Hitting the high seas

Payel Majumdar Upreti | Updated on March 02, 2019

Cruising along: Yachting is a popular hobby across Southeast Asia

In good hands: Royal Phuket Marina's Wiggins Marina Bull docking boats in dry berths

For long seen as a pastime of the rich and beautiful, yachting is now gaining currency across India. Imagine sailing into a golden sunset, to the sound and rhythm of a gentle wind. The sea is around you, calm and soothing. And there is a bar at hand, whisking up some exotic cocktails.

A cruise holiday is on the bucket list of many In- dians and a popular option for those visiting sailing des- tinations such as Singapore and Thailand. For long seen as a bastion of the moneyed, yachting has been gaining cur- rency in recent years with members of the corporate world and others. Mumbai, which had a mere 100 boats in 2004, now boasts of over 1,000 yachts.

However, with the cruising industry growing at a snail’s pace in India, most sea lovers have been flying abroad for their cruises. Singapore, for instance, has reported a 25 per cent increase in the number of Indians opting for a cruising holiday. Not surprisingly, tourism and sailing groups have been wooing Indians looking for a cruise or a vacation on a yacht.

The annual yacht show at the Royal Phuket Marina in Phuket, Thailand, held on January 10-13, 2019, also showed a special interest in Indian tourists and sought to make them a part of the yachting scene. The fleet of yacht dis- played was open, by appointment, to those interested, and the exhibition hall at the marina saw the presence of many maritime lifestyle and equipment companies.

Yacht owners came for the show from all over the world, including the US, Europe and Southeast Asia. On display were the latest models of motor sailboats and catamarans from yacht companies such as Lagoon, Vik- ing, Monte Carlo and Sanlorenzo, as well as leading yacht dealers such as Simpson Marine who had occupied berths at the marina.

“This is my third year in a row at the yacht show here, and it is getting bigger every year,” says Tim Williams, a boat owner who had arrived from the US with his family for the show. “It is a great place to connect with the community and get to know about the latest inventions hit- ting the market in terms of boat technology upgrades, as well as interior designs. It also makes for a great family vacation.”

Tatiana, a representative from Asian yacht dealers Simpson Marine, says Asian markets prefer the catamaran over sailboats as it is seen as a more stable craft in rougher seas. Sailboats are preferred by traditionalists who like the customary feeling of sailing on the seas. A yacht offers different kinds of experiences — from a cosy two-state- room space to super vessels equipped with jacuzzis, sun decks, and space for up to 12 guests. Expect light wooden flooring, mood lights and designated areas such as bars and lounges or even cosier yachts built for a family to sail at length.

Staterooms are usually under the main deck, and lux- ury yachts can be furnished with the best of brands such as Hermès cushions and Bottega Veneta leather interiors. The latest innovations include sunroofs made of carbon fibre that can cover larger areas because of its light weight. Slides into the ocean, hammocks and fibre glass floor on which you can lie down and enjoy the view below are some fun-filled additions that one can find or custom- ise in their boats.

The Royal Phuket Marina offers docking facilities for 216 boats, with 100 wet berths (parking lots in the sea) for motor yachts up to 35 metre long. The marina even has a dry stack (parking facility) that can accommodate up to 60 boats, 12 m in length. The marina was built by business- man Gulu Lalvani in 2005, a year after Thailand stopped levying import duty on yachts. The marina has since then played a significant role in developing Phuket as a sailing and yachting destination.

Those who own yachts can give them for charter to big- ger dealers of yachts when the vessels are not being put to use. If you do not wish to be a full-time boat owner, but want to experience the lifestyle of one, the marina offers seaside villas and condominiums which are rented and leased out for a longer stay. Made in the traditional Thai style, these villas have large open spaces surrounded by greenery and afford picturesque views of the ocean. The main villa comes with its own docking space for a yacht of up to 70m.

The yacht show this year had superyachts Titania and Talisman, both available for charter with dealer Burgess docked offshore. While Talisman is 54m in length, Titania is 72 m long, and is named after the queen of fairies from A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

India is slowly opening up to the pleasures of yachting, with people embracing the idea of luxury cruises and sail- ing as a leisure activity. Kochi has been holding its own in- ternational marina since 2010, and the footfalls are increasing. Luxury cruises have begun operating in the country in the last few years, the Mumbai to Goa Antilla being the latest. But the potential is enormous, because India’s 7,516 km coastline lies underutilised.

Meanwhile, there is Phuket. Airlines such as Go Air have been operating direct flights of five hours or less to the Thai tourist destination from Delhi, Bengaluru and Mum- bai four times a day. It is even possible for Indians to own a yacht that they can maintain in Thailand.

“While the Mumbai marina has been in the works for sometime, the project got waylaid owing to the Nariman Point terrorist attacks,” says Lalvani. “But it is high time the city got its own marina.” Plans are on to build a mar- ina that can host up to 300 yachts on its eastern water- front, from Mazagaon Docks to Wadala. The master plan was announced in 2017. Currently, Princess Dock is being dug up to make space for a new terminal for passenger cruises and docks. The coming years will decide how the pastime picks up as India’s spending power increases.

The writer was in Phuket on invitation from Royal Phuket Marina

Payel Majumdar Upreti

Published on March 02, 2019

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