Passing time in Salalah

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There could be worse places to stay…

…although it’s not quite so idyllic for Quo Vadis…

…as she remains out of the water on her sticks on the dock. The saildrive repairs are done, but we’re still waiting for the opportunity to move on and continue our interrupted journey to the Mediterranean.
The job was done quite easily, we didn’t even have to wait long for the parts to come and in the end,  did the mechanical work ourselves as it was clearly going to be simpler that way!
Of course, we only have ourselves to blame it it’s not all right and we still have a leak, water into oil, or water into boat, but we’ll only find that out when we drop back into the water, so short of worrying until the day of re-launching, other than filling the boat with waterto test it, there’s not a lot we can do about it!
By the time our work was complete, we thought we had missed on the opportunity to carry on, a few cloudy days made the southwest monsoon seemed imminent, but in fact it didn’t come for weeks. There were still endless days of clear skies, unbearable midday heat and little wind to come. We would have had time to go up the Red Sea and in retrospect,many times we thought it probably would have been easier if we had, but we elected not to and so there we  are, still stuck in Oman!

We’ve got to know Salalah well. For a month while we got boat work done we had an apartment in the town, ‘deluxe’ it was called, but dusty, dirty, noisy, with basic facilities and dodgy plumbing was the more real description. It was owned by an Egyptian who knew the worst of Egyptian business manners, and with a price scale rising exponentially as the high tourist time of the khareef drew near… we couldn’t afford to stay.
But the time in the apartment gave us the chance to get the boat ready to live in again, even though it would be on the hard and it was an opportunity to explore the area further and the ways of the people.


-such as the boys sardine fishing in the bay where I swim by the port…

We went again into the dry and dusty Dhofar hills, still waiting for the rains of the Khareef to come

up in the cool on the 1000m escarpments

high over the flats below and with views out over the Arabian Sea.

Along the Mirbat road below there’s also the old ruined city port of Khor Ruri, known as the ‘Queen of Sheba’s Palace’, although is a whole town and only one of several places around North Africa said to be her favourite home. It is a remnant of the early days of the Frankincense trade, but with open sea access now long silted up.


We drove to Muscat, 1200km in our little Toyota was a long day from Salalah!     
Once over the Dhofar Range the land was flat, the road was straight and the wind blowing straight from a blast furnace. If we stopped for any reason,the heat was intolerable, the consequences of a mechanical breakdown did not bear thinking about!
Muscat, the capital city in the north of Oman and on the water of the Persian Gulf, like Salalah is sheltered from heat of the desert by a range of craggy hills,




its modern buildings nestled among the rocky peaks.
It’s busy, disorganised and with fearful traffic problems, but a beautiful city to visit, the hills separating it into many parts and making for easy navigation, -provided that, like everyone else, you have your car…


There are all the signs of Middle Eastern wealth

with modern luxury homes
modern luxury cars

and the Sultan’s personal luxury ‘fleet’ is berthed in the main harbour.
Unlike other Arab states it has kept a strong Omani identity while still becoming a city of modern times. There is no glass and concrete jungle.


However, like all Omani towns, there is a castle on every hill


and old fortifications around the old harbour are preserved.

Muscat has a long history as a port and the Omani’s have always been a sea-going people voyaging far and wide on wooden dhows

and they are proud of their maritime history. This celebrated dhow now moored in a pool on a city roundabout and with a permanent, mechanically assisted bow-wave is a replica of an 8th century vessel. It was built in the 80’s, entirely of palm wood, rope and with no metal fastenings; it successfully made a return trip to China before being put as it is now on permanent public display.
The port developed with trade to India in the 14th and 15th century, it was taken over by the Portuguese in 1507

they walled and fortified the town, but their reign didn’t last, it was regained by the Omanis in 1650 and has remained so since.
Although with its trading position Oman was a dominant power along east and north Africa in the 1900’s it became reclusive under a very protective Sultan and it is only since 1970 under the present out-going and much liked Sultan Qaboos that Muscat and the country has opened up again to the outside world.


The old town centred on the harbour and within the city walls, is the little bay of Mutrah and the road around the bay,

the promenade or corniche is a major attraction of the town.



Mutrah nestles beneath the rocky, serrated hills and its fort high above.
There are many small hotels, cafes for tourists and a large fish-market, but the main attraction is the main market or ‘souq’ a traditional arab market selling artefacts, textiles, hardware and gold jewellery. Much of it is junk, but there’s some good quality stuff although little of that is cheap,-unless you are lucky, -or exceptionally good at bargaining! 


Adjacent to the souq is a small, walled, Shiite enclave of old houses, forbidden to westerners. 


Over the next hill and occupying most of the next bay is the old Muscat proper and arguably the centre of Omani power, the Sultan’s Palace,



the reserve bank

and other government buildings



Muscat is a big town made up of small towns separated by inhospitable hills


the next part along is a fishing village

with its own small waterfront and character.

In a small bay adjacent to that is the main Muscat Marina,


interesting of course for us to visit, but pleased not to be resident there at this time as it must be the hottest marina on the planet! It is completely without shade and in the lee of any breeze beneath the nearby hills.
Although it has good facilities, it is not a place for live-aboard yachts, it is always full and mainly of smaller motorboats or local club boats.

Further along the coast are more cruising and anchoring opportunities, but nowhere is there cool and nowhere is there easy access to shore.


Although beautiful, it’s a rugged coastline! 

From Muscat I caught an early morning bus to Dubai, taking the route along the fertile plains to the north of the country

through a series of well-off agricultural towns,  -this is where the dates come from!

Over the Omani border into UAE is a hilly area of several kilometres drive before meeting the Dubai officials, -there is nothing there but rocks!


Beyond the customs post and down the hill begin the Dubai sands, but little of it is attractive like this!
Compared with Oman, Dubai is a rubbishy mess. The desert is a criss-cross of high tension wires and pipelines linking industrial sites to more industrial sites and there is the litter of development everywhere.

The city of Dubai seemed little better to me, with dust-haze skies, its dirty creek, and maze of multi-lane highways.

In the distance are the outlines of the buildings we see so often as symbols of the city, but to me that day, they were just hazy outlines…and quite inaccessible as it is not a pedestrian friendly town. For once I was at the airport and checking in early for my flight back to New Zealand!

Meanwhile, Mark drove back to Salalah and has been in resident at the port, living on and looking after Quo Vadis. Although it’s not been all easy there for him, 2009 will be a year he will remember, few others have done the same and there have been some rewards.
He has become a useful person around the port, an ‘expert’ on yachting matters for the port authority and an ‘expert’ on the authority and Salalah for yachties…altogether a very useful mediator and intermediary to the satisfaction of both parties!
He is most certainly now a local identity and he’s made many new unexpected friends, not least the Bangladeshi fisherman who camp beneath Quo Vadis by day as the only bit of shade.

He helps them, they help him, they offer him fish, -or as on one occasion, fresh goat, newly slaughtered on the dock, they had traded with a Somali stock boat, one live goat for one whole tuna!
There has been a steady trickle of yachts passing through, a few late arrivals from the east, but most are going east,-from the Red Sea and the Med. Almost all are injured in some way, even to loss of a rig, -the Indian Ocean CAN get rough out there! Mark has found himself to be a voluntary advisor and facilitator, he makes it easy for them to get their work done and on the way again.


For several weeks the dock around Quo Vadis was crowded with Omani fishing boats being hauled for annual servicing, he was also kept busy during that time, negotiating and liasing between crane operators and fishing crews, purportedly to make their lift-outs go more smoothly, -but mainly in the interest of protecting his patch -and in the absence of enough props and drums to ensure boats were not so close as to cause us damage should they roll over, or that our supports were not removed from Quo Vadis!


But now the fishing boats have all gone back out to sea for their work and the port is generally quiet. The recession has caused a decline in container shipping so the big cranes are often unused, however,continuuing anti-piracy surveillance means that the navy patrol ships are still coming on through for rest and refuelling.




Another interesting project has been happening, although kept quietly going on under wraps in a big shed,


the Sultan has the hope of restoring Oman’s sea-going reputation,-at least in part, with a fleet of fast sailing boats for off-shore racing and this is the first. It’s a trimaran, prefabricated in Australia and brought to Salalah for assembling and fitting out


It’s now out of the shed



and in the water.

It has a rig and sea trials have begun, we hear with promising results and are waiting with interest for more!

I arrived back in New Zealand in early May with the first of both swine ‘flu and the winter ‘Wellington southerlies’. It was bitterly cold, as May proved to be the coldest month in the country for 25 years! No surprise that coming from the heat of Oman I should be constantly freezing and soon afflicted with chill-blains…
For some time,I constantly regretted the decision to come back to NZ in winter, but then the opportunity to do some locum work arose, my mind has been on other things and now spring has come 2009 is looking brighter!

We are still deliberating how we move on from Oman however as the Somali piracy problem escalated exponentially late last season and there is no reason to suggest that their activity will be any less with the new one…we may not have many cruisers coming our way and with whom we can form a safe ‘convoy’, so we are looking at all options.

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