Going 'Round the Bend'.
RNOV Shabab Oman, at the start of the 2006 Dubai to Muscat Offshore Sailing Race.
In the process of looking through my back catalogue, an exercise I perform at least once a year, I thoroughly enjoyed reliving a sailing race which I took part in a number times between 2002 & 2008. Each time with some of my closest friends in the world.
This is a tale about the 2008 race but I’ve added a few shots taken, and marked as such, at the start of the 2006 race because it started beautifully with the wind allowing us all to set off with spinnakers raised.
‘The Dubai to Muscat Offshore Sailing Regatta‘ is an annual event held every January. Boats set sail from the Dubai Offshore Sailing Club (DOSC), sailing up the coast of the United Arab Emirates passing through the Straits of Hormuz, sail around the Arabian Peninsular, ending their quest at the Bandar Al-Rawdah Marina in Muscat. I wasn’t sailing on the Shabab Oman, pictured above at the start of the 2006 race. Instead, I was one of 6 crew, under the command of ‘Der Schkipper’ (in cap rear centre), on the wonderfully appointed ‘SV Wanderlust’ a 38 foot Catalina. That’s me rear left . . .
The Crew: Rear left to right . . . me, Phil (Der Schkipper), Will (1st Mate).
Front left to right . . . Andy, Paul (XO) and Kate.
The race lasts about 5 days. However, we also need to sail back home to Dubai, so in all it’s a round-trip of about 10 days. One of the most challenging legs is the push around the top of the peninsular where the Arabian Gulf meets the Indian Ocean. The currents of both Gulf & Ocean meet here and conspire with the wind to bring misery to many who attempt to sail through them. Our GPS actually plotted us sailing (and I use that term loosely) a 30 nautical mile figure-of-eight during the most challenging 36 hours of the race.
Image courtesy of Google Maps.
The red line from Dubai (middle left) up to the Straits of Hormuz and down to Muscat shows the route of the race. The white figure-of-eight depicts the 36 hour 'pootle' through currents & light winds. Also marked here is Sufhar Port, and Khor Khassab, but more about them later.
All spinnakers up as we head to the first marker buoy.
The Omani team’s spinnaker (center) displays Oman’s national emblem, a sheathed Khanjar dagger superimposed upon two crossed swords.
Getting a little crowded as we near the first maker buoy.
Bigger and faster, S. V. Red Pepper bears down on us.
S. V. (Sailing Vessel) ‘Joss’ to port-side.
SV Joss on the port-side stern leaving the skyline of Dubai behind us.
Friend Johnny’s trimaran lifts off the swell.
After an uneventful yet very pleasant sail up the North coast of the Emirates, past Sharjah, Hamriya, Umm Al Quwein. Then beyond the northernmost Emirate City of Ras Al Khaimah we sailed into Omani territorial waters past Khassab and into the mouth of the Persian Gulf. This is where we did the collosal figure-of-eight.
We eventually made headway around the peninsular on day 3 and what followed was probably THE BEST sailing I have ever experienced. Will and I took the helm and eventually the last of the crew slipped below deck to their respective bunks leaving us to take Wanderlust ’round-the-horn’. I put a couple of stiff rum and cokes together and we set to keeping us on course towards Muscat. The wind, tide, and swell could not have been better. We enjoyed hours of fun surfing down 15 to 20 foot swells all night and well past dawn, and with a good wind with us we made up for the time lost in the doldrums at the cape. It didn’t last . . .
Sunrise reflects on the very calm & wind-free Indian Ocean.
On the 4th day the wind dropped and the ocean becalmed. So much so that we spent another 36 hours gently drifting North and ever closer to the Iranian coast. I don’t recall exactly how close we came to Iranian waters, something like 12 miles, but we REALLY didn’t want to get any closer. The image above was taken at sunrise on the 5th day. As beautiful as it was out there, we were getting uncomfortable with our proximity to the renowned unfriendly coastline. Tales of boat seizures and diplomatic incidents came to mind and Der Schkipper contemplated throwing the towel in and starting the ‘Tonk’ (engine).
Will looks hopefully for the slightest breath of wind.
Fortune smiled on us though and the wind picked up and stayed with us all the way to Muscat and to within a few hundred metres of the finish line, which was actually the mouth of the Marina Bandar Al Rowdha where it dropped off so completely that we were left wallowing helplessly within hailing distance of the clubs’ breakwater. We know this because the manager of the marina was stood on the breakwater shouting an offer of a tow into harbour thinking that we’d come unstuck & had no means of propulsion. This wasn’t the case, we’d come this far & wanted to sail across the finish line. While we flapped the main sail back and forth in a vain attempt to make some headway the quick thinking club manager summoned a staff member to bring the klaxon horn which he gratefully blew signalling to us that we’d finished the race.
Cheers were cheered and beers were quaffed. We started the Tonk for the first time in 6 days and quickly berthed the boat. Once ashore the Marina Manager informed us that not only had we come first in our class and 3rd overall but our GPS beacon had stopped working mid-ocean making it appear as though we were stranded. Apparently there was serious consideration of an all-out air-sea rescue mission and if we hadn’t crept in within their agreed time-frame we’d have probably been an international news event. Needless to say there was a great deal of relief sighed when we appeared wallowing around outside the breakwaters ignorantly yelling at the wind for leaving us stranded so close to the coldest beers we’d seen in a few days. Still, it was comforting to know that there was a team of people looking out for us. So, following a few more beers and a trip to the local supermarket to restock for the journey home we collapsed into an inebriated slumber. The hospitality at Bandar Al Rowdha was second to none but we had to make a quick turn-around.
Refueling at Marina Bandar Al Rowdha, Muscat, Oman.
Next morning we heard a report of bad weather closing in so the restock the night before proved to be a good strategy and made for a quick getaway. We were heading for the port of Fujeirah on the east coast of the U. A. E. where another friendly marina awaited and also where we would pick up John (2nd 1st mate) who would aid the now weary crew back to Dubai, and where Will, Kate and Paul would leave us to return to Dubai by road.
However, getting to Fujeirah wasn’t going to be easy . . .
Muscat, a vital and picturesque port in the Indian Ocean.
Looking back at Muscat as we head to Fujeirah on the East Coast of the U. A. E.
Kate contemplates the return as we pass one of the many small islands around Muscat.
That night the weather intensified. Heavy wind, made worse by the fact that it was hitting us head-on, forced us all into heavy-weather gear, the temperature dropped dramatically, and the rolling 10foot swell became vicious waves that broke over the boat’s nose drenching us in cold water and almost halting the boat before dropping us down into the narrow trenches between them before hitting us again. And again. And again. It was relentless and pretty tough on us all. We headed closer to the lee of the shoreline but there was little respite from the howling offshore wind, which I recall was hitting us with gusts in excess of 40 knots. This combination of wind and waves hitting us nose-on had the effect of slowing us down dramatically, the Tonk was working hard to make headway and we soon realised that we needed to find shelter before we ran out of fuel. A look at the chart and we headed to Sufhar Port where we’d refuel and rest until the worst of the weather had passed. The Harbour Master and his team were very accommodating. We were safe, reasonably dry, and we refueled without incident in a port designed for merchant shipping, not 38 foot sailing cruisers.
Later that day we made off again, if a little battered and worn by the night before. We were refueled, drier, and full of renewed vigour for the arrival in Fujeirah which marked the next stage of our journey home. We arrived that evening at Fujeirah Marina, berthed, and headed to a bar in a local hotel for a team drink before Kate, Will, and Paul headed back to Dubai the quick way; one and a half hours by road versus our 4 days of sailing.
One of the many rewards for participating in this amazing race is the opportunity to spend some time moored up at Telegraph Island, (AKA Jazirat al Maqlab, situated in the Elphinstone Inlet ), in the Khor Khassab. Pronounced ‘core’ and referred to as ‘The Khor’, this is a very special place. Greeted by a small pod of dolphins every time I’ve been, now 3 times, we sail about 6km into a fjord in the Arabian Peninsular – how cool is that? – before reaching this strategically important little island In the 19th century, it was the location of a British repeater station used to boost telegraphic messages along the Persian Gulf submarine cable, which was part of the London to Karachi telegraphic cable. It was not an easy posting for the operators, with the severe summer heat and hostility of local tribes making life extremely uncomfortable. Because of this, the island is, according to some travel agents and journalists, where the expression “go round the bend” comes from, a reference to the heat making British officers desperate to return to civilization, which meant a voyage around the bend in the Strait of Hormuz back to India.
Der Schkipper and Andy chill out up front as John steers us into ‘The Khor’.
Unfortunately, due to the weather delay, we had less than 24 hours to rest up before heading on to Dubai but we made the most of the break in a sheltered, pristine, but somewhat colder than normal natural harbour. During one particularly comedic conversation that night, the ‘Round the bend’ topic was discussed and it was agreed among us that one would have had to have seriously ‘pissed off’ one’s superior officer in order to be posted to this beautifully barren rock and that like the Eskimo’s fabled ‘100 words for snow’, you would probably leave it in a straight-jacket with a new-found vocabulary of 100 words for rock.
A traditional Dhow ferries tourists from a nearby hotel past Wanderlust at anchor in the Khor.
The view from Telegraph Island looking back toward the mouth of the Khor.
One of the dolphins from the local pod escorts us as we leave The Khor.
Thankfully, the next two day’s sailing were incident free. However, not without something memorable. On the second night of a couple of unexpected visitors arrived at the boat.
An unexpected visit from a weary traveler.
Two small weather beaten gulls appeared low above the water just off the stern of Wanderlust. One landed on Der Schkippers’ shoulder, the other landed on the rail to the rear left of him. They both stayed with us for about 6 hours before hopping off and continuing on their own journey. A very special moment for us. What an honour to have been visited by these wonderful wild seafaring creatures. They showed no fear of us and we bothered them not.
My main mission as crew on this trip was to ensure that we were all well fed and watered, and for water see rum, vodka, beer and assorted mixers. We’re a well-fed crew, even if I say so myself. So I continued my duties, in between spells of coma-like sleep, ensuring Der Schkipper and our new 1st Mate ,John, were well catered to. Andy and I provided nutritional support for the remainder of the journey and they took us safely home.
The final morning, I lose count of the days now, was a moody, pensive looking start but the cloud broke as we neared Dubai. The clouds parted and the sun illuminated the skyline beautifully welcoming us back in true Dubai style, and we were none the less grateful for seeing it.
Sunrise over Dubai as we head home on the last day of our adventure.
The rest is an exhausted blur but I assume we made it back to DOSC, berthed, drank a few cold beers, yawned, muttered, mumbled, and said our cheerio’s before dragging ourselves home for much needed sleep in big comfortable beds to dream about adventure at sea.
A few days later, I went online to track down what I could of the storm that hit us. The details are now lost in the ether, but I do have this image saved from some weather sattelite page somewhere . . .
The huge wind storm, or ‘Shamal’ (East Wind), that battered us into submission. This beast ripped dust out of the deserts of Iran and Afghanistan and blew it miles out into the Indian Ocean.
In comparing the map I posted with the image above, it’s clear to see how the wind interfered with our course home. That was a night I will not forget in a hurry. I’m just happy that we had such experienced sailors at the helm.
Around the bend and back again, I would repeat this experience at the drop of a hat . . . thank you Der Schkipper, Kate, Will, Andy, John, Paul, the management and staff of Bhandar Al Rowdha Marina and the Harbour Master at Sufhar Port. Without you I would not have this wonderful memory.
Aardvark! (Private joke amongst the crew).