The sky is grey and the incessant drizzle is keeping the Audi’s wipers busy. The road, gouged by the monsoon and the leviathans that carry the country’s industrial produce to Jawaharlal Nehru Port, is better suited for Audi’s Q7 rather than the A6 we are driving. The larger mountains, which they call speed breakers, need to be negotiated carefully, and calls for the A6 to crab its way over to prevent the underside from scraping. Despite the bad roads, the Audi is pretty comfortable, with the adaptive air suspension damping out the jarring thuds from the broken concrete. Under the hood is a 1,968cc engine that’s makes 190hp, which, at the moment, is good only for academic purposes as we crawl behind a 16-wheel trailer that’s belching out a cocktail of lethal gasses. As far as I can see, there is an unending stretch of red tail-lights.
The Arabian Sea on our right is choppy and the only sign of life is a small dinghy with an outboard motor puttering away in the distance. I wonder, is that a fisherman? At least he does not have to deal with traffic jams in the water. Though I am ensconced comfortably in a high-end German sedan, I feel a pang of jealousy seeing the fisherman carving through the water in his boat. Would I trade places with him? Maybe, if the boat had a cabin as good as the A6 that I am in. That would include air conditioning and entertainment systems. And power, lots of it. That would be a cool way to travel around in a coastal city like Mumbai. Why isn’t it more popular? Since I am not driving and we are not going anywhere in a hurry I decide to use my time to Google the answer. And what I find is rather surprising.
It seems that everyone – from the Union Minister of Road and Transport, Nitin Gadkari, to the Chief Minister of Maharashtra, Devendra Fadnavis – has got the same idea. In one interview, Gadkari states that water transportation is needed to decongest Mumbai and he plans to link Mumbai through the water, including the airport. The Maharashtra CM has announced sea-based services to link South Mumbai, Navi Mumbai and Alibaug by end-2018. Will this give a fillip to private boat owners?
This raises the first important question. Can I buy and run my own boat in India? What kind of boat? How much will it cost to buy and run? What about maintenance? I have a thousand questions and Google doesn’t have all the answers. But a few phone calls get me an address where I can get the answer. I reprogram the GPS to Navnit Marine’s boatyard in Mora, Uran.
An hour later, we are behind the blue gates of Navnit Marine boatyard. In front of us, across the waters of the Arabian Sea, is the eastern shoreline of Mumbai. There are a dozen boats scattered around the yard, most of them covered in tarpaulin on dry dock. There are four boats in the water, and amongst them is the Princess; or rather Princess 42, built in Plymouth, England.
It’s bigger and swankier than I had envisioned it, but I am told that the Princess 42 is about the smallest boat that you can call a yacht. The Princess 42 is not small by any stretch of imagination. It is 13.48m long, has a beam of 4.14m and drafts 1.09m. Beam, in marine parlance, is its width at the widest point, while, in the simplest terms, the draft of a ship or boat is the distance between the surface of the water and the lowest point of the vessel. The less the draft, the shallower the water the boat can operate in.
Both the Audi and the Princess are powered by diesel, but that’s where the similarity ends. The yacht has not one, but two 370hp engines. Each of which is a 5.5-litre, in-line, six-cylinder diesel unit that use common-rail fuel injection, and has double overhead camshafts and turbo. This gives the Princess a cruising speed of 27-29knots, which translates to about 48-53kph. This may seem laughably slow to us landlubbers, because the Audi will hit 100kph in 8.5sec and continue to over 200kph without breaking sweat. But the point is, the Princess can continue at that speed on open water, while in reality, the Audi is stuck at 20kph traffic on land.
I just had to ask this question, “average kya hai (what’s the average)?” The Princess 42 consumes 98.42 litres of diesel every hour when cruising at 3,000rpm which I am assured is very good for this kind of boat. With its 1,362-litre tank, the Princess 42 can travel the 400-nautical-miles distance from Mumbai to Goa without stopping for fuel.
After the sumptuous cabin of the Audi, will the Princess 42 live up? A peek into the cabin answers it instantly. You’ll have trouble spotting a fibreglass surface anywhere – headliners are fabric, trim and cabinetry is solid wood, and countertops are Avonite. The carpet is cushioned from beneath, upholstery is buttery-smooth Ultraleather, and the seats are Lazyboy comfortable. And then there are two cabins, bathroom with shower, cooking hob and microwave. Yeah, if I am going to get stuck in traffic this is what I want — a bed, shower and hot meals.
Now that I am sold on the idea of a yacht, how much will it cost? About Rs 6 crore for the initial purchase and annual charges like insurance, parking, mooring, harbour license, dry dock, maintenance and crew salary that can add about Rs 30 lakh more. These are very rough figures, but you get the idea. And yes, Navnit Marine will take care of everything, from selling you a boat to its maintenance and all other requirements.
To answer the question, yes, you can buy and run a boat in Mumbai. You can escape the potholed roads, crawling traffic and pollution by taking to the water. But a lack of infrastructure and domestic boat manufacturers means it is still a rich man’s privilege. The sun is setting as we point the A6 towards home. I wish we had a drone to shoot the A6 with its Matrix lights accelerating through this ebony stretch of asphalt against this dramatic twilight sky. But I do have an empty stretch of road in front and 190hp under my foot. I watch the tacho redline each gear as the A6 bolts ahead like a Replicant chased by the Bladerunner. Forget nautical miles and knots, give me plain old kph and zero to hundred measured in seconds any day. And a nice road. If I had one last tank of diesel to blow up before the apocalypse, you know which vehicle I would choose.