Traditional dhow sailing and racing have been an integral part of Dubai’s heritage for centuries. This grand sport was introduced to the waters of Dubai in 1996 for the empowerment of local seamen and to draw attention to the kingdoms cultural link to the sea. In Dubai, dhow racing is a familial affair for the sailors as team’s compromise of Fathers and their sons. Grand children, cousins and other young male family members can also be found on the same team.
Initially used by pearl divers, fishermen and traders these dhow sail boats are an essential part of Emirati culture. Traditional dhows were used to compete in the early races and although technology today has improved, the original design of the vessel has been maintained. The boats now used for these races are made either from wood or metal but the spar that supports the sail is always made from aluminum or carbon fiber. Unlike the earlier days where the sails were made from cotton, polyester cloth is now the preferred material.
Dhow racing is not for the faint of heart as these small boats are quite unsteady due to their light weight. The modest amount of balance that is achieved is scavenged from sandbags carried onboard and by the crew shifting their weight in an effort to maintain equilibrium. Manned by the sheer brute force of 12 member crews, these 18 meter long dhows reach speeds of up to of 20 km per hour and are twice as fast as other sailing vessels.
The starting lines are positioned depending on the direction of the wind just before the race commences but seasoned sailors are accustomed to the constant change in wind direction and speed. These fickle conditions may make racing dhows a bit tricky for armatures but experienced seamen are able use it to their advantage. Since these dhows cannot turn easily from the wind like modern yachts, every single maneuver involves swinging the mainsail over the other side of the mast. This requires the mainsail spar to be lowered and freed from the mast. Simultaneously, the front end of the spar must be dipped and swung around the base of the mast while the sliding rope collar is moved to the other side. This seeming complex series of events is just another day in the life of dhow racers and is concluded within an astounding 5-10 minutes.
Since there is no modern equipment such as GPS, speed logs, wind gauges and depth sounders, experience and ability to read the waters for faint changes in wind direction is what determines victory. Tourists in Dubai now have the opportunity to view this adrenalin packed event thanks to the sail boat tours in Dubai.