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  • AutorenbildHans Genthe

Racing in the burning sun: planing with 16 knots on a dhau

Aktualisiert: 28. Dez. 2020

Sunday, May 18, 2014. Mercilessly the sun burns down from the sky. A jellyfish drifts slowly by. The planks creak in the swell. The sweat drips from the forehead, every movement is torture. And no end is in sight.

I inwardly curse that Wednesday morning three weeks ago, when I followed the call of Prince Luitpold of Bavaria to Dubai. "Lui", as his sailing friends call him, has been an avid sailor since childhood. First he successfully sailed Flying Dutchman, and until today also successfully ASSO 99, a 6-man keelboat with 3 men in trapeze. He also climbs into his 18 footer again and again. You could say he is crazy for sailing.

Crazy, yes, that's the best word for it. 5 hours we are now already drifting under the scorching sun of Arabia on one of a total of appr. 120 60 feet Dhaus. Ahead is Moon Island, an artificially filled up island 25 nautical miles east of Dubai. There is a gate to which the tidal current is driving us. The weather forecast was ideal, 15-18 knots of wind were announced. We jibed through the gate, I whirled from one side to the other, hooked shrouds out and in again and tried not to kick the ribs. There are no floor boards - too heavy.

2 days ago I arrived in Dubai and took a taxi to the yacht that was to be our home for the next few days. Our host is none other than His Highness "Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum", Crown Prince and Minister of Finance of Dubai. He created the race in 1986 to revive the maritime tradition. In the meantime, over 100 of the 18m long wooden boats start to Al Gaffal.

In the afternoon we leave for the island "Sir Bu Naair Island" 51 miles away. The swell is rough, but the wooden motoryacht drives pleasantly soft through the rough sea. On the large afterdeck we have dinner together with the Arabs. There is no cutlery, the food is shared, distributed and eaten with the right hand. The left hand is unclean - you clean yourself with it after going to the toilet. As soon as a plate is empty, it is refilled by the Arab neighbours. The mood is relaxed, the welcome warm.

Finally our destination appears in front of us - it is already dawning, but we are allowed to visit our racing yacht for the first time. At first sight, a 60 foot dhow seems an anachronism. 2 latin sails and shrouds, which are tensioned with 1:4 stepped tackles. 2 thick, oversized masts rise from the wooden hull. But even the boarding is an adventure, without crew and ballast the dhow floats up so high that just one man's weight is enough to tip it over to the other side - and it does so at breathtaking speed. The boat is lightweight and mega-sensitive. A 60 foot dinghy.

A second glance over the filigree frame of the slim wooden hull reveals the extreme lightweight construction. The brown masts are made of carbon fibre - tapered, coiled high-tech tubes, partly made in Germany, at Fiberworks in Berlin. The main mast measures 32 feet. The tubes are simply tied to the wooden support structure with a stranded rope in washing line quality. The shrouds have tackles with curry clamps on the blocks and are hooked in with carabiners in DIY quality.

The bowsprit is mighty long and gives the ship a slightly aggressive touch due to its downward inclination. Excitedly we inspect everything and make notes of what could be tuned and what we should bring along.

The next day is for training. Under the instruction of Ali, our assigned boatman, we practice setting the sails and jibing. For this purpose the 30m long gaff with about 14sqm sail area has to be set vertically and should jump over the masthead. At the same time we have to hook the shrouds so fast that the mast does not fall. This is my job. As soon as the sail is up, the dhow accelerates enormously. Over 1500 years of fine tuning can be seen in the fact that the ship throws practically no stern wave.

Lui jams himself into the rudder at the back, has everything under control. We practice and practice and in a flash the island disappears on the horizon. We are not able to sail upwind, so the accompanying motorboat takes us in tow. In the evening Ali explains to us: "A dhow like this is quite a rocket. With 2 knots wind 4 knots speed - double wind speed. When the wind is 16 knots, the slim ships break the 20 knots mark.

In the evening the teams meet on the island and try their hand at various competitions: Filling a tank with amphorae, pulling ropes, Latin gaffs set as fat as possible, a great fun. We test ourselves in rope pulling, we get pulled over the sand. They have power, the Arabs.

The next morning welcomes us with strong wind - start postponed to the next day. Feverishly we try to rebook the flights. Our hosts are extremely helpful and willing to provide their smartphones - ours have no reception. Unfortunately four of our crew have to leave before the race starts - we will be completely understaffed. But in the evening we get reinforcement by Marcus Baur, two-time Qlympic participant in the 49er.

At 5 o'clock in the morning we got a speedboat transfer to our dhow. About 50 sandbags lie in the bilge. Much too many, I think, and empty them one by one after consultation with Lui, until boatswain Ali puts an end to my activities. The motorboat, manned with the machine operators of the mothership, drags us to the supposed startline, drops our anchor and suddenly disappears again. But somehow the boys have mistaken their position, with the rising sun we see that fleet is gathering about half a mile against the wind - we have no chance to get to the starting line, because sailing upwind does not work with the dhow. Finally, with the starting signal the motorboat changes and drags us to the line. Later we find out that the air conditioning of the mother ship had failed and the engineer was called back on board.

Much too late we take up the pursuit. We throw even more ballast off the boat and stalk the field, passing dozens of dhows downwind. Sailmaker Jens Mößnang has already made a lot of Dhau sails and is doing a great job on the main sheet.

The sun rises higher, the wind becomes less, and we burn in the sun. At Moon Island we jibe through the gate. Now the wind is getting stronger and stronger and steering at the tiller requires more and more power. We take turns. I get the opportunity too.

At the tiller I'm almost pushed overboard at first, so much pressure on the rudder. I think giving much rudder slows us down, so I suggest using the mizzen-latin sail to improve the balance. The boat turns downwind with releasing the sheet, and comes upwinds with pulling - and that's how we get much faster. Every free man stands on the railing and hangs out as far as possible using the shrouds - no matter how long the arms get.

In the meantime we have also filled the water barrels and lashed them to the railing. The petrol-driven bilge pump can be moved - and filling is really fast - but the free standing engine in the ship makes a deafening noise. Insulation would ever weigh anything. Meanwhile our GPS measures 14-16 knots boat speed - wow - that's an unbelievable feeling. The Prince of Bavaria takes over the helm again, and I dive to the shrouds. The mizzen goes down, the gaff swings around, we fiddle, or fall 2-3 from one side to the other and on we go. Now the weight in sandbags needs carried from one side to the other, the water barrels on the other side are lashed and filled again. Yes, there would also be enough to do for a crew of 20 men. Ahead is the impressive scenery of Dubai, behind us a pleasing amount of boats.

With 16 knots speed we race over the finishing line off Dubai. We still don't think about a break - we have to get the boat ready quickly - the next appointment is pressing: His Highness wants to congratulate us on the stage of the Dubai International Marine Club for our participation, and hands out a hand-signed poster for the race to everyone. Since almost all of us have to be back in Germany the next day, we cannot attend the award ceremony.

Greatest respect for the sporting achievement that is necessary to move these ships. And pleasantly surprised by the hospitality, attention and education of our hosts.


In the 19th century Dubai experienced an economic boom thanks to pearl diving. About 3000 boats left the Creek of Dubai in May and returned only in mid-September. Fresh water springs in the Arabian Gulf and fishing enabled divers to do this for a long time at sea.

At the end of the season the boats collected in the wind shelter of the island "Sir Bu Naair Island". The return to Dubai was mostly a friendly race together. Al Gaffal means return. The race goes over a distance of 51 nautical miles to Dubai. In front of the artificial island "Moon Island" there is a gate to be crossed. The first ship to cross the finish line off Mina Seyahi will receive five million UAE-Dirham as prize.

Dubai belonged to the sheikdom Abu Dhabi until 1833. The assassination of the ruler of Abu Dhabi in 1833 led to a split of the tribal federation, the Bani Yas. Thus 800 members of the Al Bu Falasah Dubai branch tribe settled down. In 1836, Maktoum Bin Buti became the first ruler of Dubai. His name "Maktoum" became the tribal name of all his successors - Al Maktoum. Their residence Shindagha, today an open-air museum, is strategically located directly at the entrance to the Creek of Dubai and allowed total control of the merchant ships and pearl diving boats. The Creek of Dubai was one of the safest anchorages in the region.

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