Building a Seaplane: In Conversation with Anson and Godson D’Souza

Building a Seaplane: In Conversation with Anson and Godson D’Souza

in Interview
Published on: 26 November 2018

Bony Thomas

A writer, cartoonist and illustrator, Bony Thomas was born and brought up in Ponnarimangalam in Ponjikkara island near Cochin Port, Kerala. One of the founding members of the Kochi Biennale Foundation, organizer of ‘Kochi Muziris Biennale’, Bony is also the author of ‘Kochikkaar’ (Kochites), a book exploring the intangible heritage of the various linguistic communities in Fort Kochi and Mattancherry. He has worked as a senior cartoonist in New Delhi and Mumbai with The Economic Times, and has also published his collection of short stories ‘Dog space’.

Anson D’Souza speaks about how he built a seaplane for his son’s project using innovative materials. Anson and his son, Godson D’Souza also talk about their family's association with boatbuilding; Kochi, 2017.


Interview with Anson D’Souza


My name is Anson D’Souza. My father’s name was Benny D’Souza. He was a fabricator (blacksmith), and I followed in his footsteps to become one as well. My father was in the fabrication trade for about 40 years—I worked with him for about 25 years. We owned the only workshop on the entire island of Ponjikkara in Kerala. So, we were the only ones who could do fabrication work in the boat construction yards. We completed different kinds of fabrication work, and even worked on the construction of a bridge.


My son studied mechanical engineering. For a project, he once wanted to make a seaplane. When he spoke to me about it, I suggested that he come up with a design for his seaplane. Earlier, I also had a dream to make a boat like that. Long ago, my father and I built a boat together. My son and I decided to make the seaplane using the engine of an ‘Omni’ van. I consulted several people—none were fully confident in the project, but they all encouraged us. We built the frame of the seaplane using square pipes. Normally, people build boats using wood, iron, or fibre. But we wanted our boat to be unique. We used ACP (aluminium composite panels) sheets to make frames, as saline water can destroy fibre over time. ACP sheets are made of aluminium, and do not get destroyed in saline water. Additionally, they are strong enough to survive normal collisions. Thus, our seaplane, outfitted with an Omni engine, was a success.


Eight people can comfortably travel in it. We were so happy with its success that we began to dream of making a seaplane capable of carrying 40 people. Also, a small seaplane, with the capacity of just eight people, would not be economically viable. Our first seaplane ran on petrol, which was not cost effective either. Normally, marine engines, which are used to build boats, cost around ₹4 lakh. But we plan to use a second-hand ‘motor’ engine, which cost only ₹1 lakh. We believe that nobody else has managed to design a boat of this kind before. It is our innovative project. The Chief Minister of Kerala gave us his encouragement. He offered all kinds of help for our future plans. With the seaplane, we have managed to capture the feeling of travelling in an aeroplane.


I studied till seventh standard. My father was a blacksmith who did all kinds of welding work. I started helping my father after discontinuing my education. On the island, there was just enough work for my father. So, I started working in many workshops in Ernakulam (Kochi) city. I worked in 10 or 12 workshops under different mestris (maestros). Each mestri had their own style of working and I learned a lot from them. Although I do not have formal education, God has gifted me with this blacksmithing skill.


Soon, I was able to work in the boat yards with my father. Pediro Mestri, Simon, and Johnson are the boatyards in our village; I have worked in all these yards. My father was able to get contracts with all of them as we were the only ones who owned a workshop on the island. I also learned from experts like Anthappan Mestri, Pooppu Acha, and Antappan Uncle.


I initially started with wooden boats. The first step is to treat the wooden planks of anjily wood with neem oil (veppenna). I mastered this technique first. Mestris made sketches and I followed their instructions. After all, the basics of boat building are all about balancing weight. Wooden planks for each side of the boat should weigh exactly the same in order to maintain balance. Ten per cent of the entire length of the boat should be left for the front portion; only then can it balance in the water.


The seaplane we have constructed weighs 2.5 tonnes only, whereas a normal boat weighs around 10 tonnes. This feature allows the seaplane to carry more passengers. It is built on the eravu (backbone of the boat), which allows it to have two wings on either side, to bear kind of ‘buoys’ underneath (the design is that of a small boat attached underneath both wings of the seaplane). This design ensures that the seaplane is perfectly balanced, even if all passengers crowd to one side. The body of the boat is built with fibre placed on ACP sheets. This ensures the safety of passengers. To the best of my knowledge, I do not think anyone else has made such a boat before.


Only after we complete both boats can we go through the registration process [Licence of a boat to travel in backwaters in Ernakulam should be granted by Cochin Port Authorities]. We expect our seaplanes to attract tourists. Our boats are built near our workshop, close to my house and about 200 metres away from the backwaters. Our plan is to transport the boat to the backwaters with the help of tyres. We work on the seaplane only at night. In the day, we complete other tasks for our daily bread. My younger brother, Antony D’Souza, also works with me. We hope to take the boat into the water by December 10, 2017. If this mission is successful, and we get enough support, we can go ahead with more projects.


Interview with Godson D’Souza


My name is Godson D’Souza. I studied mechanical engineering in KMP College, Perumbavoor. It was my dream to make a seaplane. But I could not do it in May 2017 as I had just passed out from college. I made some initial drawings of the seaplane and showed them to my father. As we are in the fabrication business by tradition, we felt that we could complete it in a short span of time and with a minimal budget. My uncles and friends from college, who had studied ship design, also helped us. My grandfather, father, and uncles are all in the trade of boat building. I also wish to carry on with this tradition.