Cruising: Take it On the Dhow

By Bonnie Baker Cowan

We recline on brightly-colored woven seats, resting our sandaled feet on lush Persian carpets, drinking sweet tea from glass mugs and eating dates stuffed with pistachios. Our Arabian dhow is cruising the long fjord of the remote Musandam peninsula, dubbed the ‘Norway of the Middle East.’

Clear turquoise waters lap gently against the white limestone cliffs rising proud and straight against a clear blue sky along the Arabian Gulf. Our cruise ship, the Silver Wind has docked in Khasab, a small town on the northern tip of the Musandam peninsula, which is part of Oman, but separated from the rest of the country by the United Arab Emirates (UAE). We’re on a cruise, offered by Silversea that focuses on ports such as Dubai, Abu Dhabi (both part of UAE) and Muscat, Oman. The port of Khasab is remote and less developed than the more ostentatious and westernized larger cities of the Middle East.

The Portuguese built small fortresses here in the 16th century, tucked into the cliffs. The Khasab Fort, built with teak from India and a roof from a mixture of palm leaves, clay and stone is being extensively restored to appeal to tourism. While the rest of Oman is rich in oil and gas, the town of Khasab still depends on fishing and agriculture, as well as the beginning of a tourist market for travelers who appreciate an experience that is somewhat wild and untouched. The dhow is a traditional Arabian boat that has always played an important part in the maritime culture of Oman.
The Musandam peninsula is only 55 kilometers from the coast of Iran and we see a few speedboats dashing past with smugglers who transport American cigarettes and electronics back to Iran.
As we sail slowly through the fjord, a school of dolphins keeps pace with us, frolicking in the waves, leaping and diving to entertain us. We also pass close by small, remote fishing villages, tucked into the craggy cliffs.

Our guide, Mohammed, is dressed in traditional Arabic garb and speaks several Arabic languages as well as perfect English with a well-tuned sense of humor. When a female guest asks him what he wears under his crisp, white robe, he replies “Nothing! Want to see?”

The dhow slips into a cove at Telegraph Island, where the ruins of a fort dominate the centre of the island. British troops were stationed here in the mid-1800s to build a telegraph cable, a necessary part of communication between Great Britain and India. It was here the expression “going around the bend” was coined because the men went a bit crazy with the heat and monotony of waiting for supply ships to come ‘around the bend.’ According to Mohammed, being stuck here for months at a time was the worst possible posting.

Some of us hike to the top of the ruins, while others dive off the side of the dhow and snorkel in the reefs surrounding the island. It’s 28 degrees and a soft breeze whispers through the fjord, but the swim is still refreshing.

We motor back slowly to Khasab to join the Silver Wind in time for cocktails and canapés on our verandah while enjoying the sun slipping quietly behind the mountain backdrop of this rugged landscape.

Sailing the world in style

Silversea Cruises, a luxury cruise line, offers all the amenities of a large ship with the intimate atmosphere of its five, all-suite vessels: Silver Cloud, Silver Wind, Silver Shadow, Silver Whisper and Silver Spirit. Along with the new expedition ship, Prince Albert 11, itineraries include all seven continents to 400 destinations, including both polar regions.

Among its many awards, Silversea has been voted “world’s best” by readers of Conde Nast Traveler nine times and Travel + Leisure seven times.

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