POSTCARD FROM: DUBAI
Training base for the mighty America's Cup winning Alinghi team and very likely a venue for some of the Acts in the next Cup, Dubai has a lot to offer the travelling sailor who may want a home away from home, reports Kevin Green
The ‘home’ part is the new luxury villas that are being built on man-made islands and which could be a good investment given the areas growing future and America's Cup potential.
As a hub for Emirates Airlines, flying in for a stopover to check the Kingdom out is an amazing experience.
Many of the world's cranes can be seen amid the high rises and ultra luxury apartments for sale. Offshore, where the steady sea breezes and lack of tide helped the Alinghi team tune their rigs, is a hive of activity.
There are three archipelagoes under construction ‘ Palm Jebel Ali, Palm Jumeira and just off the old town, Palm Deira ‘ all made up of luxury villas which will be ready in the near future.
Perhaps it will be in time to watch an America's Cup Act from your back garden ‘ or alternatively you can check into one of the many luxury hotels; there is even a seven star one.
So, you can maybe see why this part of the United Arab Emirates has been called the Las Vegas of the Middle East.
It has the vast deserts inland, but also has a long coastline. Just out from the beaches of the town towers the seven star luxury of the Burj Al Arab; at 321m it’s the tallest all-suite hotel in the world, complete with underwater car parking, helicopter pad and tennis court ‘ where Andre Agassi has played recently.
Along the ultra-clean and manicured beaches several marinas jut out into the calm seas of the Arabian Gulf.
These range from the glittering Dubai International Marine Club to the more mundane the Dubai Offshore Sailing Club, which is also home to an RYA sailing school.
With June ‘ the time of my visit ‘ being the off-season, instructor Simon Adams had time to chat with me about the school's activities.
“We offer most of the RYA courses and the Gulf waters are pretty sheltered,” he told me.
The young English sailor likes to party in his free time and there was plenty do with fantastic restaurants and unusual bars built around water parks,
A good time to visit is the first quarter of the year, when several regattas take place, plus of course the Dubai boat show each March ‘ dominated by power, but with big sail boats as well.
One of the highlights of the sailing season is the Dubai International Sailing Week Regatta, usually held in January and attracting many foreign sailors.
Other events include the Presidents Cup Regatta, a three-day event that races to nearby Muscat in early March.
Also running from February to June are the UAE National Sailing Championships.
But for the wood aficionados, the traditional Dhow sailing from September onwards is an amazing spectacle as they relive the old days of working sail.
There is also fair number of Aussies and Brits among the large expat community that predominantly comes from neighbouring countries of India, Pakistan and other Emirates.
People like John, a British engineer who works on the construction of the offshore islands that will eventually turn into the World ‘ yes, and complete with all the continents in place; quite amazing.
John rented an apartment in the city but had a few gripes: “Rents are really extortionate and you do need your own car to get around.”
But with fuel around 20 cents a litre, Land Cruisers and Range Rovers were very much de rigueur on the smooth new highways that criss-cross the region.
Taking a Land Cruiser out to the desert towards Oman is one of the thrills for the visitor (if one chooses not to ski in the large indoor arena) ‘ but dune hopping is not for the unwary or the newly arrived suffering from jet-lag.
Our driver Amanullah from Lama Desert Tours handled the big 4WD with ease as we leapt blindly off massive dunes, while I prayed that one of the other cars wasn't down the other side of the sand.
But the curvaceous belly dancer that entertained us as we tucked into our traditional Arabic feast greatly calmed our frayed nerves.
Food in Dubai is a wonderful mix of fish, chicken, meat and rice and vegetables. From this base, dishes such as Haree (slow cooked meat broth), Machoo (sTaking shelter from the midsummer heat (40° C in the shade) in one of the many malls is fantastic for the shopper.
Dubai is a shoppers’ paradise with its tax-free status making electronics, jewellery and luxury goods very cheap. Hand held GPS units looked to be around half the price you'd pay elsewhere and I got a real bargain on a Casio marine watch ‘ priced at $140 in Oz and only $40 in one of the old town Souks .
Despite being a devoutly Muslim country, women wore all kinds of fashions including the burka.
Along the quayside of Dubai Creek, which bisects the city, ancient trading boats loaded up for destinations all around the Arabian Gulf. On board families moved about as all manner of goods were loaded into their cavernous holds including cars, crates and livestock.
Across the Creek, one of the King's palaces could be glimpsed among the swaying date palms and skyscrapers as the calls of the muezzin signalled the Muslim faithful to prayer in the nearby mosque. Dubai is undoubtedly a fascinating mix of the old and new ‘ and well worth a visit.
Dubai Tourism : http://dubaitourism.ae
Dubai Offshore Sailing Club: www.dosc.ae
Dubai International Boat Show www.boatshowdubai.com
Lama Desert Tours & Cruises www.lama.ae
Location: 25 15'33'N, 55 16'09' E
Currency: Dirham (AED) – $1=AED3.13
Emirates Airlines flies direct from Australia
UAE population: 4.1 million (Dubai 1.2 million)
Australian Consulate General, PO Box 4336, Dubai.