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Water babies

Except when it’s raining, the sea off the Gateway of India has dozens of luxury boats bobbing on the shimmering water, and those are only the ones that found parking.
By Lina Choudhury-Mahajan | None, Mumbai
UPDATED ON JAN 31, 2010 12:31 AM IST

Except when it’s raining, the sea off the Gateway of India has dozens of luxury boats bobbing on the shimmering water, and those are only the ones that found parking.

Boating in the city is doing so well, the majority of our sailing craft are out of sight because we don’t have a marina where they can rest. A second house has traditionally been the splashy investment of the affluent — now they’re buying a boat or a yacht.

Gautama Dutta points out that the Maharashtra Maritime Board register and the Royal Bombay Yacht Club register show more than a 200 per cent increase in the number of leisure boats or yachts over the last four years. Dutta has a bird’s eye view — he’s chairman of Indian Marine Federation (IMF) Boating Days, a boating show due in March. IMF is the apex trade body for the Indian boating industry.

“The boating industry is growing, and the acquisitions are not just expensive yachts – smaller boats like kayaks are also doing very well,” says Ashim Mongia, who runs West Coast Marine, a yachting company.

The rising sales of kayaks and speed boats — whose prices start at Rs one lakh — show that it’s not just the swish set who are hitting the water, both for transport and leisure. On the other end, the price tags can go all the way to Rs 40 crore, for marquee luxury boats like Fairline and Monteray.

Industry observers say more and more people now favour buying a boat over a waterfront property. “With a boat, you can have a new address every day,” says Rihyad Kundanmal, director, Ocean Crest Marine, which sells the Monterey and Fairline boats. Kundanmal has four boats that he uses for both work and pleasure.

“A lot of my work involves boats, so I use them extensively. I also use them to travel to my construction sites,” he explains.

“Demand is rising across segments, from kayaks and speedboats to

luxury yachts and super yachts. There are now close to 155 large and small boats docked off the Gateway,” Dutta points out.

Zia Hajeebhoy, director of Aquasail, the company that brought Beneteau sailing yachts, among others, into the Indian market, says last season, 3,000 people signed up for the range of sailing programmes she runs. “I get the entire spectrum — from students to 50-year-old business magnates — coming for sailing lessons,” says Hajeebhoy.

“Boating as a lifestyle activity has grown in India from an almost non-existent market in 2006, to an educated market flooded with choices today,” says Dutta, but insists Mumbai’s lack of a marina is a major impediment. At the March show, the IMF plans to ask the government to help them build one by 2011.

Boating entrepreneurs like Mongia agree. “If we have a marina, not only can more people use boats and invest in them, we can also welcome boats and yachts from overseas, which would give the economy a long-term boost,” he says.

As of now, during the monsoon, or when boats aren’t being used, for lack of a place to dock safely, owners have to haul them on to land, sometimes needing dismantling of major parts before they are stowed away safely, making the whole exercise an expensive affair.

Still, until that marina materialises, there’s always the IMF Boating Days show, which Dutta promises will be for everyone from groups of schoolchildren to those in the market for a yacht worth millions.

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