The Jabuticaba bobs gently on the sea, a few hundred metres off Morjim beach in northern Goa. On board, I curl my toes happily against the teak deck and look at the nearby stretch of sand. It’s called Turtle Beach, and I wonder idly about the immensely hard work female turtles must do to lay eggs in their nesting sites. There is no time and place quite as nice as sunset on a beautiful yacht for the utterly idle contemplation of the industriousness of others.
It does take such slightly sybaritic surroundings to properly appreciate the prizes that some of those industrious others — the humanoid kind, not turtles, alas — sometimes reward themselves for their (very) successful hard work. They buy themselves yachts.
The sad truth is that most of us aren’t even run-of-the-mill millionaires, so it’s simpler to succumb to just a little envy, even humour. More than one humourist has described the experience of owning and maintaining a yacht as being roughly equivalent to standing up fully dressed in expensive clothes under a freezing shower and ripping up high denomination currency notes as fast as possible.
And yet. All such petty considerations pale before the experience of sailing before an ocean breeze, the snap of canvas contrasting pleasantly with the creaking common to all wooden vessels. Not far away a school of dolphins entertain themselves, and us, splashing among the wavelets. Lunch isn’t immediately on their agenda, but it is certainly being served. The Jabuticaba’s electronic gear shows some fish in these relatively shallow (10m) waters around a kilometre off the Goa coast. Gulls and brahminy kites quarter the skies, eyeing the water with intent, a sign that there’s fish within striking distance.
Erkan, the mate, ties a monofilament line to the biggest spinner I’ve seen — at nearly a foot, it’s four times the size of the lures my angler friends use on rivers — and tosses it out into our wake. The sonar has just shown a large creature swimming near the seabed, and I fantasise briefly but happily about barracuda, marlin and other such fast, agile and beautiful predators of the deep.
Our efforts don’t interest the mysterious shadow on the sonar screen, but soon every gull and kite in the area has flown over to investigate the lure. With their 1.5m wingspans, these birds aren’t small, but they are dwarfed by a magnificent fish eagle that also swoops down for a closer look. We haven’t quite finished joking about catching an eagle on a monofilament line before it dismisses the nutritional value of the spinner, and us, with an effortless flick of its tail. The huge wingspan, well over 2m, keeps the great bird in sight for a long time as it flies off in search of better pickings.
Excitement over, we chat with the Jabuticaba’s captain. Like the boat, which was made there around eight years ago, Uguryavuz is from Turkey. His current job is a drastic change from working on 45,000-ton bulk carriers shipping granite. I normally cringe at Gerald Durrell’s jejune anthropomorphisms, but I remember laughing at his description of the dangers of conflating Greeks and Turks. You would horrify a Greek by mistaking him for a Turk, and vice versa, he says. I’m grinning again, as Ugur cheerfully decides I need an update on Byzantine/Hellenic sociopolitical relations. I kid him about the claimed superiority of the Turks, yielding only to the precedence raki must have over ouzo, but I make a happy mistake when I say something about Mediterranean olives. He fishes out proof, olives from Turkey, and they are indeed succulent and heavenly-tasting, the best I’ve ever had.
Even more to my taste is the view of the Baga-Calangute beach from the sea. Especially over the Christmas-New Year break, this strip, along with a couple of other Goa beaches, becomes India’s party central. It’s very crowded, intense, fun and if you’re from Bombay or Delhi you’ll meet all the people you thought you were getting away from. If you like your Goa a little mellower, there’s a particularly deep pleasure in lounging on a boat that’s out at sea and watching the lights of the shacks, restaurants and nightclubs flick on as night falls. In absolute, wonderful silence that’s broken only by the muted throb of the engine and the wash of the waves.
It’s a lot cooler even a short distance off shore, too. When we anchor for the night near the mouth of the Mandovi I choose to sleep on deck. I look dubiously at the blanket that I’ve been asked to bring up and make brave noises about not feeling cold even in Ladakh. But sure enough, by early morning I’m glad for the extra covering.
Varun Sood, who runs the Jabuticaba in Goa, joins me for breakfast. Lots of investment bankers, management consultants and other such spectacularly compensated types like to hold forth on how they’d love to do “something else”. Sood parlayed the gains from his career as an investment banker into buying and immaculately restoring the Siolim House, a former residence of the governor of Macau that’s three hundred years old, and is now a small luxury hotel much favoured by tourists with an eye for heritage. He continues to run a private equity business, but the Jabuticaba, which arrived in Goa in late 2007, is clearly a passion. He himself sailed on the yacht on the last leg of its journey, from Oman to India. “It was great,” he says of his enforced six-day absence from the world of high finance. It’s hard not to be infected with Sood’s enthusiasm for things marine, from the Jabuticaba to the fast RIBs (rigid-hulled inflatable boats) that are used as tenders to get on and off the yacht, and for entertaining recreation like water boarding.
The nice thing about good holidays is the intangible bit that you can take away with you. I’m floating long after I’ve got off the Jabuticaba. I learn later, too, that it had been fairly apt to think of turtles on board the Jabuticaba. The boat is named after a fruit that’s native to Brazil, and the word jabuticaba derives from jabuti, a Tupi Indian word for tortoise, and caba, Portuguese for place; hence, a fruit named for a place where there are tortoises. Jabuticaba rinds, moreover, are used in several medicines. Jabuticaba the yacht is an altogether different drug, one that agreeably caresses the edges off even the most jaded traveller with every movement of a gentle ocean swell. Highly recommended.
The Jabuticaba is a 25-m wooden schooner, equipped with four sails and a 280-hp Caterpillar marine diesel engine. It has room for 50 people on day cruises and, in its eight double cabins, for up to 16 guests for overnight stays. Each cabin has an attached bathroom with hot water and shower. If you haven’t been on a boat before, be warned, though; it’s a snug fit compared to terrestrial accommodation and to large cruise liners, which are really floating hotels. The Jabuticaba also carries two smaller outboard motor boats for ferrying passengers and crew to and from it, as well as for short trips off the vessel to visit the beaches and fishing villages or for snorkelling in the shallows off the coast.
The rates vary with the season and with guests’ specific requests; a variety of cruises of different durations can be designed to suit one’s schedule, interests and budget. Typical rates including tax, however, are: Rs 2,000 per person for a two-hour evening cruise, including tea and snacks; Rs 3,500 per person for a five-hour day cruise, with lunch and soft drinks; Rs 4,000 per person on twin-sharing for overnight stay (assuming a minimum of 12 people on board); approximately Rs 1.2 lakh per day for chartering the entire boat.
The Jabuticaba is anchored near the mouth of the Mandovi river, just off the Kala Academy in Panjim. For enquiries and bookings, contact Siolim House at 0832-2272138, 2272941, 9822584560, www.siolimhouse.com