Muscat, the capital of Oman, serves as a starting point to explore a large number of attractions that are located within three hours driving. Doing research about things to do in the country, I was intrigued by a dhow factory in Sur. This city is about two and a half hours from Muscat but the roads to get there are perfect.
You can combine your visit with Bimmah sinkhole and Wadi Al Shab. On your return you will also be able to see from the road the Mausoleum of Bibi Maryam, part of the ancient city of Qalhat. This site is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is currently closed for renovation.
If you keep driving later you can get to Ras Al Jinz / Ras Al Hadd which are places to see green turtles. You can stay in a hotel in Sur if you do not want to drive so much.
Sur, the industrial city
By the sixth century, the city of Sur had become an important exchange point with East Africa. The strategic location of the city, between the Arabian Sea and the Oman Sea, made it the epicenter of Oman’s maritime activities.
In those times the dhows were used to transport precious stones, pepper, sandalwood, camphor, cloves, cinnamon, ambergris, ivory and more. They were also used to carry slaves. Some dhows had the capacity to carry up to 600 tons of cargo.
Navigation routes expanded in the region, from the Persian Gulf, the Arabian Sea, to the East African coast and even India and China. The Arabs arrived in the islands of the Indian Ocean between the 10th and the 16th centuries. They baptized the Mascarene islands that today are known as Reunion, Rodrigues and Mauritius. After the construction of the Suez Canal, the routes lost their importance, as did the city of Sur.
It is said that the legendary Sinbad the Sailor was from Oman, although other historians say Baghdad and elsewhere, if he really did exist. It is possible he navigated a dhow from Sur on his seven trips if it was really from Oman. Tim Severin, a British explorer and historian went to the dhow factory in Sur. He asked them to built a ship, the 87-foot Sohar, which is a replica of a nine-century Arab dhow. He used that ship to sail from Sur to India and then China. All this was to write a book called ‘Sindbad Voyage’.
When you think of a factory you never imagine something as small as what you will see in the Dhow Factory in Sur. You may be disappointed if you imagined a large production of dhows but that is not the case. You must appreciate the context of what the place offers to really appreciate it. Apart from its beauty, since you must cross the suspension bridge of Khor Al Batah to reach a small island.
This is the only existing factory that builds dhows in Oman. But what is a dhow? This is the generic name given to traditional Arab sailboats, usually equipped with one or two masts and Latin sail rigging. Only two or three large dhows are produced at the same time.
They are made from Birma teak and ghaff, a local desert tree. All boats have owners before they are built, as they are made to order. They are mostly used for the tourism industry, but others are for people, such as several sheiks and sultans, including King Abdullah of Jordan.
Visitors will appreciate old techniques used for construction. Workers use a bow drill instead of an electric drill and move planks by rolling them over logs. Almost no plans are used since ancestral knowledge is passed down from generation to generation. In earlier times they used coconut fiber rope to tie the wooden planks. Nowadays they use long nails.
When I went to the dhow factory in Sur there was no entry fee to admire the artisans. They allow you to take pictures and answer questions if you find any that speak English.
You can also go up to the dhows with a ladder that they tie next to the boat. If you want to know more about the history you can visit the South Maritime Museum at the Al Qanjah Shipyard. It is worth knowing and supporting this millenarian form of shipbuilding.