Category Archives: Sport

Rain and Cold in Dubai

I went swimming today. I blithely dived in and nearly died of shock.  The water has dropped over 5 degrees Celsius in just over 3 days!

It is now a definitely bracing 26.5! ( It was 32.) I had to put in a couple of laps of fast freestyle just to combat the cold! I’m so used to it being like a luke-warm bath.

It was positively UNCIVILISED!


Abu Dhabi Grand Prix

It’s Grand Prix weekend in Abu Dhabi and even Dubai is packed with people.  We have a friend from South Africa staying with us, who is here to see the race.

Saw a line of about 30 Ferrari’s outside the Dubai Ferrari dealer…

Dhow Racing

This is something I am itching to find out more about, being a bit of a sailor myself.

Secrets of the sea

By Alex Westcott, Sub-Editor/Writer
Published: July 23, 2009, 22:15

The dhow may have modernised in some ways, but the design principles remain the same as they were in the time of the pearl trade.

It is a sport driven by teamwork. The starting point of the highly competitive dhow race (of which there are two kinds: the al khayour course, a route that features a turn and the al-yoush or al yoush al wahed course, which is a straight course) is decided according to the wind direction of the day, but weather, always volatile, can change at any given moment.

As the dhow glides across the pristine waters of the Gulf coast, it’s easy to become lost in the azure. But the crew remains focused on the task at hand, ensuring that the sail remains taut to produce maximum speed.

The captain remains at the tiller, steering the vessel in the same calculated fashion that he steers his team with a calm directness. He remains constantly aware of the wind’s direction, as this is the deciding factor that can make or break a race.

It is not as easy for a dhow to turn across the wind the way modern yachts do. As the dhow has no weighted keel, balance is precarious. However, its structure is solid and hardy, and each boat is built to withstand the most gruelling skies and waters.

In order to change direction, the mainsail has to be released from the mast (al-sari or al-duqal), lowered and swung to the other side, an exercise that can take over ten minutes timing which, in a race, is crucial.

On a 43-foot dhow, a crew numbers between eight to 15 people, whereas with a 60-foot dhow, the crew can include anywhere between 15 and 35.

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It is a sport all about balance. Traditionally, when dhows were used for the transportation of goods by seafaring merchants in the Gulf, the cargo was stored below the deck.

But this also served another purpose it kept the dhow balanced. Today, around 50 bags filled with sand are used to coordinate direction, adjusted according to the wind conditions.

The crew members will also shift their weight in order to balance the dhow, which is why they will often lean over the sides in order to achieve better balance and to prevent the dhow from capsizing.

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If there is little wind, the captain can elect to dispose of some of the bags to lighten the vessel. But if the wind is stronger, extra bags are needed for greater stability.

The practice of dhow racing dates back centuries. Before arriving in the UAE, dhow racing was going full throttle in Qatar.

The pearl trade between the Gulf and the Far East was facilitated by the sea, and sailing was the quickest means of transport. That was how dhows became part of a livelihood and from this they developed into a sport.

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Dubai is one of the busiest dhow ports in the Arabian Gulf, and is a hub for race season. Competitions were initiated in the 1980s.

The race programme is driven at keeping the sailing tradition of the UAE alive. Dhow racing has served as a reminder of the importance of the Emirati’s historic linkages with the sea.

As Captain Al Mazroui explains, you also need balance in terms of experience, which is why an average crew comprises men of different ages.

“Each crew member is a link in the process the older, more experienced men guide and teach the younger members and so the cycle continues across the generations,” he says.

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“Being the captain doesn’t make me the best at everything I am the designator and the decision maker. If the wind changes, I am the one who has to make the call on changing the sail. Sometimes of course, the crew members will be dubious, and sometimes I will be wrong, but it’s all part of the sport. One decision pertaining to a change of direction changes everything. As captain I need to know what action to take in the event of change.

“Every captain has his secrets,” smiles the 30-year-old captain. “My father taught me to sail as a young boy, and we now compete against each other. In 2004, I started sailing on my own. We’re both really competitive when we race against each other, but in the end we are still a team because we are family. If I come fourth and he comes first, banter and tongue-in-cheek teasing will always follow! We take everything the other says with a pinch of salt. It’s a sport that strengthens family bonds and builds friendships. It encourages camaraderie with your fellows and that’s more important than the position you come in a race.”

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Despite the rapid development that the UAE has undergone in the past decade, the ethos of dhow racing has not changed.

First and foremost, dhow racers are all united by their love of the sea. Like the Emirati traditions of horse breeding, falconry and camel racing, dhow racing “re-enforces UAE tradition and is a reminder of our heritage,” says Al Mazroui.

Sail away

Dhow racing is a practice deeply rooted in Emirati tradition. It’s an age-old ritual of sons learning the ropes at the hands of their fathers.

The wind is not on their side today. The enormous 140-square metre sail al sheraa balloons at the command of the fierce Gulf wind.

It billows gracefully, hanging for a moment in suspension and then whipping down to buffet the young sailors as they try in vain to seize control of the cloth’s unruly dance.

Ropes pass roughly through leathery hands as they form a web around the teakwood vessel the sail, their prey to tame. Yelling above the howling din in Arabic, the young men trot around in swift, startlingly coordinated movements, working in tandem to rein her in the way one would calm a wild horse with patience, passion and a thread of clear communication.

Their captain looks on from a few metres away, content to let them get on with it. Occasionally he chides one of the youngsters or makes a passing suggestion.

They obey diligently, altering their step or relaxing on a tug. The elders lend their weathered arms to the juniors, their years of experience meaning they act almost entirely on instinct. This is the art of dhow racing.

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Into the blue

The origin of the word ‘dhow’ remains ambiguous. While some suggest it’s derived from Arabic, other etymologists argue that it could be from the Swahili word for boat.

In the old days, the dhow sail was made of handmade cloth, but today it is made from fabric imported from Europe just one aspect of the modernisation of the craft.

Today’s racing dhow is lighter and therefore faster than its predecessors. Dhows are categorised according to the shape of their hulls, unlike European boats, which are classified according to their sail design.

They are carvel-built, which means that the planks comprising the hull (al haikal or al farmah) are laid flush to one another, rather than overlapping, as is the case with Western boats.

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The hull is designed to suit the shallow waters of the Gulf coast. Its flat-bottomed design makes it easy to pull on to the shore.

Timeless tradition

“It’s an invaluable skill,” says Emirati captain Ateeq Mohammad Al Mazroui. “As captain I am the leader of the crew, but no role is of less importance than another. There is of course hierarchy in terms of experience, but at the end of the day, dhow racing is first and foremost about teamwork. It’s a family affair. Chances are if someone sails, his father will have raced, as will his father before him. This is one aspect of dhow racing that hasn’t changed. But everyone has a different mindset, like in any sport. I think priorities have changed and the sport has become more competitive everyone is more driven to win these days,” says Al Mazroui.

Dubai International Arabian Horse Championship

Richard took me to the Dubai International Arabian Horse Championship last weekend.  This is said to be the largest gathering of Arabian horses in the world.

I read about this event some months ago, and had pencilled it into our diaries with anticipation.  The whole thing was a fascinating insight into the sporting passions of the Arab world.  But nothing prepared me for the horses themselves. They were so ridiculously magnificent some of them didn’t look real!

You know those corny paintings of white horses galloping through the waves with their manes and tails blowing in the wind?  I always thought they were fantasy versions of horses, perhaps a few steps away from unicorns. But Arabians actually do look like those white horse paintings. And they move like that too. .. knees high up in the air, tossing their heads and necks, and holding their tails up so they look like waterfalls.

It’s one of those things I will remember forever.

Particularly the first horse I saw.

When we arrived I saw my first horse of the day standing next to the fence in the holding pen next to the exhibition ring.  His head was held up and his ears were forward. I grabbed Richard by the arm and said, “Oh my god.  That horse has the most beautiful head I have ever seen in my life!’

Royal ColoursRoyal Colours

At first I wondered if I was so struck by him because he was the first Arabian I had seen in real life.

Afterwards, we sat by the ring and watched the different categories of Stallions compete. They were all truly incredible.

Then the first horse came out in the 6-8 year old category and I learned his name was Royal Colours. I was very excited when he won his section against the most beautiful Arabian stallions inthe world.

I was even happier at the end of the day when he was awarded the prize for the horse with the most beautiful head in the entire show (fillies, mares, colts and stallions).

As you can imagine I am kind of stuck on him now and if I just had a spare few million dollars I am sure I could convince someone to let me bring him home and keep him on the balcony 😉

I have since learned he is one of the star stallions of the Dubai Arabian Stud, and travels the world competing in shows and attracting the attention of the owners of Arabian mares that are looking for a suitable baby-daddy for their next foal. Seriously, these horses move between Germany, Denmark, Egypt, UAE and who knows where else all within the space of a year.  They have more frequent flyer miles than my cats!

You seriously have to click on the video link of Royal Colours’ Homepage. Still photographs don’t do Arabians justice at all.  I cannot post the link directly but the link to the video is on the bottom right. You must do this! Trust!

*What modern horse doesn’t have a homepage these days right?  Shit.  He is probably on Twitter!


Just in case you’re interested, here is some introductory information about Arabian horses that I took directly from the Show’s website.

“The Arabian with a known history going back about five thousand years, is the oldest breed of horse in existence. The earliest records depict his ancestors as war horses in the green crescent of Mesopotamia – swift spirited steeds hitched to chariots or bestrode by marauding warriors.
Along with the conquering armies, his forebears and his fame spread throughout the known world. As the prized possession of the great kings and rulers, the Arabian horse became a symbol of power and wealth and he was universally acclaimed as the saddle horse “par excellence.” He was the original source of quality and speed, and he remains pre-eminent in the sphere of soundness and endurance.
Either directly or indirectly, the Arabian contributed to the formation of virtually all the modern breeds of light horse.

Other Highlights

In a sea of magnificent horses, truly there was not one ordinary horse amongst them, there were some standouts for me.

In the section  of stallions in the age bracket of  7-9 years old was the winner Nijem Ibn Eternity.

Nijem ibn Eternit (Image Source: Filsinger Photography).
Nijem ibn Eternity (Image Source: Filsinger Photography).

Nijem is owned by the Sultan, Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia

I have deliberately looked for video footage of these horses because apart from their physical beauty, it really is the way they move that makes them so exquisite. Take a look at this You Tube presentation and skip to the 22 second mark to see the video component (22-50 seconds). A good Arabian will trot as if on air, appearing to hover over the ground before each step.  This stallion had an outstanding gait, aided by his skilled handler that brought him out in front of the audience in a perfect long-paced  trot.

The Fillies

How cute were the little ones! My favourites were Jumilla, a winners in the 2 year old fillies category, and Zainah Al ThalIitha, a winner in the 1 year olds.

Winners from the fillies. The 1 year old Zainah Al ThalIitha (front) who doesn't even have a full-grown tail yet, and the 2 year old Jumilla.

Winners from the fillies. The 1 year old Zainah Al ThalIitha (front) who doesn't even have a full-grown tail yet, and the beautiful 2 year old Jumilla (grey).

The Handlers

This photo of a 1y/o filly shows the interaction between the handler and the horse.

This photo of a 1y/o filly shows the interaction between the handler and the horse.

I would liken these guys to bullfighters in the way they move and control the animal. They hold a whip with a paper bag on the end which makes a swishing noise but rarely comes in contact with the horse (and then it only brushes-past it).

They seem to dance in front of the horse, with each movement prompting the horse to correct its posture ever so slightly.

The best handlers had the ability to make their horse display itself with the most grace and personality.

Winners of the various fillies categories.

Winners of the various fillies categories.

The ‘Bangers’

Ever wondered why the horses run into the ring stepping high, shaking their heads, with wild looking eyes and their tails held high?  It’s because of  ‘the bangers’.

I have no idea if these guys have an official name, but they are basically workers from the stud that owns the horse. They take whips with plastic bags on the end and they russle the bags and bang the whips on the side of the fence near the horse to stir it up.  The more stirred up the horse, the better it presents itself in terms of erect head, neck and tail, and the wilder and more ‘spirited’ its eyes are.

The noise of these guys stirring the crap out of the horses before they enter the ring is near deafening!

At first I found it very confronting and commented to Richard, “The ugly side of horse shows that don’t see on the TV huh?’  But after a while I noticed that the horses calmed down very quickly (too quickly for the bangers who had to keep banging if they wanted the effect to last). The horses seemed to become increasingly immune to the banging and tended to zone out as soon as it stopped. They certainly didn’t look particularly traumatised.  The nicest view you could have of it would be to compare it with playing with a cat or a puppy where you stir it up and it runs around like a spazz, but is actually not that afraid.

In fact, the only thing that really razzed up these beasts was when one stallion got in the personal space of another stallion.  Then there was plenty of nostril flaring, foot stamping, head tossing and the odd scream.

Funny how a bunch of small Asian men with bendy sticks and plastic bags fails to rile a horse as much as 500 kilos of rival muscle and testosterone!

East, West or Workaround?

2008 Men's Finalists (Image Source:

2008 Men's Finalists (Image Source:

There has been some controversy this week regarding Dubai’s refusal to grant a visitors visa to Israeli tennis player, Shahar Peer so she can compete in the Dubai Tennis Championships.

It is my undestanding that visit visas are not grated to anyone with an Israeli stamp on their passports, or indeed a passport from Israel itself. Israeli sports people have got around this restriction in the past by travelling to Dubai on second passports.  It is not known on which passport Shahar made her application for a visa.

Shahar competed in Qatar last year. You could argue that Qatar is Dubai’s rival for the sporting and business hub of the Middle East.

Apparently last year Dubai prevented an Israeli player from competing in the men’s doubles and the WTA  protested and gave Dubai a warning that it had 12 months to rectify the siutation, meaning Dubai could not restrict players that had earned the right to compete in the 2009 tournament.

Now this.

If Dubai maintains its current stance, it runs the risk of being struck off the international tennis circut by the WTA.

However, if it capitulates and allows visitors on Israeli passports then it appears to have sold out to the West in the eyes of many Arabs.

Stuck between a rock and a hard place, Dubai is being forced to make a choice.

The Saluki

Today Richard found me a great article in the Gulf News – the UAE’s English-language newspaper – about another type of skinny dog. It seems that almost all the adopted stray dogs in Dubai are descended from the Saluki, the Arabian desert hound. They all have the distinctive skinny-dog body and the fluffy ears and tail.
The following excerpts are from the Gulf News. See the entire article here

“The hunting hounds have been around for more than 7,000 years BC; their country of origin is the Arabian Peninsula, Egypt, Syria and Jordan.

Salukis and their owner

Salukis and their owner

Salukis come in two varieties – the smooth, known as Al Hess, with short silky fur all over its body – and the Feathered, known as Al Reashi. This refers to the long silky fur fringes on the ears, tail and rear of the limbs…

“>…Salukis play an important role in the Arabian hunting cultural heritage. “Bedouins in the desert have been breeding salukis for thousands of years due to their exceptional stamina, intelligence, loyalty, and would never hunt unless accompanied by their master. They catch rabbits, jerboas, wolves and deer.

A Saluki is ready to start practising hunting and exercising after turning 12 months. At four years, the hound can start to hunt. “We don’t train salukis to kill, even though they are capable of that. We train them to catch their prey and let it go. They have a great temperament, and are patient with children,” added Al Ganem.

Sumaya Viethen, Personal Assistant at the centre feels that Salukis can be compared to cats more than dogs. “Salukis walk like cats, are smart like a fox, have a sharp eye and a fast reaction like a gazelle, yet are gentle and warm,” she said.

The first Saluki left the Middle East and reached the West during the 19th century after an English gentleman took home a Saluki with him.”

Gulf News 2008

Cabin Baggage Rules

The following are the rules concerning the passage of animals on Etihad Airways’ flights in Economy class…

Pets in cabin – Weight Concept
The carriage of animals in the cabin is restricted to falcons only and is permitted on all types of aircraft subject to the following conditions:

  • 1 falcon per guest (per seat) is permitted. Charge for one falcon (which is considered 3 kilos) is 3 times the normal excess baggage rate of the journey.
  • 1 additional falcon can be carried when an extra seat is purchased within same class. No excess baggage charges for the additional falcon will apply.

    Dubai Falconer and Falcon

    Dubai Falconer and Falcon