DUBAI – Named ‘Obaid’, in reference to Obaid Jumaa bin Majid Al Falasi, an Emirati shipbuilder who began an apprenticeship at the age of nine in the mid-1940s, the largest wooden Arabic dhow in the world was verified by Guinness World Records recently in Dubai, United Arab Emirates.
The majestic dhow measures 91.47 m long and 20.41 m wide. To visualize this, it is the length and almost half the width of a standard American football field, floating over the Indian Ocean. Hypothetically speaking, balancing this huge structure on either its bow or stern vertically would make this dhow stand almost as tall as the Big Ben in London.
Building a big handmade boat in a country with no forests is a challenge, but crafting the world’s largest dhow is a challenge on a higher level. Decades on from the heyday of the Creek’s trading boats, a family-run yard still produces traditional hand-built vessels – and most importantly has just been recognized with the Guinness World Records title of the Largest wooden Arabic dhow.
Work on the majestic dhow started years ago, with no actual engineering vision or blueprints but was massively developed and scaled up. Local craftsmen say they own the experience, describing it as the ‘art of dhow building’.
According to Majid Obaid Al Falasi, aged 52, it is not for prestige that drove him to build the largest dhow, but for his late father, Obaid Jumaa bin Majid Al Falasi.
“Our forefathers were divers, our ancestors worked in the sea, and my own father perused this craftsmanship for almost all his life. This is a gratitude to my father, and my country which always aims for the forefront positions,” says Majid Obaid.
“We tried to get the longest pieces of log available. We are born as dhow builders, and can build dhows using other material, but wood keeps its identity. This achievement is just the inevitable continuation for building dhows in the world,” he added.
A modern adaptation is adding steal to the wooden structure. The majestic dhow is larger and stronger than a traditional one, and will be able to carry four times more cargo in and out from Dubai’s docks.
“I see it in the eyes of my son. He is passionate about what I do, and what his grandfather used to do. This is what matters, for them to be able to continue the tradition and have it transferred to the next generation,” he elaborated.
The dhow stands at a height of 11.229 meters, and it weighs 2500 tonnes. It has been constructed from material sourced both locally and abroad and will have an estimated load capacity of up to 6,000 tonnes. There might be around 1700 tonnes of wood, and 800 tonnes of steel. The wood was brought from Africa, and it is mainly a jungle wood, as only nearly half of what you buy is usable.
Apart from the years of commitment and tens of dedicated skilful craftsmen, this iconic sailing vessel cost comes from the expenses of wood imports, and hundreds of thousands of nuts, bolts, screws and nails.
The dhow is powered by two 1850 horsepower engines and will used to transport cargo from the UAE to Yemen, Somalia, Sudan, Egypt, Kenya, Pakistan, India, and maybe Iraq. “At a speed of 14 knots, it will be enough for this dhow to operate and achieve its desired ROI. Who knows, you might see this dhow docking at different ports all across the world.”