Sailing a Dhow in Zanzibar, Part 1

Indian Ocean, endless stretches of coral reef, tropical sun, Kanadi kingfish the length of your arm…. Ready to be teleported into an exotic hotchpotch of Indo-Arabian architecture, rich food spiced with Indian flavors, step into the court of a Swahili prince or an Omani sultan, or make an angel shape (like Bridget Jones) in a long, flat, white beach as the tropical sun beats down on you?

If so, Zanzibar is your island. Oh yeah, and let’s not forget the famous dhow, a sailing boat like no other, which should make for a fun challenge for any sailor.

Step off the boat or plane and onto the soft, white sands of Zanzibar, and you will probably feel like you jumped into paradise.

One thing that strikes me about our ever-smaller-seeming world is that it’s full of tiny corners most people have never been to. I love writing about them; I love bringing them to you. Let’s have a closer look at Zanzibari sailing (Part 1 of this series), food and culture (Part 2 of this series).

Sailing in Zanzibar

Sailing has been a big thing in Zanzibar since boats were invented!

The Dhow

A dhow is an ancient Arabic sailing boat used for fishing and commercial activities (in the olden days).

Dhows have a raised hull and a sharp pointed bow, are made from wood and most often than not have a minimum of two triangular sails (on occasion, just one), called lateens. The earliest lateens were made from palm leaves, but cotton was introduced later, in pairs: one for after dark and rough conditions, and one for everyday, daytime sailing.

Dhows were made from Ekki or Mahogany wood, usually harvested from the forests of Africa. The planks used to build the boat were actually arranged and then sewn together!

There are companies that have dhow fleets, ………

The Ngalawa

The Zanzibari version of the dhow, the ngalawa, is often made from a hollowed-out (by hand!) mango tree with a bamboo mast, two outriggers and triangular sails. Ever fancied sailing a tree, a bed-sheet and some string? Haha. There’s nothing quite like sailing one of these!

The Ngalawa Cup

Every year, contestants sign up for a staged, 500-mile boat race in dhows driven by Kusi and Kaskazi trade winds that runs along the east coast of Africa. There are two editions. The first begins with training on Pemba Island, and races from Nungwi on Zanzibar to Kilwa Kisiwani Island. The July training takes place on Kilwa Kisiwani Island, with the finish line on Emerald Bay, Pemba.

The sailors navigate their way through a string of tiny islands and a few checkpoints, and stay on whichever island they happen to reach by nightfall. Here is a video about the Cup.

https://youtu.be/YSvVQ18_NkQ

See Part 2 for more about Zanzibar!

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