Water, water, everywhere - but not a place to moor

Mumbai International Boat Show temporary marina
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Rising sales of luxury boats could spell big business across India. In yet another sign of the rich getting richer, an increasing number of people are buying pleasure boats, and according to a yachting association official, have spent Rs400 crore (£50 million) since Mumbai hosted India’s first international boat exhibition last year.

The second boat exhibition will be held from 28 February to 2 March, and a slew of new boats are expected to hit the Indian waters. If the trend continues, there likely wouldn’t be adequate space to berth the new acquisitions at the docks of Mumbai, or for that matter, Goa, Kochi or Chennai.

The quayside off Mumbai’s Gateway of India is already clogged with boats of all sizes, uses and types, and people frequently jump from one vessel to another to reach their own. Prior to the boat show, there were around 20-30 pleasure boats here; post-event, there are more than 100.

“It’s the typical Indian mentality . . . first they buy Porsches, then they think of roads,” says Malav Shroff, publisher of India’s first trade magazine India Boating, and chief executive of Mumbai-based Ocean Blue Marinas and Boat Haven Pvt. Ltd, which also organizes the boat show.

“Now people are buying boats, they will think of building marinas later,” he adds.

There are around 25 dealers today who are engaged in the pleasure-boat and water-sports trade, and companies such as Aquasail Distribution Co. Pvt. Ltd have begun gearing up for the boat show.

“We have a strategy meeting soon, we’ll look at what boats to showcase, and what kind of projects we can handle,” says Aquasail founder-director Shakeel Kudrolli, who sold four yachts, costing between Rs25 lakh )US$6,000)and Rs1.5 crore (US$400.000), and 50 dinghies at the inaugural boat show last year, and expects a repeat this year.

Yachting association secretary general Ajay Narang says what was bound to pique further interest in sailing is the Volvo Ocean Race — the premier round-the-globe yachting event held every three years — that has now added India on its route for the next edition in 2009. “Pleasure sailing is on a growth path,” he says.

Shroff senses a huge business opportunity in the anticipated shortage in docking facilities, and others agree; Kudrolli, for instance, has added building marinas to his service portfolio. To them, Goa, Chennai and Kochi provide the maximum opportunity.

Marinas in Goa, with proper infrastructure, can take the load off Mumbai’s shores, says Kudrolli. Mumbai doesn’t have “good water quality,” he says: the sea is choppy and the tide strong, and dredging can prove prohibitively expensive. Owners of yachts and smaller pleasure boats can dock their vessels in Goa, and plan their vacations around sailing.

Feroze Contractor, managing director of Mumbai-based Ava Marine Services Pvt. Ltd, a 25-year-old company that maintains 35 yachts for clients, says there’s no space at the Gateway of India’s yacht area for the influx of new vessels.

“All of a sudden, all these boats are being imported, we are overflowing, we have run out of space,” says Contractor, who also owns three boats. A proper marina will save space, more vessels can be accommodated, and docking made easier, reducing damage. He lists other advantages: owners will not have to invest in dinghies to reach their yachts moored in deeper waters, supplies of fuel and water for cleaning boats will be easier, and spillage of oil — now carried in jerry cans — will be history.

Aquasail has completed a feasibility study for about six marina projects. The company, which has targeted Kochi, Chennai and Goa, is now waiting for official permission to build its first marina by the year end at any of the three centres.

Ocean Blue Marinas, which has set up a modern marina for the Mumbai boat show, has 15 projects in Goa, Kochi, Chennai and along the coasts of Maharashtra and Gujarat. It’s already in the process of building one in Goa, where Shroff says permission is the easiest to acquire.

Shroff is also looking at new business avenues through marinas; taking a cue from gated communities coming up around golf courses, he has signed a deal with a developer to build a marina in a real estate project in Goa. He declined to name the developer, saying a formal announcement would be made soon.

Shroff says marinas will mushroom all along India’s shoreline, stretching across 7,000km, provided the government relaxes rules on marine environment protection.

“Permissions are the most difficult to get.”

What could probably help is the global attention India is likely to attract during the Volvo Ocean Race. Kochi has been added as a stopover, and the Kerala government will build a “racing village” across more than 2.5 acres, complete with accommodation for sailors, officials and more than 700 back-up personnel for the seven teams, a food court, theatre for cultural shows, and a nearby guest house complex for an expected 20,000 domestic and international tourists.