All aboard a traditional dhow boat for a day of scuba diving, snorkelling and kayaking fun on the Musandam.
On the cusp of the UAE and Oman border lies the mountainous Musandam Peninsula. Its tiny population (31,000) is largely split between the two main urban centres of Khasab and Dibba. While on the surface these towns may have little to offer the adventurous visitor, Musandam does have a few aces up its sleeve, and that’s what has brought us here; its sheltered bays have beautiful coral reefs under the towering cliffs that plunge almost vertically into the sea. It’s quite simply some of the finest diving on the planet. That of course, and the scenery itself. Musandam’s jagged, arid topography is thrillingly inhospitable; the cliffs seem devoid of life and it’s difficult to imagine how it was ever inhabited, but in terms of photogenic, rugged good looks, there’s little else that’ll top it.
A two-hour car journey landed us in Dibba, a fishing village full of goats, derelict-looking buildings, chilled out locals, surrounded by the sea and all its treasures, and boasting — most notably — a few two-tier wooden dhow boats that you can jump aboard and spend the day on. Even in these hotter months, it makes a fresh break from Dubai.
Once we passed through the border (we queued for one full, frustrating hour), we finally made our way to the little marina where Sheesa Beach Travel & Tourism is located. I chose these guys primarily because of Neil Murphy. He was the man who took me on my Discovery course a few years ago and I absolutely loved him and the efficiency of his team.
So my friends and I – 15 of us in total – jumped on board Neil’s floating palace for a day on the water. Okay, palatial it’s not, but it’s a gem nonetheless – simple, spacious, full of comfy cushions to lie on, and ice boxes to keep your drinks nice and cold. There’s a chef on board, a five man crew, two other scuba instructors, a toilet, towels, drinks, fruit, fishing gear, snorkel gear, kayaks… you get the idea. We really didn’t need to bring a thing. It was mind-numbingly simple and we all fell like dominoes as soon as we stepped on board, nuzzling into the cushions, waiting to set sail.
Some read, some slept, some drank English breakfast tea revelling in the simplicity of this peaceful moment. It’s a blissful 1 hour ride along the unbelievably calm waters to our first dive spot. You’d be forgiven for thinking that we’d flown to the ends of the earth for such a view, not two hours’ down the road from Dubai. No wonder Neil never leaves.
The great part of organising a dhow trip like this is that it caters to everyone. Some who just want to snorkel can snorkel. Others who have their PADIs, can scuba dive; Sheesa arranges all diving equipment for you in advance. And for those who want to try scuba diving for the first time they can do that too. Or you can sack off everything and chill on the boat. The choice is yours.
We buddied-up, prepared to deflate our jackets, and head underwater to explore. The water was already so clear that we could see marine life without even having to go under. After a good 50 minutes exploring the ocean bed and meeting its inhabitants, lunch was ready and waiting on board – a mix of salad, pasta and fish curry.
Eat, sleep, scuba, repeat. Such is life on a dhow boat day trip.
The journey from Dubai to Dibba (the UAE border crossing) takes approximately two hours by car and it’s a really simple drive. Follow Sheikh Mohammad Bin Zayed Rd (E311) towards Umm Al Quwain. Then head onto truck road as if you’re gunning for Fujairah and from there just follow signs for Dibba. Once you’re in Dibba, you’ll get to the famous Dolphin roundabout, swing a right and this will bring you along the coastline with the UAE border crossing ahead of you.
Since September 2012, off-roaders/campers/hikers are no longer able to easily cross into Oman from Dibba due to authorities enforcing stricter border rules. Sharjah officials at the Dibba crossing – an unofficial border station – have been demanding UAE residents offer proof of a hotel stay or a booking with a dhow operator in order to go into Oman. You find that when you book with your chosen dhow company that they’ll ask for a copy of your passport and visa if you’re a resident of the UAE. If you’re just a tourist, they only require a copy of your passport. The tour company then sends this directly to the officials at the border crossing ahead of your arrival.
Sheesa beach charged Dhs.4,000 for 15 people for the boat hire (including lunch, drinks, towels, snorkel gear, kayaks and fishing lines). That’s about Dhs.270 per person which is an absolute steal. Certified divers pay Dhs.500 (for two dives) and Discover sessions cost (Dhs.550 per person) both including the boat hire.
For more information, visit sheesabeach.com.
Image credits: Nicholas Bortman (nicholasbortman.com); Sheesa Beach Travel & Tourism; Laura Coughlin