Gazing out at Ras Al Khaimah’s calm blue waters, sitting on the emirate’s famous burnt-orange sand, it’s hard to believe these seas have become the topic of a high-profile courtroom drama. Yet this unassuming emirate has found itself embroiled in an emotion-fuelled case worth millions of dollars, involving the world’s most prestigious sailing event. ‘Your Honour, you’re cancelling the America’s [World] Cup,’ Barry Ostrager, representative for Alinghi, the defending champion of the event, boomed in a New York court two weeks ago. ‘This is a cataclysmic decision you’re making. [You could cause] colossal harm to the sport, the event, to Ras Al Khaimah and the America’s Cup.’
Why the outrage? In May 2008, Cup holders Société Nautique de Genève, represented by Alinghi, were told they could chose any venue for the next competition. They chose Ras Al Khaimah. H.H. Sheikh Saud Bin Saqr Al Qasimi, Crown Prince and Deputy Ruler of Ras Al Khaimah, announced that the race would ‘serve as a centrepiece addition,’ to the emirate’s growing events industry.
A reported Dhs73.5million has been spent on widening the roads, marine infrastructure investments are said to be worth Dhs110m, and renovations to Al Hamra Palace Residence, the central venue for the event, are reportedly costing Dhs187.3m.
However, competing team BMW Oracle have tried to sink the plans. They cited ‘safety issues’, due to Ras Al Khaimah’s proximity to Iran, as part of their legal case against Alinghi’s venue choice. They also brought up a 19th century competition rule that states the race cannot be held in the northern hemisphere between November 1 and May 1.
All this may mean that the Cup is shifted to Valencia in Spain (which, yes, is still in the northern hemisphere). That is, unless Alinghi’s appeal – taking place as Time Out goes to press – is successful.
This spectacle may be being played out across the broadsheets, but Ras Al Khaimah’s local sailing community appears to be paying little attention. ‘Of course, everyone here is sad about the possible cancellation of the Cup, by what can we do?’ Beate Koebler, managing partner of new RAK sailing school Marine Concept, tells us. ‘But the America’s Cup is such a short thing, it’s only two or three days. If it’s moved elsewhere, maybe we can focus on other things.’
Reg Furlong, commodore of the Ras Al Khaimah Sailing Club, feels the same. ‘It may be a hassle if the Cup doesn’t happen, but RAK will go ahead the same as always. It’s not developing as fast as Dubai, but it has a solid base and there hasn’t ever been a “bubble’’ here.’ The RAK Sailing Club was founded 40 years ago, when Sheikh Saud Bin Saqr introduced it as a place for British pilots to socialise. ‘Most of our members are teachers, quarry workers and pilots, and are Western and Arabian. We go out on the water every weekend and organise social events. Sailors come over from DOSC [Dubai Offshore Sailing Club] all the time and say it’s just how Dubai was 25 years ago.’
But what about the money Al Hamra has already spent? ‘We’re going ahead with all of our projects; we are not stopping anything,’ Al Hamra senior sales manager John Mathew announced last week. What’s more, 700 of Alinghi’s 1,500-strong crew are already in the UAE, taking advantage of the facilities. And with talk of outdoor ski slopes and space ports on the horizon, it looks like Ras Al Khaimah won’t be out of the headlines for long. For lessons at the RAK Sailing Club, call Reg Furlong on 050 371 7539.
By car Approaching from the south, Ras Al Khaimah can be reached by two roads. The E11 is a continuation of Sheikh Zayed Road from Dubai, and runs past Umm al Quwain and along the coast. The E311 follows a parallel route further inland and terminates at RAK.
By bus Buses run from Deira bus station in Dubai, near Al Nasr Square, and leave when full. A ticket costs Dhs18.
By taxi A Dubai taxi will cost around Dhs200 from Deira bus station. RAK taxis often wait here too, and can go as low as Dhs80 after a good haggle.
What to eat & drink
Basilico A Mediterranean restaurant with a focus on Italian. It’s reasonably priced, sophisticated and friendly. Cove Rotana, Umm Al Quwain-Ras Al Khaimah coast road, 8km (5 miles) from central Ras Al Khaimah (07 206 6000; www.rotana.com). Open daily 3pm-midnight. Average price of a meal for two with soft drinks: Dhs100. All major credit cards accepted.
Klub 88 This Filipino club provides some of the quirkiest entertainment in the Emirates. The DJs play commercial R&B, but the real entertainment comes from the live acts. The Hot Movers are a team of five Filipino dancers – four young ladies who put on choreographed routines, and a guy who does some not-too-bad breakdancing. Next to Ras Al Khaimah Hotel (07 236 3549). Open Sun-Wed 7pm-3am, Thu-Sat 7pm-4am. All major credit cards acccepted.
What to do
Take a hike With the closure of RAK’s own Mountain Extreme, anyone looking for professional hiking services should turn to the Dubai-based Absolute Adventure. Operating from a branch in Dibba, this company offers hikes in the mountains of Ras Al Khaimah. Bear in mind, though, that you’ll have to drive to Dibba, then back again once you’re done. PO Box 72632, Dubai, UAE (050 625 9165; www.adventure.ae). Open daily September-June. From Dhs350 per person; minimum of four people.
Boat and yacht charters Cruise along the coastline of RAK, book an overnight luxury charter to Musandam or get your own skipper certificate. The only International Yacht Training sea school in the UAE and GCC, Marine Concept offers a range of courses, from IYT Small Powerboat up to IYT Master of Yachts Offshore 200 Tons. There’s also a beautiful Sunseeker Manhattan 50 available for charter in the Al Hamra Village Marina. Marine Concept (055 960 3030; www.marine-charter-concept.com / firstname.lastname@example.org).
Where to stay
Cove Rotana Located on a water inlet with 600m of beaches, the Cove Rotana (is one of the most exciting new hotels in the UAE. Villas are built into a hillside and linked by cobbled streets, giving it a Mediterranean feel. Umm Al Quwain-Ras Al Khaimah coast road, 8km (5 miles) from central Ras Al Khaimah (07 206 6000; www.rotana.com). Double rooms from Dhs400, excluding breakfast.
Hilton Resort and Spa Go waterskiing and windsurfing, stroll the 1km-long, villa-lined private beach, or check out the restaurants (below). But the real draw here is the spa – perfect for a spot of pampering. Al Maareedh Street (07 228 8888; www.hilton.com). Rooms from Dhs900 for a standard double chalet, excluding breakfast.