Bobbing in the waters along Deira Wharf in Dubai, an enormous wooden dhow, recently titled the world’s largest, dwarfs the vessels that surround it.
Affectionately named Obaid, the owner, Majid Al Falasi, said his father, an Emirati shipbuilder who started working on boats at the age of nine, inspired the namesake.
Measuring 91-metres long, 20m wide and 11m high, the imposing vessel was handmade using 1,700 tonnes of African teak wood and 800 tonnes of steel.
On Thursday, The National took a tour onboard the ship, which recently returned to Dubai after a voyage to Yemen.
“When we got that Guinness World Record title last year, it was a proud moment for our family but for the Arabic people too,” said Mohammed Al Falasi, co-owner of the boat.
“This is the biggest wooden Arabic dhow in the world and it’s a nod of respect to the Emirati shipbuilders of generations gone by.”
Sixteen crew live onboard Obaid, including a captain, two chiefs, a foreman and 12 workers.
Each crew member works in shift rotations of six hours on and six hours off.
Manoeuvring your way around the vessel is not for the fainthearted. Chunky wood and steel beams make for a lot of ducking and diving. But whether at sea or onshore, the crew all call Obaid home.
When they’re not working, the men spend most of their time sleeping to recoup for the next shift.
On the second deck is their personal quarters; a spacious room with individual beds positioned around the walls.
“We each have our own section which consists of a bed with two cupboards below,” One for our personal belongings and one for our tool packs,” said Indian worker, Jakir Husen, 20.
“I’ve been on the boat for 14 months now and this is my first job and first time living away from India.
“When I saw the size of the dhow for the first time, wow, my breath, it went straight out from me.”
With large expanses of deck taking up most of the space on board, life is simple but comfortable for the crew.
There are several bathrooms and showers at the stern, a fully-equipped, albeit small, kitchen with a dedicated on-board cook, and spacious areas of deck where the men spend their down time.
On the day The National visits, the cook prepares fresh vegetables and herbs, including tomatoes, onions and coriander, for a daal curry that evening.
When not at sea, there is plenty to be done on the ship. Being hand built, the dhow often requires light maintenance to fix artificial damage.
Coloured in a dark wood stain with light blue accents, one labourer is seen chipping away at a raw teak beam using a chisel and hammer.
“We are in the process of adding another deck to the boat so we can carry extra cargo,” Mr Husen said.
“He is carving pieces of teak wood, which will act as the support beam for the extra deck. After that, he will stain it.
“Though the job looks big, it only takes about an hour for each piece of wood.
“We have great craftsmen onboard and we want to honour the owners of the boat by continuing to do things in the traditional way like this.”
Everything from cooking to laundry and socialising is done on-board. Lines of washing hang from one side of the dhow to the other. With its unique positioning off land, it makes for easy access to water.
“That seawater, it provides us many things. We wash our clothes using it, and sometimes we catch our dinner straight from it,” Mr Husen said.
“You see those big freezers? We have four in all and we use them to store fish we catch when out at sea.
“We mainly catch tuna, but other smaller fish too.”
The dhow was built for commercial use so the crew are tasked with loading and offloading cargo to and from it.
It has made two international journeys since it took to the waters early last year. The first was a coastal trip to Oman, which took about one and a half days, and the second, Yemen, which took three days.
With capacity to carry up to 700 vehicles across five decks, the bulk of its cargo is cars.
“We load and offload the cars using tower cranes then drive them into place once on board,” said Mr Husen.
“When we’re not handling cargo, we mainly clean and fix any small damages like cracks or dents in the wood.”
During any one trip, he said, each crew member has his own duty to fulfil.
When at sea, there are three men in the control room, three on the observation deck and two in the engine room.
Powered by two 1,850 horsepower, 16-cylinder engines, the temperature often reaches into the high 20s below deck but industrial fans have been placed throughout to expel the hot air.
Travelling at speeds of up to 26kph, the dhow mainly runs on diesel and the engines are cooled using a seawater cooling system.
In the coming months and years, the dhow will begin transporting cargo to places further afield including Somalia, Sudan, Egypt, Kenya, Pakistan and India.