A weekend dhow trip off the Omani coast might conjure up images of a calming cruise experience on an old Arabic vessel, where you’ll drop anchor and fish lazily over the side, before spending a night connecting with mother earth, camped out under the stars. You’re right to a point, save for the fact that most of these trips – if booked for a private group of 18 – are essentially a 48-hour party, and rapidly becoming the new Friday brunch.
It’s true that the boats aren’t particularly new, but most of them are equipped with CD players and surprisingly reasonable sound systems. It means you can blast your ocean-dwelling neighbours with generic Euro-house for the duration of your trip, adding dancing to a list of dhow-based activities that spans snorkelling, fishing, swimming and scuba diving, depending on which company you set sail with.
On our maiden dhow trip with Sheesa Beach, we opt to book the entire boat for a private party of 18, and spend the full weekend on board. Many companies, including Sheesa, offer the option to camp on a secluded beach or even island overnight, though we’ve chosen to sleep on the dhow’s open deck.
After setting off from Dubai at 7am sharp, with the obligatory stop at the McDonalds service-station outlet near Sharjah Shooting Club, we arrive at Dibba Harbour for 9am (don’t forget your passport for the checkpoint) and scramble across a row of boats to our designated dhow, where we greet our captain, Mohammed. Juice, water and fizzy drinks have been provided by the truckload in giant cool boxes, though we’ve brought plenty of food and drinks along ourselves, including everything we’ll need for a barbecue on the beach later.
After sailing for a few hours, following the coast round from Dibba to Musandam, our captain drops anchor, and it’s time for a spot of fishing. Casting lines from some very basic – but effective enough – reels, using chunks of squid as bait, we dangle over the side of the wooden boat and hope for the best.
It’s not long before a number of our group haul in a small catch A few hardy souls opt for some adrenaline-powered action and can soon be heard shouting at the top of their lungs as small inflatables career around over the waves, dragged by the captain’s little speedboat, which until now has been tethered to the back of the dhow.
As the sky grows dark, we head towards a cove on the smaller boat, where we light the barbecue and enjoy our earlier catch. After dinner, we board the dhow again for plenty of singing and dancing, until exhaustion sets in and sleeping bags are unfurled. Once the lights are turned off on deck, the lack of light pollution in the area allows the stars to shine astonishingly brightly against the blue-black sky. It’s the kind of sight we could gaze at for hours, prompting us to contemplate the boundlessness of space and – somewhat narcissistically – the relative insignificance of our existence. But when there’s a whole morning of snorkelling ahead tomorrow, we soon opt to close our eyes and let the dhow’s gentle bobbing rock us to sleep.
Overnight private charter of an open dhow from Dhs6,000 for up to 15 people, and Dhs125 per person thereafter. Shared day cruise Dhs200 per person including buffet lunch; private day cruise Dhs2,950 for
up to 15 people, Dhs100 per person thereafter. Sheesa Beach, Dibba, www.sheesabeach.com (02 638 6551).
Dhow cruises: three more to try
This daily dhow trip departs from Dibba Harbour and has two snorkelling stops, with an Arabic buffet lunch served between dives. The dhow departs at 10am sharp, and transportation from Dubai to Dibba and back is available for an extra Dhs150 per person.
Dhs300 per person (04 342 2993).
Tours This 10-hour daytime expedition to Oman from Dubai revolves around a dhow cruise, where you can snorkel, swim, or just lounge on deck and catch some rays.
Dhs500 per person (04 294 6060).
This company provides a round-trip service from Dubai or Sharjah to Dibba, where a five-hour dhow cruise follows the Musandam peninsula and offers activities such as swimming, snorkelling and hand-line fishing, and includes a buffet lunch.
Dhs375 per person (04 229 2675).