UAE coasts: 76-year-old RAK resident observes wildlife by kayak

The 76-year-old New Zealander took up kayaking after moving to RAK in 1997 to observe the various species of birds that live in the emirate.

Ras al Khaimah Sailing Club member Barbara Couldrey was a fixture in the club’s competitions since moving to the emirate in 1997. Sarah Dea / The National
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Like our cities, the coast constantly changes, and the Northern Emirates are no exception. In the latest stop on our sea journey around the UAE, we meet the kayakers and sailors of RAK who search for serenity on the waves.

RAS AL KHAIMAH // Keeping pace with Barbara Couldrey as she kayaked across Khor Al Ma’arid lagoon at a brisk pace was never easy.

The 76-year-old New Zealander, who has recently left the region after 35 years in the UAE and Oman, took up the hobby after moving to RAK in 1997 to observe the many species of birds that live in the emirate.

Her hour-long trips took her into a stretch of mangroves that was barely visible in the mid-day humidity of summer.

Speaking before she left, however, her destination was much closer.

Setting off from the Ras Al Khaimah Sailing Association (Raksa) marina, she paddled past the coastguard station to an empty stretch of beach opposite the fishermen’s harbour.

After reaching the sandbanks, it only took a few seconds to cross into the clear sea water.

“I will dream of this water when I am in London,” the former teacher said.

Ms Couldrey has witnessed many changes in her time as an expat as the emirates developed their coastlines.

While RAK is regarded as more traditional then Dubai or Abu Dhabi, change is coming there, too. The emirate is eyeing tourism and property to develop its economy.

Across town from Raksa is Marjan Island, a reclaimed offshore development that is home to several hotels.

The DoubleTree by Hilton Resort & Spa Marjan Island is increasing its floor space by 44 per cent because of growing demand, said Haitham Mattar, Ras Al Khaimah Tourism Development Authority head.

About 730,000 people visited the emirate last year and the authority was aiming for one million by 2018, he said.

Karl Brown, 51, a pilot for Emirates, first became a member of Raksa in 2007.

In those days, the club overlooked the sea, but development meant there was now reclaimed land on one side where once there was open water.

This, said the Briton, blocked the free flow of water causing algal blooms in summer.

More changes are on the way as the club, which opened in 1977, is moving to a new location 500 metres away.

“We will probably move within the next year,” said Ivo Dielen, the club’s commodore.

The exact details were still being worked out with RAK’s government.

Mr Brown, who regularly shared the honours at the Commodore’s Cup competition with the Kiwi, said Ms Couldrey would be missed when the club’s racing season started next month.

“For six years, it [the top spot] has swapped backwards and forwards between Barbara and I,” said Mr Brown, a keen sailor since he was 17.

For Ms Couldrey, it is now all about adjusting to her new life in the UK.

She has joined the Shadwell sailing club in London and sails once or twice a week on the Thames, but feels the river is a world away from the serenity she experienced in RAK.

“It’s a bit hairy at times with all the fast traffic on the Thames and the huge tide, but it keeps me in touch with reality.”