Journey By Arab Dhow, 1953

Journey By Arab Dhow, 1953

I was aboard a small vessel sailing along the Baluchistan coast of Pakistan, and was approaching the small port of Gwadar, which was situated in Pakistan, a tiny enclave that belonged to Oman.

I walked ashore and made my way to the police post. One of the guards then escorted me to the only visible large building in sight. This was the residence of the administrator of the territory of Gwadar. Reaching the front door, I was welcomed by the governor, who turned out to be a young Englishman.

In nearly all these enclaves that exist around the planet, they are almost always administered by “old school tie” Englishmen. These people are well suited for these posts, since they have an excellent background in languages.

This pleasant man introduced himself and said I could rest my head in one of the numerous bedrooms. He had been informed via bush telegraph of my impending arrival.

During dinner that evening, I spun my tale of adventure, which everybody wanted to hear. The governor said he would try to find an Arab dhow to take me to Oman. I must admit that I never understood why Oman controlled this small piece of land and, as the evening progressed, I gained no further insight.

For the next two days, I swam in the Indian ocean and played afternoon cricket against the local population.

The dhow that I was to travel in sailed into the port area, which was only a pontoon moored alongside the beach. The vessel was about 10 metres (33′) in length with a crew of three, including the captain. The dhow itself was an open-topped boat with no covering of any kind, something like a whaling boat. Essential accommodation consisted of squatting on the deck to eat meals and lying on the deck to sleep.

The voyage was to be along the coast of Pakistan towards Iran, actually in the Gulf of Oman, and was under a fierce blazing-hot sun. The main and only sail was hoisted and we moved silently along through the amazingly calm water. The crew took it in turns to cast a fishing line to attempt to catch some fish. All my meals consisted of boiled rice and fried fish, which was cooked over a small kerosene pressure stove. This was washed down with ample glasses of sweet black tea. Because I was now dining with Muslims, at all times I remembered to use my right hand to scoop the food from the metal plate.

The toilet arrangements were a small wooden box that sat right on the end of the vessel, and over the open sea. A hole in the floor was used to relieve oneself. At times, this was uncomfortable as the ship rocked in the waves.

Three days after leaving Gwadar, we turned away from the coastline and headed out into the open ocean to cross to the tip of Oman. This was a short journey, and an overnight sail took us to the other side. Sleeping on the deck at night was fascinating, looking up at the endless numbers of stars twinkling away in the clear sky above. I frequently observed illuminated phosphorous fish jumping out of the water and then swimming alongside us.

Once we reached the other side, near the tip of the peninsular, we had to shelter close to the coast because a very strong rip tide was surging and we would have no hope of getting around the peninsular in such fierce waves.

Two days were spent heaving-to in this manner. On the first night, a large dhow approached and anchored nearby. The captain of this dhow told me that his vessel was a slave ship which carried young African girls who had been captured on an expedition into Africa. These girls were destined for the interior of Saudi Arabia where they would be sold off to the highest bidder, and would end up being kept in various harems.

The captain assured my scepticism that this slave trade still existed, and that all of us on our dhow should avoid any contact. The reason being these slave traders were very protective of their trade, and there could be serious consequences for us all, should we be too inquisitive.

The weather changed, and we sailed the short distance to the only port in Oman. After saying goodbye to the crew of the Dhow, and thanking them for a wonderful voyage, I walked ashore and I was greeted by British army officers on a shopping expedition. At that time, this was a large English army and air force base.

Soon, I was conveyed by jeep to the camp and was bunked down in the non-commissioned officers’ quarters. Here, in the evening, I was entertained by the staff in the bar, knocking back a few beers, and was expected to repay their hospitality by telling of my adventures.

Surprisingly, I was introduced to the camp’s radio operator and was able to send a message to my parents in the UK. Most of the time, whilst I was travelling, my parents had no idea where I was. Of course, I sent letters whenever possible. Frequently, these took weeks to arrive.

The next morning. I was informed that a British cargo DC3 aircraft would soon be taking me into Iraq.

In this flight, I sat on the floor, since there were no seating arrangements. It was quite a thrill to travel in this manner. This flight was very short so was quickly over. Almost before I had time to think, we were descending and landing at Basra airport.

This illegal flight and entry into Iraq was subsequently to cause me no end of problems later when I encountered Iraqi officials!


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