The Traditional Art of Wooden Boat Building along the coast of Gujarat

Boat building forms a very important part of the economy along the coast of Gujarat. Salaya, Veraval and Mandvi are towns of fishermen, boat makers and traders. In these regions boat building is an integral part of their daily lives.
There is a unique relationship between traders, boat makers and fishermen. Traders invest, boat makers build the Dhows and fishermen use them.

Dhow builders neither require a large industrial set up nor hundreds of people but the methodology and precision with which these craftsmen operate is comparable to any large industry with huge investments. It takes an average of six months for a Dhow to take shape with ten to twelve carpenters working continuously.

Carpenters arrive purposefully at the site at 9am and work till dusk making full use of daylight hours. They are adept at handling wood almost like clay or paper, curving and bending wood to get the desired shape. It is pleasurable experience to see how they create Dhows from a single plank of wood that could have a load carrying capacity ranging from five hundred to fifteen hundred tonnes and keep sailing for about thirty years. A well-built Dhow could last for fifty years if well maintained.

All year round at the port there are several boats at various stages of construction. During monsoons when the fleets return from sea repair work increases and waters are crammed with Dhows under repair and streets are abuzz with sailors. Dhows are pulled up on spare ground, allowed to dry, repaired, oiled and set afloat again. During the four months of monsoons Indian Government bans any vehicle from going into the sea as waters are too dangerous and rough.

The boat makers are so adept at what they do that they do not need maps, guidelines or sketches to build large boats which are often meant to face turbulent storms at the sea. Boat makers combine skill and techniques, science and engineering, and the coming together of the various methods and disciplines fascinated me. Boat Makers produce a fascinating and complex final product just from wooden planks. This journey from scratch to the finished product is captivating and intriguing.

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