Did we join the Dubai Offshore Sailing Club? No, and now it looks like we won’t, at least not any time soon. Why? Well, a few reasons.
One, we volunteered several times on race committee. It was fun, but it didn’t really get us closer to getting to crew on a race boat. And we are in no hurry to buy one here. They want too much money.
Two, Dubai is a long drive away. This seriously cuts into our post-race socializing, and drinking after the race is out of the question if we are driving home.
Three, we have fallen in love with an Italian and his boat right here in Abu Dhabi. Here is how it happened.
“It needs new lines. Other than that, it’s in good shape. This boat is actively racing,” Mark observed. We were snooping around the marina across from Heritage Park near the Volvo Ocean Race stopover venue, and looking at the Pacer 27 Unwind. “Maybe they need help. I’ll find out who owns it and contact him.”
It took a while, but one day Mark came home from work and said “I found out the name of the owner of that Pacer 27. He’s Italian.” Molto bene! Mark is half Italian; his mother’s family is from Torino.
After a few emails, we learned that the boat has been racing regularly, and some of the crew comes from Dubai. The owner, Emiliano, admitted that it would be good to have more local crew, as it’s hard to race as often as he wants to. Mark emailed pictures of Wildcard, gave a brief rundown of our sailing experience, and volunteered to help maintain and upgrade the boat. The emails between them became more enthusiastic, and soon we had an invitation to race on an informal Thursday night race on the Abu Dhabi waterfront, with a barbecue at the Palace Hotel marina afterward.
The crew was Emiliano, his nine-year-old daughter Emma, Mark, and me. We met at the boat at 4:00 p.m. I was coming straight from a day of substitute teaching elementary school music, so I was looking forward to interacting with Emma, and seeing how she did on the boat. Emiliano had told us she likes to drive.
Emma chattered and steered as we motored out of the marina into the breeze, raised the main, and unrolled the jib. Soon we had enough wind and a good angle to raise the spinnaker and sail over to the Palace hotel to our rendezvous with the other boats.
As we approached the area, we were waved away by the Coast Guard, who were stationed at the entrance to the Palace Hotel marina. “We are having a race! We want to go to the marina!” Emiliano called. “No. Marina!” the Coast Guard said, pointing to the other marina, the one we just came from. “This happens every time,” Emiliano sighed. “They don’t get it, and they don’t know English.” Meanwhile, he was on his mobile phone. “The barbecue is cancelled. No problem. We will have our own barbecue. They are coming out. The race will start at 5:30.”
As we sailed around waiting for other boats to appear, I noticed the jet skis. They were roaming in little packs. It reminded me of the Kevin Costner movie, “Waterworld.” I imagined what it would be like here in Abu Dhabi if the sea level rises several meters and all the roads and lower floors of the buildings are underwater. People would live and work on the upper floors, and everyone would use jet skis instead of cars . . .
A noise interrupted my musing; it was two jet skis approaching. They split apart, one on each side of the boat. Emma waved at the young Emirati passing to windward of us and he gave her a friendly wave back. This distracted me so I didn’t notice as other one came roaring up to leeward, where I was trimming the jib. Just as Emma called a warning, he spun out beside the rail, right where I was sitting, sending a huge surge of water onto the boat.
I jumped up too late. “What an a$$hole!” I exclaimed as he roared off, grinning. I was dripping, drenched through from the waist down. Emma was laughing heartily. “Do they do that all the time?” I asked. “It happens. Not too often,” Emiliano said “but sometimes. Especially if there is a woman . . .”
Oh great. Now whenever I’m sailing, I’ll be watching out for young Emirati men on jet skis, who want to attack me. Smokers! This place is Waterworld!
Two more boats eventually emerged from the marina, a 75-foot custom cruising catamaran and a Beneteau Oceanis 40. We had ourselves a race, all right. A horn sounded, and we all turned upwind. “We sail around Lulu Island,” Emiliano said. Really? That seemed a little ambitious, but it didn’t matter. We were sailing.
And that, in a nutshell, is what it was all about. We were just going sailing. As the other two boats fell behind, Mark and I agreed that the Pacer 27 behaves a lot like Wildcard and looks similar, just smaller. It has a narrow bow and open cockpit with a relatively wide stern. The main differences are that Unwind has a hard-chine hull and a tiller.
We sailed out into the Arabian Gulf for a while, and tacked toward Lulu Island. We talked with Emiliano about boats, sailing, the economy, Italy, and life in Abu Dhabi. He and his family, which in addition to Emma includes wife Sylvia and daughter Greta, 7, have been living here since 2005. The dolphins played, Emma flitted about on the boat, chattering in English and Italian and playing with her mobile phone, the sun got low, and we headed back in. We had won the race.
After we put the boat away, we drove to Al Bateen Marina on the other side of town where we drank a post-race beer at a lovely poolside bar. Sylvia and Greta met us there. As we sat down to dinner at the Riviera restaurant, Sylvia ordered two margarita pizzas for the girls, to be served ASAP. The adults looked over the menu. Mark and I have eaten pizza at the Riviera, but Emiliano and Sylvia obviously had more experience, so I said “Would you mind ordering some dishes that we can all share?” As they discussed and decided what to order, Mark quietly said to me, “This is the way to eat out. Have Italians order the food!”
The whole thing was a slice of heaven. Dinner was fried calamari appetizer, focaccia with olives, tossed salad with mixed seafood, whole grilled fish, and white wine. Sylvia avoided ordering the hammour, which is overfished, and ordered sea bream instead. Greta talked about the difference between the natural and built environments, which she is learning in school, and how important it is to conserve water.
Mark is now a very happy man. Emiliano is obviously very knowledgeable and passionate about sailing, and he and his boat are here in Abu Dhabi. His boat is fast. He is fun and incredibly gracious. He has an absolutely charming family. He said we can use the boat ourselves if we want to. “Why not? It should be sailing.”
Plus, if I may say so, he’s easy to look at.
What’s not to love?