets, an open lounge, a dining area and a kitchen. But the builders have taken extra care to incorporate functional requirements based on the results of their surveys. "The tourists who we talked to have so many valuable suggestions. We have tried to include most of them. They have shown a preference for a good view of the backwaters from all rooms. Some of them even insisted seeing the water from the bed. This has been taken care of in our new boat.
The tourist will get a breathtaking view from all the rooms. The boat ensures security against fire and will have the required buoyancy to keep the boat afloat in case of accidental damages or leakages. We have also seen that it is 100 per cent eco-friendly. For this we have adopted a design whereby the discharge from the toilets will not spill into the water."Constructed at a cost of Rs. 1.43 crores, this floating marvel will now be operated by Aqua Samudra Floating Lodges and Resorts, a sister concern of Samudra Shipyard. "A lot of people, especially from the hospitality sector, have evinced interest in our boat. Since we have the mould ready, a boat can be built in 30-35 days at a cost of Rs. 40-45 lakhs. Kochi is bursting at the seams when the tourist season peaks. In the season that just got over the city hotels found themselves going beyond their carrying capacity. This new brand of luxury houseboats can be an effective solution," feels Jeevan.So, this monsoon the languid backwaters will be graced by this luxurious, eco-friendly, fibreglass houseboat that will surely give the tourists an unforgettable `Kerala' experience.