Twilight of the ocean dhow: Sailing the Arabian Sea in 1973

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It was the end of the age of sail for the ocean-going cargo dhow when British photographer Marion Kaplan joined the crew of a lancha heading out of Kuwait for Abu Dhabi and then to Dubai.

From there, she joined a larger boom, sailing down the coast of Oman for the Kenyan port of Mombasa.

That was more than 40 years ago, but those memories are revived in So Old a Ship, a book of her evocative photographs from 1973 that was published last month.

At the time, Kaplan, who now lives in France, was working for National Geographic magazine, with her assignment later published as Twilight of the Arab Dhow.

Her most challenging task was to persuade a captain – al nokhada – to give her a berth. She began by asking the port manager if there was a man who might regard her as his only daughter.

In the end, she says, the crews on both boats were “very generous and correct. They were exceptionally well-behaved”.

She slept in the captain’s deckhouse: “I don’t know where the rest of them went.”

On the voyage from Kuwait, the dhow transported cargo, including electrical goods and a car.

Going ashore in Abu Dhabi, she attended a wedding, then left for Dubai Creek, where she found a second ship willing to take her home. She was based in Kenya at the time.

The dhows followed the monsoon winds, although by this time, they were all equipped with engines as backup. “After Oman there was a bad storm and we had to take the main sail down. They used a tiny square sail,” she recalls.

Returning to the Arabian Gulf, the dhows would carry a cargo of Kenyan mangrove poles, used as roof supports in construction.

Although she offered to pay for her passage – “money talks” – by the end of the voyage, the second dhow captain refused to take any more. “He really did treat me like his daughter.”

So Old A Ship by Marion Kaplan. Moho Books. Available through Amazon and in UK bookshops.

All photos courtesy Marion Kaplan