Pirates of the Omani Gulf

Need a break from Dubai’s five-star whirl? Head to the high seas of the Musandam peninsula. Arlo Clewett enjoys one of the best dhow trip bargains around


Every pirate has to start somewhere. Granted, few start at McDonald’s next to Sharjah Shooting Club, but most road trips to the coast do, so I find myself here one Friday at 7am in the early-morning haze. Driven by the balmy weather, a desire to get out of the city, shallow post-Christmas pockets and my mate Ange in her Jeep, our merry band of rapscallions decided it was time to try sea-borne tomfoolery for size.

In the event, our galleon is less like the Black Pearl and more like a regular Deira dhow. In fact, it is a regular dhow. Sheesa Beach (a company, not an actual beach, you see) is one of a handful of Dibba-based organisations that charters boats by the day or weekend for groups looking to enjoy the Musandam lifestyle. At Dhs6,000 for a one-day, one-night, 15-person cruise (plus Dhs125 for each extra person), the price tag sounds expensive. But the double-decker boat we hire has a capacity for 35 – divide the cost between your mates and it’s Dhs400 a piece for 15, dropping to Dhs243 if you can rustle up 35 mates. That’s not much more than the average person would spend on a night at Barasti.

Having negotiated the border point and loaded ourselves onto the boat, our captain, Mohammed, casts us adrift and we begin our pootle up the coast to Lima, a village halfway up the Musandam peninsula. The
sun worshippers among us settle onto the upper-deck loungers, while the rest (with fading piracy ambitions, despite outfits to the contrary) busy themselves with dolphin spotting.

It soon becomes apparent that the dolphins are elsewhere, but very much in attendance are tuna. By the thousand. Cue speedboat and a brief fishing expedition. The bold few return with giant specimens, racing to catch up with the dhow.

An hour or so later at Lima we lay anchor and leap en masse into the water for some refreshing snorkelling. While the land-lubbers paddle timidly around the surface, Mohammed, in an expert demonstration of his seafaring proficiency, dives beneath the surface to retrieve oysters and squid for dinner. And, against all the odds, he prises one oyster open to reveal three shiny pearls. Just try to find a more authentic Gulf souvenir.

Back on deck, we cast fishing lines and attempt – with limited success – to catch more dinner as we lazily dry off. Not that it really matters. As evening falls, we head for a deserted beach on the shore to fire up the barbecues, discovering that our earlier catch is more than enough for 25 people. Sitting on the beach under the stars, singing sea shanties with a glass of punch in hand, it’s hard to feel further from the city. The merriment decamps to the boat as the fire dies down to embers, punctuated for most of the party by a frolic in the phosphorescence. Never tried luminous synchronised swimming under the cover of darkness? You really haven’t lived.

Gradually, people flake off to find a place to bed down (word to the wise: those that suffer from seasickness should avoid the top deck). Unless you’re a Bedouin, you probably won’t get the best night’s sleep if you bivouac on a boat, but there’s no better cure for a groggy head than springing into the turquoise waters off the coast of Musandam at 8am. But morning also brings the regrettable return journey. Although the crew stops off at insider spots along the way to swim, snorkel and fish, it’s ‘land ahoy!’ all too quickly for everyone on board.

Need to remind yourself that fish come from the sea, not tins? Want to escape the A/C and enjoy the climate you came for? Make like Jack Sparrow and head for the open water.
To book a cruise, call +968 2 683 6551 or see www.sheesabeach.com.

The top three dhow deals

Sheesa Beach
One-day trip: Dhs170 per person (weekdays), Dhs200 (weekends).
Overnight: from Dhs6,000 for 15 people, including visas. +968 2 683 6551/050 740 9463, www.sheesabeach.com

Lama Tours
One-day trip: Dhs335 per person. Call for details of overnight trips. 04 334 4330, www.lama.ae

Khasab Travels and Tours
One-day trip: from Dhs200 per person. Call for details of overnight trips. 04 266 9950, www.khasab-tours.com

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