Since time, ancient Oman has been a sea faring nation, with the earliest recording of an Omani dhow reaching China for trade in the 8th century, the dhows are as much a part of the country as the Frankincense Mountains or the sand on its beaches!! These ships were instrumental in establishing Oman’s maritime dominance in the ancient world, causing the silk and porcelain trade to flourish in the country and enabled the Omani rule to stretch as far as Zanzibar.
Traditionally made from a combination of the local wood called simir and teakwood imported from India ( via road routes during ancient times) and rope made from coconut fibres, the Omani ship builders fashioned these humble materials in to variety of designs to suit the needs of their sea faring customers and last for over 60 odd years!
The most common types of the larger Dhows requisitioned to build were the Baglah, Ghanjah and Boum. These were built for trading voyages as they had a capacity of up to 300 tons, and were distinguished by its stem head and trefoil crest. Another trading vessel commissioned was the Sambuq with a capacity up to 150 tons. This was used for diving to collect pearls but now used for carrying cargo and transporting passengers and is common to the Saham and Sur regions. Most will be familiar with the Al-Boum which is popularly used in the city for dhow cruises and can be easily identified by its high, straight stem-post set at 45°, its load varies between 74 and 400 tons. For the common fisherman a small dugout canoe was made called the Huri, these, despite the changing times are still in use and are the most common one spotted in the Omani waters.
Apart from the ones mentioned before, Dhows also change their design based on the region they were made in, the fishing crafts made in Salalah are called the Shashah, the 35 feet long Baggarah originates from the Batinah coast and finally the ‘Sohar’ type which was used in 1980 to travel to china the old fashion way (wind sails) needs no explanation about its region.
Sadly with air travel on the rise and the influx of cheaper and shoddier modern crafts Dhow building is a dying art but fortunately there are stiff pockets of carpenters in the indigenous regions of Sur Oman who still keep the tradition alive. When one takes a simple stroll among its roads dotted with aesthetic forts, lively souks to its awe inspiring harbour where you can still see hardworking carpenters chiselling away and bounding their boats with fibre and in the evenings the whole town comes to life when the sailors leave for the sea!! After all as most of the locals will proudly tell you Sur is still a fisherman’s town and was instrumental in establishing Oman as a sea faring nation.
So the next time you’re in Oman, be sure to take the dhow cruise that almost everyone will recommend and while you enjoy modern amenities on this craft of ancient design, feel happy that you’re doing your bit in preserving a piece of world history and Omani culture.