The birth of a royal barge

Craftsmen are giving finishing touches to one of the largest urus to sail out of Beypore

By the banks of the Chaliyar at Beypore, in the outskirts of Kozhikode — slushy, quiet and woody — luxury is taking shape. Two new-age urus (boats or dhow) are being crafted by Binafa Enterprises for Qatar royalty inside two towering yards. A few metres away lies another yard, now empty, where Bichu and Company have already set afloat their new uru. Across the Chaliyar, more luxury boats are in the making, this time by P.A. Ahmed Koya and Sons. All orders, says Ali Koya, manager of the projects at Binafa, are from Qatar.

Silent years

Before that, the uru yards and the music of hammers had fallen quiet in Beypore. “We started getting orders from Qatar three years ago,” says Ali Koya. “For about 18 years before that, no urus were made in Beypore though the industry was active before that,” he adds. Reasons for the slump were many. Beypore urus were sent by companies to the Gulf 18 years ago largely as cargo and fishing boats. “Options for cargo transport are many now and fishing boats have moved to fibre,” says Ali Koya. Business choked and craftsmen moved to the Middle East for work.

Many are back. On their hands is the biggest project they have taken on. The second yard at Binafa hosts the uru that has tested the skills of craftsmen. The sambouk uru (with a flat rear) is the largest order the companies have earned since their renaissance. Over the past three years, about 40 men have worked to raise her. Nearly done, she stands 32-feet tall, roughly the height of a three-storey house; 145- feet long at the keel and 200-feet at the top; 42-feet wide and weighing around 1,500 tonnes. The craftsmen think she will set sail by December.

Were the men nervous about taking on this big project? “If there was nervousness, it must have been a collective one. For what is seen here is the work and imagination of a lot of workers,” says Sathyan Edathodi, master craftsman, who worked in the Gulf countries for over two decades.

The foreman Raju Nelloor, who has supervised the making of this uru, also brings a world view gained by three decades in the Middle East. Ali Koya says the uru project has given employment to a clutch of iron smiths too. Stacked in his make-shift office are large iron nails and nuts and bolts to pierce the uru’s belly. The men, both experienced and the novice, have pooled in their skills. “Ninety per cent of the wood used is teak,” says Raju as he gives us a tour of the two-storey uru. The hull, blooming from the keel and meticulously decked with symmetric nail marks, is a work of art. The hull is the challenge, admits Raju. “It has to be perfect. If a piece of wood is out of place, the shape goes for a toss,” he adds.

We climb up the narrow make-shift flight of stairs to be on the first floor. “We were given instructions on the measurements of the uru, but for all that goes into creating it, we have to use our head,” explains Raju.

On floor one is a kitchen with counters and drawers. Further down is a large majlis (a gathering space) with 20 full-length windows and two doors. The floor is layered; over the iron beam decks are thick wooden planks covered by plywood and then fibre. It will be finished with teak panels.

At the rear of the majlis are a flight of stairs to the basement and it is an intricate, dark world out of there. “The rooms will all be here,” says Raju. The tunnel-view reveals an array of planks on either side of the hull, with tick marks in chalk, perfectly aligning on top of the keel. We step back into the first-floor majlis, take a skimpy ladder up to be the second floor to a smaller majlis, the captain’s cabin and fresh air.

Every order is a new challeng as each one’s requirement is different. “Here, we have gone slow on carvings. Even the railings on the sides are minimalist,” points out Raju.

Interiors and the last strokes of luxury — air conditioning, cabins and more — will be built once the uru, worth about Rs. 5 crores, sails to Qatar. So too the electrical work. But the framework to luxury happens at Beypore. Ask Raju if he has ever seen an uru he built transformed into a luxury enterprise in full glory? “No,” he says quietly.

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Printable version | Apr 9, 2020 6:02:20 AM |

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