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regular-article-logo Thursday, 18 July 2024

Race to city on hay boat

Eco-friendly sailors raise awareness

Brinda Sarkar Calcutta Published 12.12.20, 01:37 AM
The crew on board the hay and bamboo boat

The crew on board the hay and bamboo boat

A group of water sports enthusiasts has built a boat of bamboo, leaves and hay and is rowing it from Behrampore to Calcutta. The eight-day adventure should culminate at Outram Ghat on December 12.

“Hay is a difficult material to use as it gains a lot of weight once soaked in water and tends to sink... We have 11 people on board, making it heavier. We have run tests and found that the boat will not last much longer than eight days and so we are racing against time to reach Calcutta by then,” said Arshad Ali Mandal, one of sailors who also built the boat.

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Maintaining time has been a challenge as the boat has been getting stuck in silt. The worst scare was on December 8 around Fulia. “There was an island ahead and we were trying to veer to its left. But the current was too strong and we got dragged to the right. There was so much silt in the water that we got stuck,” said Puspen Samanta, the coxswain and team leader.

All 11 sailors got off and tried to push the boat free, in vain. The team is carrying with it a kayak that one of them then rowed to the nearest village to seek help. “But it was getting dark and villagers were reluctant to get in the cold water. We stayed on the boat that night and survived on biscuits and 3litres of drinking water among us,” said Samanta.

The next morning, villagers brought them water and muri and helped them push the swan-shaped boat free. The team, however, rues the loss of 22 hours and is now rowing round the clock, hardly sleeping or cooking on the gas they are carrying on board.

The team is having to sail through the night, but fog is reducing visibility to about 5m. “We are using Google Earth for navigation but the app isn’t able to caution us about boulders and silt,” said Samanta. “On December 9 we narrowly escaped ramming into an electric pole erected in the waters. A few inches off and we would have sunk like the Titanic.”

The expedition has been organised by Jagacha Yuva Sakti, a Santragachhi-based swimming and rowing group and is supported by the Outram Ghat-based Sea Explorers’ Institute. The group has been holding such trips since 2014, using boats made of leaves, empty bottles and fibre to navigate rivers and even the sea once to reach the Andamans. Their intention is to raise awareness about keeping the waters clean and this year, also about Covid safety protocols.

“The amount of plastic in the water was marginally less this year, but people still use the river as a dustbin,” said Aseem Mandal, who is maintaining a logbook of the bio-diversity and socio-economic conditions they witness. “Every day we are seeing between 20 and 40 carcasses of cows, dogs, goats, ducks and chickens floating in the water.” Aseem is an instructor at the National Disaster Response Force.

All others on board are seasoned mountain climbers or water sports enthusiasts. Rudra Prasad Halder has conquered the Everest and Kanchenjungha, Tapas Chowdhury is recipient of the Tenzing Norgay National Adventure Award (for water adventure).

The team also has a lady member, Keka Jana. “I have participated in several kayaking and rafting expeditions and have the fitness required to match the men. It’s a strenuous journey but I’m enjoying it,” says the 40-year-old swimming trainer.

The 65ft x 7ft boat, on its 350km voyage, is enduring much wear and tear. The team has been cutting leaves from trees in the jungles and replacing the damaged portions of the structure. They are using solar panels to charge their phones and lights and have cordoned off a corner in the boat to use as a toilet. The waste will be treated and disposed later.

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