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These boats float, like real big ones

The passion of building boats has given this retiree a happy extension

Retirement has not brought about a big change in Baby's life. Of course, mornings are now much more relaxed and there is time for the afternoon siesta. But he still spends long hours bent over a worktable at his home in Thripunithura, with a handful of tools, giving shape to near perfect models of boats, replicas of the real ones, made to scale.

This was what Baby used to do for nearly 25 years at the Central Institute of Fisheries Nautical and Engineering Training (CIFNET) before he retired from service in 2000.

Boat making was Greek to Baby. And all the technical and nautical terms that his instructors dinned into him were as mind boggling as Latin. But gradually he became familiar with each stage of boat building. Soon, he found talking in the nautical language. Terms like backbone assembly, bending of wood or hull planking no longer left him flustered.

"I owe a lot to my instructors at CIFNET. They taught me everything, right from the basics, to drawings and making these models without compromising on the details. Most of my instructors had generations of boat building experience and that was what they passed on to me. People like Bhuvanachandran Nair, Antony Lopez, C. P. Joseph were master builders. Then we had men like K.B.C. Menon and Ponnambalam who were thorough in the theory aspects of this job," remembers Baby with gratitude.

In the course of these 25 years Baby must have been involved in the making of at least 15 boats. "We mainly made fishing boats. They were made for the other training institutes that placed orders with us. Most of them were wooden boats using fine, durable wood, like teak. I must have made around nine such boats. Then we made those Ferro-cement boats under a FAO supported scheme. They were huge ones, almost 43 feet. But working on the wooden ones was what I really enjoyed."

The super structures of these wooden boats were made out of huge teak or anjali logs an each of them were done strictly according to the stipulations in the drawings. "Once the structure of the hull is made. We cut out planks according to specified length, breadth and thickness. They are then screwed on to the structure. A copper under layer gives the structure protection. A little bit of fabrication work is needed in the making of the mast etc. This is usually done in house or sometimes given out on contract. Everything is done exactly according to the drawings."

Baby's carpentry skills are not inherited. Interested in this field, he joined the ITI at Chakka, Thiruvananthapuram. With a certificate from this institution and loads of confidence, Baby applied and was selected to join CIFNET. "My carpentry skills were honed here. Apart from the boats I also made some furniture, like cots, tables and chairs for our office."

Post retirement

Strangely, after his retirement Baby has never contemplated making furniture. He still continues to make smaller versions of boats. With a few tools like a cutting machine, a power handsaw, drill and grinder Baby makes them as perfect as those huge ones. "I make different kinds of fishing boats and I do have a regular clientele. Even these miniature models are made following the drawings. The displacement will be perfect and they will float smoothly. The hatches can be opened and every equipment, each part of the boat that needs to be defined during training is there."

Baby has not suffered a change in his preferences and likes despite changes in life. He finds happiness in making boats, an extension of a job that gave him so much fulfilment.

K. P

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