There’s a photograph I’ve been meaning to snap on my smartphone of the Dubai skyline for a while now. But every time I want to capture the picturesque blazing yellow sunset outlining the silhouette of the Burj Khalifa, I’ve been stuck in traffic on the Business Bay bridge, watching the sinking sun in awe and a twinge of disappointment strikes me.
I finally managed to capture that picture while cruising down the Dubai Canal in a Gulf Craft Nomad 55 luxury yacht this week. The 12-kilometre waterway from the head of the Dubai Creek to the Arabian Gulf has been in the making since 2014 and has created an island of Bur Dubai.
It links the old town to the prominent newer hubs of Downtown Dubai, Business Bay and Jumeirah. The second phase of the Dh3.7 billion waterway, a vision of the late Sheikh Rashid bin Saeed to deepen the Dubai Creek, was inaugurated by his son Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President and Ruler of Dubai, last month.
But, the Dubai Canal is much more than a waterway project by the Roads and Transport Authority. It’s the very symbol of grandeur that is expected to attract 30 million tourists annually.
And even though the scale of the project is hard to gauge while zipping through Sheikh Zayed Road in your car, when you find yourself right in the middle of the canal there are clear glimpses of the city’s transformation into what will become a high-end waterfront living destination in the next few years.
Our group, which was hosted by luxury yacht manufacturer Gulf Craft, set sail from the Dubai Creek Golf and Yacht Club in the late afternoon and cruised the waterway until sunset, giving us an insight into the canal's potential as a playground for boat owners and avid cruisers.
“The Dubai Canal may be the single biggest contributor to the tourism increase in the next two years,” says Erwin Bamps, the chief executive of Gulf Craft, as the motor begins to roar and we pull away from the dock towards the canal in which water has gradually been released since October. The second phase involved construction of bridges on Al Wasl Road and Jumeirah Beach Road, which gives yachts of up to 8.5 metres access.
“The whole idea of looking at Dubai rather than looking down at the beach from an apartment window allows you to see the city from the water,” Bamps adds. “And by creating an island out of Dubai, it allows you to meander through the town, not just by sitting in a car or a cab but being able to see the wonders and skylines of the city from a different perspective.”
Within minutes we are far away from shore and the accompanying blaring traffic horns. The open expanse of water is a welcome respite from the eyesore chockablock roads and peak-time road rage.
As we move towards Business Bay, familiar sights start popping up. The wind picks up and the light breeze and freshly squeezed carrot juice in the pulpit evokes memories of a cruise on the River Seine as a hurried tourist in France a few years ago trying to discover the iconic monuments of Paris in a day.
Bamps expects, similarly, the canal will be a quick way for tourists get around town and see all the biggest attractions. “It is interconnected with the central parts, which is already now the tourism hub of Dubai; the Downtown area, Jumeirah and Marina. It will allow tourists who anyway flock to these areas to see the city in a hop-on and hop-off manner, without having to sit for hours in traffic. It will just open the city even further to them in a relaxed way.”
It’s hard to recognise Festival City, as we catch its lit-up facade from a distance. As we move further towards Business Bay and Downtown, we see the Dh802 million phase three of the RTA project well under way. This part of the canal will link the Dubai Creek with the Arabian Gulf from Sheikh Zayed Road around Al Safa Park and Jumeirah 1.
One of the dome-shaped pedestrian overbridges that we see as we approach Jumeirah 1 towers over us and people on top look like clustered dots. You can spot some of the nine new marine transport stations in the waterway that authorities inaugurated last month, as well.
Away from land, I struggle to orient myself to the location of some of the developments and require the help of some of my colleagues on-board to place the new Jumeirah Beach Park, the 5,345 residential units and mall being constructed in the areas that will be renamed Gate Towers, Jumeirah and Peninsula around the Canal.
Before making a U-turn back to the Yacht Club at sunset, we end up at a point I would never have never guessed was once the centre of Safa Park until someone mentioned it was “surreal that we are right where the community space and library The Archive used to once be”.
It’s a realisation that sums up the rapid speed at which the face of the city has changed and that marine tourism is Dubai’s future.