Monday 9th February 2009.
The plan for the first "Big Adventure" had been hatched for a while - we wanted to go to Musandam (see my Google Map
) and the half-term holiday coinciding with my parents visiting seemed an ideal opportunity. Musandam is an exclave of the Sultanate of Oman located to the north of the UAE and forming one side of the famous Straits of Hormuz. It is a mountainous area with a fjord-like coastline, most of which is only accessible by boat. We had visited and camped several time previously and had even taken a tourist dhow into Khawr al Shamm but we wanted to explore ourselves. Of course in this part of the world it is never quite a simple as just hitching up and going - there are permissions to be gained. I went to the Omani Embassy (8th Street, Umm Hurair 1, Dubai, tel. 04-3971000, N25°15.252' E55°18.510'), spoke to Mr Abdullah and obtained the necessary forms, got them typed out in Arabic at one of the typing shops round the corner and submitted them, together with passports of the family, boat registration certificate, a letter from myself stating that Morwenna is seaworthy and that I would not need rescuing and the fee. I could have waited an hour or so for the forms to be processed but I was busy with other things and picked them up the next day.
Friday 13th February 2009.
We got under way at 0930, a little later than I had aimed for, and set off up the Emirates Road towards Musandam. The journey was uneventful and we easily passed by both the UAE exit post and Oman entry post. Just after the latter was the Customs inspection area and of course the guys wanted a photocopy of the sailing permit (note to self - take a copy next time) and to look inside. The policeman climbed in and made a superficial inspection of one of our coolboxes before settling himself on the sofa, pulling out his mobile phone and requesting me to take a photo of him lounging in luxury! A couple of photos later and we were sent on our way.
Just beyond the border crossing is the town of Bukha. I had been unable to see whether there is a proper launching ramp in the harbour there from Google Earth so we stopped to check it out for future reference. There is a ramp (26°8'50.63"N, 56°8'43.56"E) and it looks suitable for launching. Launching at Bukha would add about 9NM to the sea journey to Khawr al Shamm but would cut out about 30km of very windy roads to Khasab. The wind had been blowing strongly from the west for the past couple of days and the bay was extremely rough so we carried on to the sheltered harbour at Khasab. By phone we obtained the required sailing permission from the Royal Oman Police Coastguard (tel +968-26341699) - they were insistant that we were not allowed to sail in Khawr Ghubb Ali or close to Jazirat Umm al Ghanam (see BA chart 3172) but we already knew that since the restriction was printed on the sailing permit. We confirmed our intent to sail in Khawr al Shamm and permission was readily given. We further checked with the curious ROP personnel that had appeared from their workshop that it was OK to use the slip and then set about preparing Morwenna for sea.
Three-quarters of an hour later Morwenna slipped off the trailer and shortly after, with the car and trailer safely parked, we left Khassab behind us. Almost immediately we were joined by a pair of dolphins, streaking back and forth just inches from the toes of Robert & Luke sitting at the bow. The dolphins stayed with us almost until we reached the funnelling entrance to the Khawr and then disappeared as quickly as they came. With the wind on a broad reach we decided to sail for a while and were quickly carried past Telegraph Island and the gaggle of tourist dhows anchored in its lee. I had used Google Earth to scout out a few possible camping spots and the first of these was on Jazirat Shamm. We dropped sails and nosed in gently to find a shallow but perfectly sheltered anchorage with room to pitch tents. Although an ideal spot, Morwenna does not (yet) have an echo sounder so I was a little nervous that the tide would drop too far and leave her grounded on a rocky bottom. I decided to continue up the Khawr for a while longer. Rounding Ras al Khatm, we turned north and headed up the slightly broader bay. I saw the mast of an unknown pirate vessel (ok - another yacht) behind Jazirat Sibi as we passed but we were undetected as we dropped anchor and came ashore to claim a camp site for the night (26°14'27.73"N 56°23'35.10"E). We brought Morwenna into knee deep water and transferred all the camping kit first onto the beach and then up to some ancient abandoned fields situated a few metres back from the beach. The ancients obviously had good taste in selecting a spot for their village - the view down the Khawr was stupendous. We had the canvas up just as the sun was dwindling and the camp fire burning as dusk drew in. Cooking steaks on a driftwood fire under the stars in a camp situated at the head of a desert fjord - now that's an Arabian Adventure!
Saturday 14th February 2009.
I don't think anyone remembered it was Valentine's Day until mid-morning and nobody had brought a card for their sweetheart. As usual it was the boys who surfaced first and tried to get the fire going from the embers of the previous evening. "I'll go and get the matches" was the phrase that brought the adults out of their tents to the glorious view down the Khawr and a slow breakfast of scrambled eggs and bacon, washed down with mugs of tea and coffee. With the washing up done, we cleared the valuables out of the tents and clambered aboard Morwenna for a day's exploring. Motoring out of the bay, we caught a slight breeze so set sails and cruised down the Khawr towards Telegraph Island. The wind was extremely fluky, bouncing off the mountainsides and constantly shifting but we made steady progress at a couple of knots, enjoying the scenery and chatting. By the time we got as far as Telegraph Island (Jazirat al Maqlab) the tourist dhows were out in force so we did a quick circumnavigation and went back to the creek we had investigated the previous day. Telegraph Island
was the site of a repeater station on the Europe to India submarine cable laid in 1865. Some say that it is the origin of the expression "round the bend" since those that went round the bend in the Khawr to get to Telegraph Island often came home slightly mad from the boredom & isolation. These days it is a popular sight-seeing and snorkelling spot for the fifty or so hardy tourists the make it this far each day.
After a relaxing lunch (and swim for the boys) we set off again and got the spinnaker up to run up the Khawr, keeping up a steady 4-4.5 knots. There are few things better than a good run under the kite but unfortunately as we passed Ras al Khatm we lost the wind again and motored the last short distance to camp. As we arrived back we were visited by a fisherman from his shack on the other side of the headland. He asked for a cup of water but refused the bottle offered to him. We figured he was either just curious about these strange visitors or just wanted some company - unfortunately our common language skills were not good enough for a proper conversation. Robert, Luke and I took a walk up the mountainside to get an aerial view of the camp and explore the remains of the huts in the area. We have no idea how old they are - could be hundreds or even thousands of years old. The rocks in the area have a great range of fossils on display too - an amazing landscape if you can read it. The evening was spent barbequing, chatting and watching the fishermen out in the bay, earning their livelihoods as they must have done for may generations.
Sunday 15th February 2009.
After a relatively slow start we struck camp and loaded all the kit into Morwenna again. There was not a breath of wind and the sweat was flowing by the time we had finished stowing. We left the bay, our wake being the only disturbance on the mirror-like water. We transited the passage between Jazirat Sibi and the mainland and took a leisurely trip round the head of the Khawr before we headed back down towards the sea. We stopped for lunch near the mouth of the Khawr and managed to catch a breeze and sail for an hour or so as we approached Khassab.
Unfortunately there were no dolphins to escort us this time. We landed Morwenna, lowered her mast and set off for home, making it back to Dubai in 3½ hours including the border crossing. By the time we got back, everybody was tired but everybody had enjoyed the weekend and Morwenna had definitely lived up to our expectations.