Ras al Khaimah – Trucial State

It appears that I have a post out of sequence – after Muscat the post should have been Ras al Khaimah, and then Dubai – please accept my apologies. Too many readers have already read the ‘Dubai’ post to change the sequence.

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Ras al Khaimah from a painting in 1809.

Ras al Khaimah has been inhabited for over 7000 years, one of the few places in the world where this is the case.

The coastal area was also known as the pirate coast. In the 18th century Ras al Khaimah became a major maritime force and had control of areas in Persia and Arabian coast, and frequently came in to contact with British trading vessels.

War broke out between the rulers of Muscat and Ras al Khaimah in the 18th century and in 1763 the ruler of Ras al Khaimah sued for peace.
The peace was later broken in 1775, and the ongoing war brought Ras al Khaimah up against Muscat’s ally, Great Britain.

After a series of attacks by Ras al Khaimah against Sindh (which is in what we now call Pakistan, which did not come about until 1947), the British Authorities in India decided that the raids had to stop.

The British mounted the 1809 campaign, which destroyed much of the Ras al Khaimah fleet, and put a stop to the raids. The British withdrew and it was not until 1815 that a treaty was agreed, but this was broken in 1819.
The British returned and again defeated the ruler of Ras al Khaimah, and the treaty of 1820 put an end to piracy and slavery & removed the ruler of Ras al Khaimah.
This act began the creation of the Trucial States, which has morphed in to the United Arab Emirates that we know today.

The Trucial States name came from the principal sheikhs in the Persian Gulf area that had signed protective treaties with the British – it was known as the ‘truces’ hence the name Trucial States.

Abu Dhabi – 1820 to 1971
Ajman – 1820 to 1971
Dubai – 1835 to 1971
Fujairah – 1952 – 1971
Kalba – 1936 – 1951, when it was re–incorporated into Sharjah in 1952
Ras al Khaimah – 1820 – 1972
Sharjah – 1820 – 1971
Umm Al Quwain – 1820 – 1971

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The above gives you and idea as to how close each of the sheikdoms are to each other.

The first cargo of crude oil left Abu Dhabi in 1962, Dubai commenced exporting oil in 1969, so when I was in this area from 1962 to 1968 it was very different than what you see today.

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The foreshore of Ras al Khaimah during my time.

 

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We anchored off and waited for the dhows to come out, obviously we didn’t require the aide of a tug. I don’t think Ras al Khaimah had any tugs because they didn’t have a port.

Work began as soon as the dhows arrived and within a short time it was night – we were surprised that that work didn’t stop. Being on the mid-night to 4.00 am time seemed to drag as there was little that I could do except watch the labour unloading.

It was about 1.00 am when the wind began to increase.

With a sandy or mud bottom we wouldn’t have had a problem, but the bottom where we had anchored was coral and the flukes of the anchor were unable to dig in to the coral.
I spent the next couple of hours wondering the ship and peering over the side to estimate if we were dragging our anchor.
If we had anchored off a more ‘sophisticated’ coast line I would have taken bearing to confirm or not, if we were dragging.
Off the coast of Ras al Khaimah, the land was a black mass to the west of us, without any lights or navigational points that I could have used.

Fortunately, near the end of my watch, the wind dropped, and I felt easier that I hadn’t woken the captain . . .

I was back on duty the following afternoon, and I think the Captain and first mate were ashore, when I sighted a motor boat approach the ship.
Aboard this boat were a number of well-dressed locals in a mix of European dress and Arabic traditional robes. Our gangway was down to allow the labour to board.

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The picture will give you an idea.

The motorboat hooked on to the gangway and I was asked permission if they could come aboard.
A Lebanese interpreted introduced me to a gentleman is robes as Sheikh Abdullah, (as he was known to the locals), who was the nephew of the then ruler at that time of Ras al Khaimah,  Sheikh Saqr bin Mohammad Al Qassimi. (February 1948 – 27 October 2010).

Sheikh Abdullah was interested in the ship and wanted to practice his English, so I showed His Highness (which was his title, as he was the equivalent of a prince), and his interpreter around the ship, after which I invited him to the bar, which he accepted.
In addition to his royal title he was also the Minister of Education for Ras al Khaimah.

It was an interesting time for me as we spoke of many subjects (excuse the pun), all in English, and occasionally the interpreter jumped in with a quick translation for the Sheikh.

We spoke for a couple of hours and he spoke of the history of his country, and that his family had ruled the area for over 600 years.

He spoke of his ancestors raiding Persia, India and defeating the Portuguese. He also told of his people sending the fleet out against British merchant ships, which caused the British navy to arrive and take over his country.
He assured me that his people no longer attacked British merchant ships, which was nice to know considering I was part of a British merchant ship’s crew.

He didn’t feel any discontent with the British, who had been involved with his country for eighty years, and I think he considered the arrival of the British to be more positive rather than a negative move, because it helped his country to expand their horizons as far as trade, education and modern devices.

As our chat drew to a close he told me that they expected to be drilling for oil within five months, which would change his country once again.

Unfortunately for the Sheikh, we now know that the drilling failed to find any oil. This meant that R.A.K (the abbreviation for Ras al Khaimah) did not become a second Dubai, but it did allow his country to go down a different path, and they have now become popular as a destination for what the area used to be before the glitz of Dubai.

What Ras al Khaimah has also become is a major producer of pearls and ceramics.

R.A.K used to be a major supplier of pearls and had been for a couple of thousand years at least. The Trucial State coastline around 1810 had 3000 pearl boats and by 1900 the number of boats had become 4500.
The pearls didn’t stay in the Gulf area but were exported to Bombay (Mumbai), which was the world centre for trading pearls.
In 1917 the Bank of England considered that a gram of Gulf pearl on the Bombay market was the equivalent of 320 grams of gold or 7.7 kilos of silver.

The inflation of the pearl market was such that Cartier bought a building in New York, for a two-string pearl necklace, valued at that time for about $1.2 million. The same necklace in the 1940’s was sold for $157,000.

All of this started to fail with the discovery of oil, why risk your life diving for a pearls when you can earn good money in the oil industry in other areas of the Trucial States, plus the creation of the Japanese cultured pearls had expanded considerably. The last Gulf pearl fleet sailed in 1949.

If you can’t beat them join them – in 2004 a pearl farm was established in Ras al Khaimah.

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In addition to pearls R.A.K Ceramics is now a global ceramic brand.

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Leave the city behind and go back in time . . .

In 1971, R.A.K joined with other Trucial States to become part of the UAE (United Arab Emirates).

Our next port of call was Dubai, but due to my error I’ve already posted the Dubai blog.

 

 

Bombay to Muscat

We sailed from Bombay (now Mumbai) for Muscat (which is in Oman), and we planned for a few changes.
The first officer was due to leave us when we arrived in Dubai, and the second officer would be moved up to first, and I was to be the second officer – all very temporary, but for me it was worth an extra ten pounds a month, (about £178 in today’s money), until the new first officer arrived, and the second and myself move back to our own slot.
We were hoping that the new first officer wouldn’t join us for some months, the extra cash would help with the bar bill.
It was the 6th January 1968, and I was on the midnight to 4.00 am watch when we entered a huge shoal of flying fish. I’d seen this type of fish before and even eaten one or two when the Chinese crew cooked them, but this time the sea was full of them as it they were being chased. I shone an Aldiss lamp on the water only to see the whole area around the ship covered in flying fish.

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To avoid predators flying fish accelerate to 60 km per hour (37 mph) before launching free of the water. Upon opening their wings they can glide over 183 mtrs (600 feet) or more before they enter the water to repeat the exercise if necessary. They glide about 1.2 metres (4 feet) above the water.

I only wished that I had a camera to record such a site, which lasted for over one and a half kilometers (about a mile), before we sailed out of the shoal. I just wondered what was chasing them, and why where there so many.

I entered the chart room to check the chart in case our location would give me a clue as to why there were so many flying fish, when suddenly the quartermaster rushed in and asked me to look ahead.

The quartermaster was also the helmsman, but at the time we were on autopilot, so his duty was as a bridge lookout.

‘Flashing lights Sahib, starboard side!’ and pointed ahead through the chart room window and to starboard (right hand side) of the bow.
I followed him out onto the wing of the bridge and looked where he was pointing. I felt my heart give a jump, the whole area was covered in flashing lights, at that moment the lookout in the bow rang one stroke on the fo’c’sle bell, which was the signal to warn me that he’d seen a light to starboard.

My first thought was that we were about to enter a large fishing fleet and we didn’t have enough time to alter course as the fleet ahead stretched across our bow.

Local fishing boats were made of wood and propelled by oars or sail and would not have shown up on our radar. Plus, native fishing boats were renowned for not showing lights until a large ship was quite close, guaranteed to give the OOW a heart attack.

My mind was racing, how many would we sink as we ploughed through the fleet.

All of the above thoughts flashed through my mind as I studied the lights, when I realised that the lights were not of a fishing fleet, but bioluminescent.

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The above & below photographs gives an idea of bioluminescence at night at sea.

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Most deep-sea animals produce some bioluminescent light, but the phenomenon isn’t relegated to the deep: one of the most common sightings occurs at the surface of the ocean. Many small planktonic surface dwellers—such as single-celled dinoflagellates—are bioluminescent. When conditions are right, dinoflagellates bloom in dense layers at the surface of the water causing the ocean to take on a sparkling sheen as they move in the waves at night. (The above is quoted from https://ocean.si.edu/ocean-life/fish/bioluminescence).

The night was moonless & cloudless and the stars in the clean atmosphere of the ocean appeared to reflect off the water, so adding to the illusion of a fishing fleet. I must admit that I was not the only one who was expecting us to plough in to a fishing fleet. The quartermaster turned to me with a big smile and said, ‘All’s well Sahib’.

A comment with which I heartily agreed.

As the ship broke through the water it created white foam, that turned a deeper and deeper green until at the top of the wave that we created it became emerald, like icing sugar on a cake.
The ocean area that had not been disturbed with our passage was a sea of flashing green and white lights.

As we passed in to a clearer area I shone a light to see if the luminescence was still around – it wasn’t.
I wrote a report of what had happened, taking in to account barometer readings, temperature, state of the sea, wind strength and direction and cloud cover etc, at that time many merchant ships reported the weather at their location to assist in forecasting weather ashore.
The first successful weather satellite was launched in April of 1960, and it wasn’t until 1965 that meteorologists produced the first global view of the Earth’s weather, so the reports from merchant vessels at sea were a great help to meteorologists.

We arrived in Muscat the following afternoon.

Muttrah Oman before 1970

Muscat, Oman in the late 1960’s was very ‘old school’ – we anchored in the harbour and dhows came out to us into which we unloaded cargo.

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Larger dhows for cargo carrying

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This is an old picture of Muscat harbour, (1903) but it hadn’t changed all that much when I visited in January 1968. We anchored near Fort al-Jalali to work cargo – I suppose in times gone bye I could have said that we anchored under the guns of the fort.

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The fort is still there – originally built in the 1580’s by the Portuguese to protect the town from attacks made by the Ottomans. It was twice captured by the Persians in the early 1700’s.

For most of the 20th century the fort was a prison, and was closed as such in the 1970’s. It is now a museum.

Muscat harbour

An old map of the harbour and at the centre of the ‘star’ is where we anchored. I still have a small sketch that I made at the time, of where we anchored and the above fits the bill well.

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The old town in the distance.

During our stay we all tried our hand at fishing – part of our crew were Chinese and they caught about twenty-five fish, and one was very large and they had real problems in landing it on deck.

The fishing equipment was all ‘home made’, ships rope with a hook on the end and a bloodied piece of meat.

Those of us with a more sensitive nature used the pull tab off beer cans and sometimes this worked, as the fish saw a silver item in the water and thought it was a smaller fish.

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I used to like supplying the bait for those who used the ‘pull tab system’, via of course  . .

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The Chinese fishermen did catch a large ray and they had a fight on their hands, but the ray won, it broke the line and swam off with the hook.
The Chinese answer was a thicker piece of rope and a bigger hook.

DSC06223rThe fort was still there in 2016 when Maureen & passed through Muscat on our way to Dubai.

We sailed from Muscat at 6.00 pm on the 8th January 1968 for Ras al Khaimah in the ‘Trucial States’, as the various sheikdoms were called in 1968.