For generations, Abu Dhabi, with over 400 kilometres of pristine coastline and a plethora of natural islands, has been at one with the sea. Ports throughout the emirate – from the small western marine hub of Delma Island, to the UAE capital – were home to fishing and pearling fleets and active boat yards where highly skilled craftsmen forged the traditional ‘dhow’, which quickly became noted as one of the sturdiest vessels afloat.
Abu Dhabi’s mariners would travel as far away as East Africa to trade in dates, pearls and mangrove wood. The sea was Abu Dhabi’s economic lifeblood, a source of sustenance, and earned a respect that is immortalised in the ancient sea shanties, chanted as pearling and fishing crews harvested their marine treasures.
Today there is rarely a more inspiring sight than that of stately Arabian dhows with billowing white sails full ahoist. These traditional sailing vessels continue to ply the seas as they have done for hundreds of years in annual races which commemorate the days when pearl diving fleets, which had been at sea for months, would challenge each other to see which would be the first home with the season’s precious haul. Much as in days past, winners of modern-day races can expect a handsome reward for their efforts.
With the hardy days of survival now behind them, Emiratis still take to the seas in droves – but this time in a more leisurely fashion. Abu Dhabi already has world-class marine leisure facilities and more are on their way.