Feature: All hands on deck
Feature: All hands on deck
India’s first domestic cruise is plying the Mumbai to Goa route, with Bose audio systems enlivening the decks and cargo hold-turned nightclub. Caroline Moss gets on board
Many childhood dreams fade into memories as the business of real life gradually deprives them of ambition. Not so for Captain Nitin Dhond, whose own dream shaped his childhood, informed his career choice at 16 and was finally realised at the age of 60.
As a young boy, Captain Dhond’s imagination was captured by two steamers that used to ply India’s Konkan coast between what was then Bombay and the former Portuguese colony of Goa, their cargos of exotic fruit and household goods mingling with deckloads of passengers picnicking and playing music into the night. This infected the boy with an ambition to sail the seas, leading to a long and distinguished career with the Indian merchant navy, gaining vast international maritime experience. However, his memories of the Konkan coast never faded. By 1980, those steamers had been co-opted and were later sent to Sri Lanka as peacekeeping forces. The service was never reinstated, so Captain Dhond decided to resurrect the voyage.
‘He spread the word among the marine fraternity that he was on the lookout for a suitable ship,’ explains Captain Dhond’s sister Leena Prabhu, whose irrepressible energy has overseen Angriya’s refit and its ongoing operations. ‘A friend was surveying a 20-year-old ship being decommissioned in Japan that he thought would be perfect for Captain Dhond’s requirements. We didn’t want to have more than 400 passengers on board, and we also wanted something that would give people an enhanced experience of being at sea. This ship used to sail from mainland Japan to the Ogasawara Islands with cargo and passengers, and it was very well maintained. So, we decided very quickly, together with our partners, to buy it in December 2016.’
The ship was sailed from Japan to Goa where work began to convert it into a passenger cruiser, alongside necessary bureaucracy to register it under the Indian flag. This involved a name change to Angriya, honouring one of India’s unsung heroes, Sarkhel Kanhoji Angre, first admiral of the Maratha Navy who took on colonial maritime powers in the 18th century and never lost a battle.
After three months in Goa, the onset of the monsoon forced the ship and its team northwards to dry dock in Mumbai. By now, extensive metalwork had created three passenger decks, a nightclub in the former storage refrigerator and several cafés and restaurants, one of which, Ancora, is designed around the giant anchor from the original vessel. ‘Captain Dhond had a lot of clarity on how he wanted the ship to look,’ explains Prabhu. ‘It has very straight lines which we wanted to maintain. Many cruise liners are large and inward-looking; we wanted to change the theme of the ship to make it outward-facing, so people could experience the sea, the coastline and its history.’
The company, which also runs the Wildernest Goa eco resort in 800 acres of forest rescued from poaching, is known for its dedication to ecology and conservation, and there is an emphasis on educating passengers as they sail. An on-board ecologist can help identify birds and mammals spotted on the voyage and there is information on ancient forts and settlements along the route, while screens in one of the restaurants show nature programmes and children’s films.
On Angriya’s arrival in the port in Mumbai, an 18-month fit-out period commenced, overseen by the irrepressible Prabhu, who confronted the port authorities over an antiquated law restricting women from leaving and entering after 6pm – and won. ‘It was quite a challenge,’ she says of that period. ‘There were almost 200 workers and contractors together on board.’
One of the contractors was AV systems integration company Audio Technik. A Bose Elite partner for India, the company was put forward by the manufacturer after Prabhu expressed a preference for Bose systems throughout the ship. The project was led by Audio Technik’s company founder, Rajesh Patil, and two other directors, Kevin Pillai and Peeyush Singh.
‘Once the audio installation began, it was easier for us to understand the dynamics of the project and what was required,’ says Pillai. ‘The ship is full of constraints when it comes to mounting speakers, and there are a lot of protocols that need to be followed that don’t apply on land. The management trusted us wholly. They gave us not only the freedom but also the authority to do what needed to be done. We took them to an installation of ours in Mumbai, a warehouse club called MH04 Drunkyard, and suggested things they could offer their passengers to add value, like a setup for a live band and video solutions, and it all started to evolve.’
It helped that Prabhu holds a master’s degree in Indian classical music and occasionally performs herself. ‘I’m not very technical but I understand the difference between good and bad sound, and I know a little about mics and sound systems,’ she says. ‘The main acoustical challenge we gave Audio Technik was that we wanted to preserve the ship’s lines and exposed metal.’
Much of the ship’s entertainment takes place on the pool deck, created by removing an enormous mast to open up a large space at the ship’s aft with an infinity pool overlooking the wake. The main system on this deck is a pair of high-output, weather-resistant Bose LT 9702 WRs, which handle the variety of DJs and live bands that perform every evening. These are powered by a QSC GXD4 amplifier and reinforced by a pair of British Acoustics Delta828 subs powered by a QSC PLD 4.5 amplifier. A Bose ControlSpace SP-24 sound processor is also used for the main system. There are also two Bose FreeSpace DS 100SE and two FreeSpace 360P speakers for BGM, powered by a Bose PowerShare PS604 amp, while a single Bose FreeSpace DS 40F flush-mount speaker provides BGM for the Sea Breeze bar located above the pool deck.
‘We wanted something powerful and flexible enough to handle different types of music, and also weather the extreme conditions,’ says Pillai of the LT 9702 WR system. ‘They’ve survived their first season at sea and the Indian monsoon without any problems; there is no difference in their tonal quality from when we installed them.’
A Yamaha MG16XU 16-channel analogue mixer, chosen for its ease of operation for the on-board staff, is used for the live bands on the pool deck.
The Fathom Lounge nightclub presented Audio Technik with one of its biggest challenges. ‘It used to be a cold storage area, and we have turned it into something on the other end of the spectrum – an intimate nightclub,’ says Pillai. Limitations included a lack of rigging points, requiring brackets to be welded onto the steel shell of the space, as well as the exposed metal interior. ‘This provided a challenge because we couldn’t use acoustic panels, we had to use something that would gel with the aesthetics of the place, so we used an acoustic foam treatment wherever we could on the ceiling and the walls. For the rest we were dependent on the furniture and, ultimately, the crowd.’
Space restrictions saw Audio Technik installing a system of six Bose RoomMatch Utility RMU 208 small-format, two-way speakers with four F1 subwoofers into 0.6m recesses around the dancefloor. ‘In terms of tonal quality and output levels in a place where space is a constraint, the RMUs behave really well,’ says Pillai of the point source system, which features the same Bose EMB2 compression driver for low distortion and vocal clarity found in the larger RoomMatch array modules. ‘We could target certain areas that we wanted to be high energy. We didn’t want two big speakers blaring from either side of the DJ; we wanted it to be distributed sound but, at the same time, the energy level had to be high because it’s a nightclub. For the launch party, the band played in the Fathom Lounge, and we were amazed at how well the RMUs could handle live sound, because they aren’t intended for that. It was a proper heavy four-piece band with a loud drummer and the system handled it perfectly.’
Another challenge was that the lounge needed to be quickly converted into a conference facility when required. Audio Technik provided a preset that minimises feedback from the wireless mics used in this configuration, while muting the rear speakers to provide an L-R setup. A motorised, 150-inch screen together with an Epson projector can be easily deployed for this change of use.
Above the dancefloor in Fathom is the Sea Horse bar and, here, six RMU105 ultra-compact speakers with two F1 subs extend the system, which is powered by a Bose PowerMatch PM8500 amp, with a Behringer 880 mic splitter and Yamaha MG12XU 12-channel mixer also supplied.
More Bose speakers – FreeSpace DS 16SEs – have been used for the Ancora and Coral Reef restaurants and the Dry Dock spa, powered by Bose IZA 190Hz zone amps. A portable Bose F1 Model 812 system is available for use on other decks and areas as required, mainly on private charters for parties and special events. Sennheiser XSW35, XSW52 and E835S handheld mics are also available for use if necessary. However, there is also a focus on providing quiet areas where the sound of the waves and ship at sea under the stars can be enjoyed.
The ship’s PA system, also supplied by Audio Technik, consists of TOA PC-648R ceiling speakers and CS-64 outdoor speakers powered by TOA P-2240 amps, networked via a QSC Q-Sys Core 110f digital audio processor installed in the control room along with a Shure SCM262E stereo microphone mixer and Sennheiser E835-S for announcements. Apart Audio E-VOL volume control units are located in 30 of the guest rooms, allowing passengers to adjust PA levels.
Audio Technik also provided Samsung videowalls for screening films in the Coral Reef restaurant, while all LED light fixtures for the ship – primarily in the lounge and on the pool deck – have been provided by Reynolds Sound and Lighting from Bangalore.
The partnership with Audio Technik progressed so well that the company continues to be involved in the ship’s maintenance as well as booking and handling events on board and consulting on future projects.
‘A captain told me that every ship has a soul and chooses who she has with her – you don’t have a choice,’ says Prabhu. ‘We soon realised that a lot of responsibility was ending up with Rajesh Patil other than his main activities. There was a lot of sense in what he was saying and the advice he was giving, so he’s ended up as one of our directors. And there were certainly a lot of other things that happened that were beyond our control but fell into place; that was how this ship came together. It’s not only Captain Dhond’s dream, there are so many people who feel equally passionate about this ship.’
This is apparent while talking to some of the young Goan staff on board, hired straight from local training institutes and catering colleges, who are keen to share the ship’s history with the passengers. Angriya is a rare example of a commercial project that not only ticks all the boxes from a technical and operational point of view but holds firm to the integrity and values of its management team and, most of all, that childhood dream of Captain Dhond.