IN THE ARABIAN PENINSULA, bedouins and camel trains create sunset silhouettes against rolling dunes and colourful coral reefs, contrasting vividly with the fierce desert landscapes. Yacht guests can snorkel secluded coves in desert archipelagos, explore bustling souks and opulent palaces, and swim in desert canyon oases of glimmering blue.
Back in Dubai, visitors induge a melting pot of world-class marinas and celebrity-chef restaurants, space-age hotels and dazzling gold markets, while in Abu Dhabi, the Grand Prix creates an adrenaline-fuelled atmosphere for visiting yachts.
Cruising the Arabian Peninsula is a visual masterpiece, and after fifteen years based in the Middle East, I can safely say that I have seen some changes. All are well intended and most have been positive; some less so.
Dubai is not afraid of changing for the better and it is led by fantastic leaders who are striving to be the best destination on the planet – and they are succeeding.
It is ever-changing, and at such speed that blink and you miss it. One month away from Dubai is like a year away in most other cities. It is a great place – and a great time – to wholeheartedly be a part of this city.
It’s not just roads expanding and multistorey interchanges popping up, or the vast array of super-high-rise buildings continuously snaking skyward, we now have entire districts being built en masse too and, of course, Dubai is getting ready to host the World Expo 2020.
After all the changes that I’ve seen in the Middle East, I still say there are not many other countries I would rather live in than my home in Dubai. Of course, there is my native New Zealand – and maybe the Balearics for the cycling – but Dubai is a world-class, very safe environment with friendly people who are generally happy and hospitable.
Everything you could wish for is available at your feet.
There are more international sports, arts, culture and entertainment events held in Dubai each year than in many countries combined, and visitors to Dubai experience a real mix of cultures that are harmoniously sharing this city and its experiences. It’s unlike anywhere else in the world.
In my opinion, Dubai’s great boating weather is from October to May. This leaves you a big window, making your Maldives or Seychelles passage planning easy. However, if you want to get back to the Mediterranean for the season, leave before 1 June as the severe weather of the SW monsoon season sweeps up from the east coast of Africa. Once it kicks in, it does not stop.
I speak from personal experience. This year our departure was delayed until 7 June when Category 2 hurricane winds closed Salallah Port and we encountered six nights of large and uncomfortable short head seas. Our Feadship showed her pedigree and came through bruised, but together. I have no doubt that this would not have been possible in many other yacht builds.
We use Captain Steve Corbett from JLS Yachts in Dubai to ensure everything runs smoothly throughout the Middle East. After all, our job is to ensure the owners enjoy every minute of the short time that they have available on board, and that they leave refreshed and wanting to use their yachts more each time they come.
The United Arab Emirates (UAE) is working to attract marine tourism and is changing regulations to make things easier for visiting yachts, which is fantastic news as I’ve spoken to many yacht captains who bypass this great destination because of administrative hurdles. The following information is correct as of mid-2018 but, like everything else in Dubai, can change quickly. Always do your own research.
A new ruling on yacht cruising permits was released in July 2018 entitled the Circular No. (13) 2018: Visiting Foreign Yachts ‘Cruising Permit’. A directive aimed at encouraging marine tourism, the new regulation states:
‘As of 01/08/2018, foreign yachts visiting UAE have the right to cruise between the Ports/Marinas in UAE waters for six months, provided they obtain a ‘Cruising Permit’ from FTA, upon meeting the following requirements:
On a personal note, this new cruising permit appears to supersede the earlier permit experience I have encountered whereby we had to clear in with the help of an agent at every UAE port, and had to leave Dubai every 21 days, cruise to Oman, and then return for another 21 days.
There was previously no cruising permit that covered the whole country, which significantly limited a yacht’s itinerary.
According to the new cruising permit information, yacht crew will need to apply for the multiple entry visit visa. It is valid for six months and allows crew to stay in the one place or move freely within the UAE.
For yachts staying longer, crew will need to either fly out and in again regularly or get a residence permit, which is a big hassle. On our two foreign-flagged yachts in Dubai, we had 18 crew all needing to get a local company sponsor, visa processing and medicals, Emirates ID cards, government-approved medical insurance (over and above your normal crew insurance) and wages to be paid into a local bank account via WPS – a process that can take up to four weeks.
When you leave, you have to cancel the resident visa and Emirates ID or return the crew within six months to keep the visa valid. As you can imagine, faced with these administrative hurdles, most owners would rather just avoid Dubai altogether.
We dry-docked our yacht at Dubai Maritime City (DMC). This is a fine facility dealing mainly in commercial vessels, but good engineering workshops are available. Grandweld, Greenline Interiors, and Autore are all companies capable of good work on yachts in Dubai.
However, Dubai Maritime City is let down by its administration procedures. We had to clear out of our DMC berth via Port Rashid and get clearance into Dubai Maritime City, where we had to go through the whole immigration and coastguard paper trail as if we just landed. Ten days later we cleared out of Dubai Maritime City and cleared back in at Port Rashid – a very unnecessary and pointless paperwork exercise indeed!
I even had to go to the Federal Transport Authority for an exemption letter to satisfy the Dubai Maritime City official – a letter that was not required at any other Dubai clearance we carried out. This was frustrating to the point that we are heading to our next dry dock now in Europe because of this experience with the DMC administration.
The old main Yacht Marina at Mina Seyahi is gone, making way for the new Dubai Harbour by Meeras that is well under construction, getting ready for the World Expo 2020. This project is colossal. As well as passenger yacht terminals, there will be berthing for 1,100 yachts, including large yachts up to 160 metres. There will be a high-end yacht club on site, as well as a minor repair yard, crew facilities and fuelling for all size vessels. Not to mention a vast mall, luxury hotel and residences.
Dubai Harbour is set to be a destination in its own right.
The ultra-chic Bulgari Yacht Club opened in December 2017 at the Bulgari Hotel and Resorts & Residences on the newly built Jumeirah Bay Island. The marina can accommodate yachts up to 50 metres, but berths are limited in availability.
Anchoring is, of course, the next best thing, which is well protected inside the island bay itself and specifically caters for larger superyachts. This is where we have our berths when we are in the region. The owners love being here; the restaurants and service are world-class.
Situated in the old Port Rashid, this new marina is open and busy with boutiques, coffee shops and retail space opening at speed. Port Rashid has the immigration office on its doorstep and a fuel dock nearing completion (as of June 2018), with large superyacht berths being built to cater to yachts over 70 metres. There are already large yacht berths available next to the iconic QE2 cruise liner hotel. The marina manager is approachable and very knowledgeable.
Located right in the action along Dubai Creek, this great new marina welcomes short-stay visiting yachts up to 50 metres. There are cafes and shops galore. A sunset cruise up and down the busy channel past the traditional water taxis (abraas) makes for an interesting and scenic trip.
The Dubai Creek has now been extended and this extension is called the Dubai Canal, which exits near the Four Seasons Hotel and the Bulgari Resort on Jumeirah Bay Island, just a few miles south of the Dubai Creek entrance.
The air draft for the canal is restricted to 8 metres, so it’s a large boat tender run but worth every minute. It has a spectacular illuminated waterfall under Sheikh Zayed Road Bridge that opens up like a curtain, as well as a spectacular skyline of high rises. You can stop along at one of Dubai Creek’s luxury hotels along the way, making a very nice afternoon of it.
Traditionally, the yacht spends a few months of each year in Oman where we have made many friends in our travels. In my experience, the best time to cruise there is between January and April.
Entrance into Muscat is made more convenient by being able to go directly to your pre-booked berth at Al Mouj Marina or anchorage at the Shangri-La, where customs and immigration officials will come to you with your local agent and deal with the formalities. Expect quick and efficient service, which is quite formal and very polite.
No Marlboro cigarettes needed here; all is pure and honest with these honourable people.
You can call into Muscat at the Al Mouj Marina in the north of the city, which is very close to the new international airport as well as great golf courses and shopping malls. In the south of Muscat at Al Bustan, we have made good friends at the Marina Bandar Al Rowdha, as well as receiving excellent service from our contact and good mate Anees at Barr Al Jissah Marina at the Shangri-La Hotel Resort and Spa.
Boats up to 40 metres can use the marina here, while larger yachts like ours can anchor safely behind the islands at Barr al Jissah where yacht owners and guests can take advantage of the exceptional facilities.
From Al Mouj Marina you can easily access the Daymaniyat Islands Marine Reserve, which is a must-see location for divers and is best experienced with a local diving guide. Barr al Jissah Marina, meanwhile, is only seven nautical miles from Bandar Khayran. Here, you can tuck in for days and not see anyone.
Of course, if it’s people you want to see, go to the waterside stretch of the Muttrah Corniche and experience the Grand Souk, as well as the Palace of Sultan Qaboos with its long maritime history and superb museums. These are just some of the many wonderful things you can do in the Arabian Peninsula.