Sailing with Sinbad

The sail flaps twice before the wind catches it. There is a sudden jerk as the captain harnesses the wind. The wood groans as the dhow strains to find a symbiotic relationship with the wind.  I shake my hair loose, close my eyes, take a deep breath, and allow the freedom of sailing to wash over me in a tiny spray of saltwater that captures the sun in every drop.

Progress and speed are reliant on the whims of the wind, and the experience of the captain. Sometimes it is slow, but if you are lucky it is fast and seemingly effortless. The horizon heaves and sighs with movement. The cerulean blue sky gathers bulging white clouds, crowning the day with a promise of rain.

The hours become mouldable and elastic. Time is of no importance. Only the wind is. Its flirtatious conversation with the sail, the creak of wooden planks, and the splashing sound of water are the sounds of a perfect day.

On the East African coast dhows are still used extensively in daily life. These days they may not be transporting slaves, elephant tusks, hippopotamus teeth, tortoise shells or cowries any more, but they are still used to transport everything needed on the island. Engines or out-board motors have in many instances replaced sails, but the wind is still solely used to transport the coral blocks, used for building, that are hewn from the earth at Maweni on Manda Island.

Constant reminders of the lingering presence of history, dhows form an integral part of Lamu’s daily life and economy, and add to the laid-back feel and other-worldliness of the place.

There are still a couple of places in the Middle East where the art of dhow building is honoured. One such place is Sur in Oman. The dhows that are being built there may be huge, ocean-going vessels with engines and the latest satellite navigation equipment, but the design and methods by which they are built still hail from the past.

* If you are interested in reading more about dhows you can click here, or look at photographs that document the building progress of one in Ras-al-Khaimah (UAE) here.

** Also click here for more general pictures of dhows that I have taken throughout the UAE.