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Ratnakar Dandekar’s India-made boats are sailing the world

INSV Mhadei   | Photo Credit: Special arrangement

When the Indian Navy went looking for an indigenous sailboat manufacturer in 2008 they did not find anyone fitting that description. They floated a tender and precisely two boatbuilders from across the country responded.

One of them was the affable Ratnakar Dandekar, a boatbuilder from the Divar Island in Goa.

But Dandekar’s company, Aquarius Shipyard, had never constructed an ocean-faring sailboat. In fact, no Indian company had constructed an ocean-faring sailboat until that point. So when Dandekar got selected, on the basis of cost and track record, it meant a very steep learning curve.

Simple maxim

The challenges began the moment the wood arrived for the hull. “It had a humidity content of 64%, when the recommended figure was 12%. We were already four months into a one-year manufacturing contract and it made me very anxious. I simply stopped taking advice from people and began doing my own research,” Dandekar said.

He fitted dehumidifiers and heaters in a large godown and dried the wood. It took 30 days for the material to become suitable. Six months into the project, the outer skeleton of the boat — later named INSV Mhadei — was ready.

Also read: All-woman crew of INSV Mhadei sets sail for Mauritius

The next big hurdle was making the keel, literally the backbone of a sailboat. It involved pouring nine tonnes of lead into the keel. Dandekar travelled to a Vasai-based battery manufacturing company to see first-hand how lead is poured into batteries, a process that helped him with creating the keel.

Soon, Dandekar stopped visiting his home in Panjim and moved to Divar Island, close to his shipyard. When the 25-metre South African manufactured masts arrived by road from Mumbai, there was awe and anxiety in Dandekar’s shipyard. They had not seen such large masts before and Dandekar admitted that he had to learn the process of fixing the mast from scratch.

Ratnakar Dandekar on board the Thruriya

Ratnakar Dandekar on board the Thruriya   | Photo Credit: Rahul Chandawarkar


Around this time, a fortuitous development changed his work life. The Indian Navy appointed noted Dutch boatbuilder Johan Vels as consultant to supervise the building of INSV Mhadei. Vels assumed the role of coach, mentor and guide.

He shared a simple maxim with Dandekar: “When you build a sailboat, it better be a good sailboat; otherwise why build it at all.” This changed Dandekar’s perspective. With Vels’ hand-holding, Team Aquarius built the boat in 14 months.

But there were the sceptics. When naval officer Capt. Dilip Donde (then Commander Donde) set sail on his path-breaking solo circumnavigation voyage on Mhadei in August 2009, Dandekar heard comments like, “This boat will not last more than three months in the ocean.”

Around the globe

That couldn’t have been further from the truth. Mhadei has circumnavigated the globe twice, first with Donde and soon after with Cdr. Abhilash Tomy, who became the first Indian to sail around the world without a single land halt in 2013.

Post Mhadei, Dandekar and his Aquarius Shipyard have grown in confidence. INSV Tarini was built in just 11 months and impressively, at the same cost as the Mhadei. Pointing to his laptop screen, he showed the system tracking Tarini’s daily movements.

A few weeks ago, the boat, with its six-women crew, sailed into the picturesque Lyttelton harbour in New Zealand as part of a seven-month global circumnavigation voyage.

A couple of months back, the ship builder constructed his third open-sea sailboat, Thuriya, for Tomy’s forthcoming global circumnavigation race in June 2018. And Dandekar — whose company has grown eightfold in size — is indeed ready to take on any boatbuilding challenge.

When he is not writing features and shooting pictures, the freelance journalist is busy training for his next triathlon.

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Printable version | May 13, 2021 6:46:38 PM |

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