Vipin Raveendranath’s tryst with kayaking began in 2005 when he started exploring the scenic waterways of Kerala after returning home following a long stint in the US. The 48 year old’s love for the boat and backwaters instantly attracted kayaking enthusiasts and a 10-member group formed that has dedicatedly kayaked in Kerala every December since 2014. Today, their shared love for the water has transformed into a first-of-its kind mission to highlight the huge problem of plastic pollution in the oceans.
Vipin and two of his kayaking mates – Dani and Murugan – are ready to set off on a deep sea kayaking expedition on their custom-made boat. Ironically named ‘Plastic Samudra’, the kayak is longer and larger than a standard expedition or touring sea kayak and fully equipped to take the trio from the backwaters to the ocean.
Starting later this year, their expedition will be split into three legs – Goa to Kochi, Kochi to Lakshadweep, and later a Chennai-Andamans stretch.
Why the kayak experiment?
The expedition was a spin-off of an awareness campaign on plastic pollution in the waterways and seas which the group began in late 2015. But soon enough it snowballed into much bigger cause, as it rightly should, Vipin says.
“Since 2014, we used to paddle through National Waterway 3 (NW3), which stretches from Kollam to Kottapuram. In 2015, we decided we would kayak further up north and venture out on to the open seas. But when we entered the Arabian Sea, what we saw deeply exasperated us,” Vipin recalls.
It was literally an active marine landfill, he says. From tonnes of used plastic milk packets, shopping bags and FMCG packaging, all the waste dumped into the backwaters flow in to the sea.
“We could not go 100 metres without spotting a floating single-use plastic bag or some other item,” he says. This is when the idea of an awareness campaign against plastic dumping struck them.
The group, sometimes 2 or 3 of its members and other times more, would kayak, camp and visit schools located closer to backwaters in Kerala to spread awareness on marine pollution.
“In all this time of kayaking, we realised that people living close to lagoons and backwaters have, over the years, changed the way they use these waterbodies. If initially the waterbody was being used to bathe and wash clothes, today it is being treated as a dumping ground,” he says.
Four years after the campaign was kickstarted, Vipin decided to take it up a notch and embark on an adventure for a cause. With this, the idea of the expedition was sown. Next step was to find the perfect kayak suitable for the epic journey.
How Plastic Samudra was built
While the initial plan was for Vipin and Dani to embark on the open sea expedition, Murugan soon came on board. The challenge was to identify a kayak that could fit all three of them and handle the winds and swells of the ocean.
“We knew we had to get an ocean-going kayak built to our requirements as none of the existing expedition kayaks available in the market fit the bill. We drew rough designs and contacted shipyards to find out if they could build it for us. That was how we met Ratnakar Dandekar, CEO of Aquarius Shipyard Pvt. Ltd., a Goa-based boatbuilder who had built sailboats for the Indian Navy,” says Vipin.
For the kayak’s design, the trio took the help of Peter Bosgraaf, a Dutch yacht designer who heads Bosgraaf Yacht Design. Peter designed a self-righting kayak that was 30 feet long with 4 feet beam.
The design was shared with Aquarius and keel-laying ceremony was held on April 5, 2018, the National Maritime Day of India. Nearly a year later since the construction started, the result was an unsinkable ocean-going kayak that could hold 250 litres of fresh water (double as ballast for vessel stability) with sleeping quarters on the aft and forward.
“Plastic Samudra is larger than traditional multi-day expedition kayaks which usually range from 16 to 18 feet long and about 35 inches wide. It can accommodate 3 people and has storage space for food, drinking water and other essentials.
She is also designed to be equipped with a suite of electronic systems for the safety of crew members at sea. Based in the UK, Raymarine has supported the Plastic Samudra expedition with a multi-function navigation system for voyage management, an autopilot for self-steering, an automatic identification system (AIS) for vessel identification and collision avoidance, and a VHF radio for communication and distress alerts. Mumbai-based Elcome is supporting the expedition with satellite communication system, live tracking of kayak, life safety and survival equipment,” says Vipin.
The three men will be able to take turns to paddle, with two men paddling and one taking break at a time.
“It is important for one person to keep watch as collisions with ships and trawlers are very likely. This means two of us have to be awake at all times,” says Vipin.
To prepare for their expedition, the group also took the help of Abhilash Tomy, the first Indian Naval officer to solo circumnavigate the earth without breaks in 2013, and Dilip Donde, the first Indian who set the record for solo circumnavigation of the globe on a sail boat. Along with them, Ratnakar and Peter Bosgraaf too helped with inputs. T
The three men will embark on their expedition on the west coast post the south west monsoon and will do the final leg between Chennai and the Andamans in 2020.