More than 100 dhows to race in Mirfa this weekend

4,000 seafarers compete for Dh4.2million in prizes at the 2018 Al Dhafra Water Festival

Crew members from the Volvo Ocean Race 2011-12 participate in 60ft Dhow Racing in Abu Dhabi. (Photo Credit must read: Paul Todd/Volvo Ocean Race)
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More than two thousand sailors will unfurl the sails on 18-metre dhows this Saturday at the opening weekend of the 2018 Al Dhafra Water Festival.

About 4,000 competitors will take to the remote western seas of Abu Dhabi for Dh4.2 million in prizes.

The festival is held in Al Mirfa, a sleepy seaside town 160 kilometres west of Abu Dhabi on the motorway to Saudi Arabia in Al Dhafra region.

The annual festival, now in its tenth year, will run for ten days from Thursday, April 19, until Saturday, April 28.

This year’s event will have traditional wooden mahmel rowboat races, kite hydrofoil races, a sailing regatta and a stand up paddle board race. There will be a fishing competition for kingfish that runs throughout the festival.

Beach activities will include swimming, football and volleyball tournaments and a traditional market.


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An estimated 110 ships are expected to compete in Saturday’s dhow race.

Families watching from the shore will be given a new tracking system to follow the dhows in their 25-nautical mile race. It is expected to last 90 minutes.

“Tacking and jibbing is very difficult with the dhow’s sail, it’s not easy,” said Majed Al Muhairi, the chief executive at the Abu Dhabi Sailing and Yacht Club. “That’s why we start from one point and finish at another.”

Events run from dawn until 4pm daily, with most activities wrapping up at noon.

Last year’s festival attracted 70,000 visitors. It has a profound economic impact on the community.

“Each festival enhances Dahfra’s tourism and water activities, particularly after having hosted thousands of amateur and professional athletes from many countries and more than 70,000 visitors last year,” said a statement by Fares Al Mazrouei, the chair of culture programmes and heritage festival committee, in a statement.

The festival has revived heritage water sports in Abu Dhabi.

“By continuing these events year after year, Mirfa citizens have started to build their own boats, they have started to teach their kids how to sail 20 to 60 foot dhows,” said Mr Al Muhairi. “About 20 or 30 boats are owned by Mirfa citizens now.”