One of my most romanticized memories as a kid was the adventurous summer travel back to our village in the Konkan.
Back in the early 80s, few owned cars or could afford to fly. The only options were to take a back breaking ST bus or one of the 2 ships or steamers from Bombay to Goa – Kokan Shakti or Kokan Sewak. Travelling on these was quite an experience and should have been immortalized in the film Bombay to Goa, instead of the bus journey.
The 24 hour journey included stops at Jaigad, MusaKazi, Vijaydurg and Devgad before reaching Goa. These weren’t like the cruise ships we now see, but more like a sea bus. Also, with the exception of Jaigad and Goa, the other stops did not have ports. So how does one disembark at sea? Well hold on to your mango!
Each ship had 2 cabins, which were almost impossible to book unless you had some influence. Below this was the deck, a large maidaan like open space, no seats and a bench strip along the periphery to enjoy the breeze or throw up after a bout of sea sickness. Below this was the boiler room, a basement space with the engines and where traveling was like being in a sauna.
There were no fixed seating. Once the ship docked, you had to run up and spread a bedsheet. The area it covered became your seating space, like a picnic in the park. Once settled, people brought out their food baskets, played games, fed sea-gulls, while the kids wandered around, making new friends or exploring the ship.
The evenings were spent on the bow, enjoying the sunset and recreating our own versions of pre Titanic “I’m the king of the world” scenarios. Its only when the sun set and it became pitch dark did the enormity of the sea and your inconsequential presence finally sink in.
The ship would finally reach Vijaydurg, a shallow port around 3 am. This meant that it had to anchor mid-sea and wooden boats would come to pick up passengers. Now picture the rough dark seas, a distant light house, a faintly visible fort, the daunting task of getting off a ship on wooden planked rope stairs onto boats being beaten by the sea with all your luggage and family members. It was a miracle that this had an accident free history!