Despite unfavourable weather dhows persistent to finish to the end
Sunday morning witnessed 98 dhows off the 101 registered, ready to take flight all anchored at the Sir Bu Nair Island for the 24th Edition of Al Gaffal (‘The Return’) race. Jostling for place closest to the mark buoys, the organisers were strict enough not to permit any violators as is mostly seen when such a massive turnout of boats are at the start line. . The stroke of the hour (05.55 am) signals the start of the race as orange smoke from the pace boat is let off. 98 pristine white sails go up in a second and are slowly filled with air just like a balloon, as there is no more than One knot of wind. It appears for hours that they are still at the start line as they are not able to move an inch. Lack of winds but calm seas are both fighting each other so as to prevent the boats from taking flight.
It is not until 8 hours later that winds pick up and give a sudden thrust that the dhows are able to touch 18-20 knots speeds with winds at 17 knots. The calm seas enable the dhows to make it to the finish line covering a distance of around 18 Nm in less than 2 hours. Earlier, 34.1 NM from Sir Bu Naair to Moon Island of 22 NM were covered over 6 hours with the remaining in less than two.
In 1991 under the tutelage of then DIMC Managing Director Saeed Hareb, the “Al Gaffal”, or the home-coming, was put in place in an attempt to revive a fading tradition. At the time only 53 dhows, the smaller 43-foot type, participated. But as the years went by and the race opened to the bigger 60-foot dhows in 1993. It caught the imagination of the sea-faring community as it gave them a glimpse of how their ancestors lived — as pearl merchants or fishermen — who made one last stop on the Sir Bu Nair island to enable their crew to rest and prepare their pearls for trading in the markets of Dubai.
However, pearl trading gradually died out and the boats were left unused and were not maintained. The special seafaring language that had filled the air also started fading into the background of modern times and the development of Dubai as a trading hub.
“Troubled by this, Shaikh Hamdan Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Deputy Ruler of Dubai and UAE Minister of Finance and Industry, took a personal interest in the revival of this final journey from Sir Bu Nair to Dubai. And thus “Al Gaffal” was born”, added Saeed Hareb, now Vice President of DIMC.
The race over 54 nautical miles brings generations of families together, soaking in the spirit and atmosphere of a bygone era. An era that could have been lost forever, had it not been for this unique re-creation. “For me, this is a race that is all about bonding,” said Major Ahmed Bin Thani, DIMC Chairman and member of the race organising committee.
“Though the race is meant to bring an end to our season, it gives me a feeling of euphoria and nostalgia because it transports us all back in time. It shows us over the course of the weekend what it must have been for our ancestors to spend months out at sea and then set the course for one final furlong to meet their loved ones back home,” Ali Bin Ghulaitha, acting CEO DIMC.
Today’s race saw barraq skippered by Rashid Mohd. Al Rumaithi and his crew, take the first place and covet the AED 500,000 prize money. Al Gaffal is the largest traditional race in terms of prize money.
Al Adeed, owned by Mohammed Rashid Musabeh Al Rumaithi came in second, skippered by himself while Dahees took third place led by Omer Abdullah Mohd. Al Marzouqi.
The prize giving was held at DIMC and the winners received their trophies at the hands of HH Sheikh Saeed Bin Hamdan Bin Rashid Al Maktoum along with Saeed Hareb and members of the DIMC Board of Directors in attendance.
The hull of the dhow has to be 100 per cent wood, and it is also recommended that the main mast be made of wood, though the use of Kevlar and carbon fibre is also acceptable these days due to its better durability. The main mast in the centre is meant to propel the dhow while the second mast on the side is used to manoeuvre the boat.
The skipper’s part is most crucial. Other than his superior knowledge of winds and weather conditions, he is meant to be like a hands-on general manager who has to be in complete control at all times.
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