Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Sailing Abu Dhabi

This guy just sort of appeared
out of the haze.
It’s not every day that you get to see an International Moth out sailing. But around here, you never know what you’re going to see next.

The Etihad Towers are spectacular at night,
seen from the Emirates Palace Marina.

One Thursday evening, Abu Dhabi Cruiser Association (ADCA) organized a barbecue at the Emirates Palace Marina. Emiliano is interested in having the ADCA boats rent slips there. Not everyone is convinced, however. As always, there is discussion on the pros and cons, so we’ll see what happens. But, it’s a beautiful setting and it would be great not to have to go across town to meet up for the post-race debrief and beverages.

With our new sails, we're fast.

Emiliano and a friend had sailed Unwind over. The next day, Mark and I went along for the sail back over to our slip in the other marina, using the new sails so that Emiliano could see them for the first time. It was this day that made me really realize . . . it’s getting hotter, and more humid, like, dripping sweat humid.

The next weekend we finally had a chance to take Tom, Lucy, Dana and Deb sailing. The six of us have done two Caribbean cruises together, along with one other couple, Gary and Maggie.

It was a windy morning. We met in the Marina Tower coffee shop for lunch, and watched the wind die, just as Mark and I had predicted. We wondered if there would be any afternoon breeze after the transition and change in direction to offshore. Good news! While it’s often dead along the Corniche, there can still be decent breeze just offshore. We had a beautiful sail, and everyone had a great time.

It was hot, but we just poured buckets of water on each other.

One of the big highlights of the day was when we saw the International Moth . Here’s a video synopsis of the day. I’m learning how to make movies, and this is my first one that’s edited, with music.

Sailboat racing here is a developing sport, but we are doing our best to help it develop.
On April 6 and 7, we sailed on Unwind in the Emirates Open Regatta which was organized by the Emirates Heritage Club and the UAE Sailing and Rowing Federation. Race headquarters was the Emirates Sailing School, which is nowhere near the Corniche and race course, so the race office was at the Abu Dhabi International Marine Sport Club. Mark and I haven’t been to either of these places.

None of that mattered to us; we met at the boat in the Abu Dhabi Marina, and Emiliano knew all about the regatta, having helped promote it to the keelboats. It was mainly a dinghy regatta, with seven dinghy classes including Optimist Overall and Junior, Laser Standard, Radial, and 4.7, Two-person Dinghy, and Open Catamaran. Then there was our keelboat division, the Cruisers. Of course, we don’t exactly think of a Pacer 27 as a cruiser, but it does have a keel and a little tiny cabin.

The prize money for each division was:
First Place Dh7000 ($1900 US)
Second Place Dh5000 ($1362 US)
Third Place Dh4000 ($1090 US)

In total, that’s $35,000!

However for our division there was a problem: to be eligible for prize money, there had to be 10 boats in a start. We only had 8. The sad thing is that there are plenty of boats in Abu Dhabi that could have raced. We had six races; three per day. We only would have needed to have 10 boats in one of the starts. Emiliano had made personal calls to the boat owners, asking them to race. But it was not to be; not this time. Many keel boats sat in their slips as usual.

Zephyr takes their own time as the cross the finish line
Having a real bouy to round is a good thing.

Yet even with just a few boats, the racing was very competitive. We sailed three races on Friday and three on Saturday, starting at 10:00 a.m. With no race committee boat for our course, we were fortunate to have temporary marks set up for us. We had a start line, with a turning mark 1.4 nm due north. Everyone set their watches and recorded their own times, reporting to one of the boats after finishing.

The wind was light and coming from the southwest, building and shifting north during the afternoon. On Friday we started the first two races with spinnakers, with close reaches to finish. By Friday’s third race, it was a one-legged beat upwind in moderate breeze and spinnaker finish. It was hotter on Saturday, and the wind was moderate but consistent in both speed and direction. We had reaches all day. Each race took about 35 minutes for the faster boats, and just over an hour for the slowest ones.

The prize giving with a free buffet dinner afterward was supposed to be held at the Heritage Club in Heritage Village, near where the Volvo Ocean Race Destination Village had been. But after the races on Saturday, we were home getting cleaned up and got the message that the location had changed. Instead, it was held in an auditorium at the Zayed University, in the middle of town.

Emirates Open Regatta 025
The Bahrain team won big.

There were plenty of dignitaries on hand to present the awards. As we were waiting for late arrivals, servers came around with trays of juice, and the people in the front rows were offered the traditional Arab coffee. There was a speech in Arabic, which was translated into English, about the importance of sailing and its place in local culture and history.

Emirates Open Regatta 030
But so did we, sort of.

We collected a trophy for Second Place, but no money. Yalla Yalla took First Place.

After the ceremony, we went into the courtyard where there were beautifully set tables and a buffet. All my favorites were on the board: fattoush salad, tabbouleh, hummous, and Arab-style chicken and rice biryani. Another favorite dish for Arabs is pasta with cheese, aka macaroni and cheese. And then we came to a chafing dish heaped with familiar-looking fried chicken and potato wedges. “That looks like KFC,” Mark said. “Yes,” the man in kandura ahead of me said, “it’s KFC.” “Wow,” Mark was saying, “that’s amazing.” “It’s because . . .” the man struggled to find a word. “Because,” I offered, “people like it.” “Yes. Yes!” he agreed. “People like it.” We have noticed that the young people here love American style fast food: KFC, Subway, Pizza Hut, MacDonald’s. This is where they are test marketing the new pizza with mini hamburgers stuffed into the crust.

Emirates Open Regatta 031
Soon after this photo, the place was empty.
We thought there was a lot of food but it disappeared fast, just like our regattas at home. We were lingering a little, Emiliano was saying he needed to leave early because he was traveling the next day, and suddenly we were almost the only ones at the party. It was almost instantaneous; everyone was eating, then gone!

The dinner party had lasted less than an hour and, without the post-race happy hour that we are used to, it was a short party.

ADCA #12 004
The start line was in front of the theater.
 On May 25th, we sailed the last race of the ADCA Commodore’s Cup series. The race organizer, Marc, wanted a boat for boat finish, so each competitor had GPS coordinates of an imaginary mark based on their handicap rating. Interesting! We had a very competitive start on the short line between the channel buoys off the Corniche, and all sailed upwind as if we were going to the same mark. Then everyone tacked in different places, and rounded imaginary marks.

The goal on Unwind was to be Yalla Yalla, which we did. Afterward, everyone gathered at Al Bateen Marina as usual for debrief and beers.
Emirates Open Regatta 008
This probably says "Emirates Open Regatta." I don't know what else it says.

The Emiratis are very proud of their maritime history, but modern sailboat racing here is a developing sport in a developing country. Aside from the Volvo Ocean Race and other world-class sailboat races, their focus now is on getting young Emiratis into sailing, and not on building an international expat sailing community. And with expats constantly moving in and out, it’s a hard place to have a consistent racing fleet. Even the well-established Dubai Offshore Sailing Club has its challenges.
The dhow races are a spectacle.
Dhow racing is the grand big-boat sailing sport in the UAE. 60-foot wooden dhows are raced with large cash prizes going to the winners. Smaller 22-foot dhows are raced by young Emiratis, who are coached by adults. Dhows don’t go upwind, so they typically sail out to sea and race back. Instead of jockeying for position under sail at the line, they must wait until the start signal to raise the mast and the sail. Only Emirati nationals may be on dhow racing crews. And of course it goes without saying, men only.
Read more about dhow racing:

During the Volvo Ocean Race stopover, a fleet of eighty 60-foot dhows raced a 16-mile course. The prize money for that race was Dh3.67 million, or $1 million U.S. That is, I have been told, not an unusually large prize amount. In that race, they made an exception to the Emirati-men-only rule, and allowed people from the VOR to participate on the dhow crews.

You can watch a video of the Volvo crews racing on the dhows at

Here I am, baby . . .
Thanks for reading.

Stopped by the Police

Embassies area 037
If I was trying to sneak around unnoticed,
I wouldn't wear this color.

Today Waldo and I got stopped by the police. And no, I am not writing this in jail.

Here’s how it went. I decided to take a morning ride toward the convention center (ADNEC) and the Capital Gate tower. I needed to think about the tragedy of the Villaggio Mall fire in Doha, Qatar, where 19 people died, including 13 children.

Doha is only about 380 miles from Abu Dhabi. The fire is believed to have started because of faulty electricity, and the firefighters were hampered by incorrect maps of the mall. What’s worse is they were unaware, when they arrived, that there was a daycare center in the mall. People in the mall were not informed of the fire, the sprinklers didn’t work, and some fire exits were chained shut.

You can read about it:

Reem Island 023
You have to see the construction here
to believe it.
I was thinking, if malls can be unsafe, so can the towers, and schools, and . . . The sheer magnitude and frantic pace of construction that I see has often caused me to wonder: how safe are these places, really? What are the building codes? How do they all get inspected? How well are they maintained? Are the elevators safe? How many critical flaws are buried within the malls and skyscrapers? And now I wonder, do the documents on file show the floor plan and evacuation routes correctly? Are the emergency doors locked? Is the security staff trained to assist in case of fire or other emergency?

Embassies area 002
They're building a mall
in front of our compound.
I recently read an article about Dubai by San Francisco travel writer Bill Fink.

Fink went to the malls, and left with the impression that they were empty. “You are here too early,” he was told, and so often that he began to doubt it. It’s easy to see why an American could get that impression, especially if he is looking only superficially. But, I can tell you that it is true – he was there too early. Malls open at 10:00 a.m. but many shops are closed from noon until 3:00 or 4:00 p.m.

The malls come alive at night. People come out en masse at dusk; malls are typically open until 11:00 p.m.  Families gather to shop, socialize and relax, take refuge from the heat, walk for exercise and sit around the many fountains. Every mall has at least one kids’ attraction, and most have several. As for the shopping, people are buying. So, in light of the Doha tragedy, how safe are they? 

I decided on a route across several busy streets and through some neighborhoods which I wanted to explore, to end up at 30th Street, the western Corniche.
Embassies area 006
This school looks good, but some appear to be in disrepair.

The shot I wanted to get was more interesting than
this one from

After winding my way through a school zone, I found myself in the embassies area across the street from the American Embassy. It's a really odd shaped building that I would love to take a photo of, but it’s forbidden to take photos of government buildings.

I rode through the 30th Street pedestrian underpass and along the Corniche as far as I could, photographing the Capital Gate tower, which fascinates me almost as much as the Zayed Mosque does.

Embassies area 028
Neighborhood mosques are often coupled
with little grocery stores.

Doubling back through the underpass, I found myself behind ADNEC, where I could see the tower looming behind a lovely mosque, and off to my right . . . the U.S. Embassy. I got some good shots of the mosque and tower, glanced longingly at the embassy, and rode off. Tempted as I was, I observed the rule. I knew that somebody could be watching me.

As it turned out, they were.

Embassies area 030
When I see this fountain I know where I am.

I emerged from the ADNEC section and had to navigate through a large roundabout to get into my own neighborhood section. I know this particular roundabout very well as a driver, and it was fun to go through it as a bicyclist. I was at the last and busiest crossing, patiently waiting for the traffic to clear, when a car came around with emergency flashers on. Just as it pulled up beside me, I realized that it was a police car, with three men dressed in military uniforms inside. They gestured for me to come over to the car.
I knew why they were stopping me, so I did what came naturally. I smiled. They greeted me cordially, and then asked me if I was taking photos. "I am photographing fountains and buildings, but not government buildings," I said. "I know that’s not allowed."

It’s always a process to communicate, even if everyone is speaking English. Accents and differences in syntax cause misunderstandings. They told me in so many words that they knew I was in the government area. I said yes, and I had been to the U.S. Embassy and would have liked to take a photo but I knew it wasn't allowed. I guess the officer in the passenger seat thought I was telling him I had taken a photo of the embassy. He asked to see my camera, which I pulled out of my pocket and handed over. Would he take it away from me, I wondered? I didn't think so. I had heard stories of people landing in jail because of photos, but Terry and Pete had told me a story where they just got some pictures deleted. I wasn’t worried; I felt that I was ok, as long as I cooperated.

Embassies area 010
Police officers respect teachers.

The passenger side officer began looking at my photos of fountains, the Capital Gate, underpass, mosque, and schools. He said the word “school,” and that’s when I played my “I'm a teacher” card, which always softens up the police.

He finally said “Where is the embassy?” “You will not see it, because I do not have it,” I told him as the other two officers nodded. “I have no photos of government buildings.” Ah, now we understood each other. “Ok,” he said, and handed back my camera – without deleting a single picture. We all smiled, and I said thank you and gave them a thumbs-up as they drove off.
Embassies area 031
Cars wait for traffic to clear, then enter. This makes it hard to
find a gap when you're on foot or bike.

All this time, traffic was swirling through the roundabout all around us.
Riding home, I reflected on how glad I am that I didn’t test the law. I always told my kids that life is a lot easier if you’re not worried about getting caught or covering up a lie.
Emirates ID & camera 002
Don't leave home without 'em.

I was surprised that the police didn’t ask me for identification. I had my Emirates ID card in my other pocket, clipped to my cell phone, ready for just this kind of situation. Isn’t asking you for ID the first thing police do in the U.S.? In fact, I recall a time when a police officer threatened to arrest me for vagrancy as I was riding my bicycle home from the sail loft for lunch without my ID. Ah, but that was in Venice Beach, California, it was 1978 . . . and that’s another story.
Meanwhile, my heart is so sad for the families of the precious children who lost their lives. As with any tragedy, there will be a reaction and an evaluation. Lessons will be learned, and hopefully changes made to ensure that malls, and hopefully all buildings, are safer.

Thanks for reading. Stay safe and sane, play by the rules, and have fun.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Paddling Abu Dhabi

YAS Marina SUP 008
I look more confident
than I really was.
Photo: Lucy Osaer

It was a leap of faith, buying an inflatable stand up paddleboard (SUP) at the last minute before leaving for Abu Dhabi. My SUP experience was limited to a paddle in the Sacramento delta after an RYC July 4th BBQ on Fig Island some years ago. That day I told Mark that I thought we should look into getting a board, and he did some research.

Flash forward to summer 2011, and after months of uncertainty, Mark had a contract and a plane ticket to the UAE. As I was packing up our life and getting ready to fly over I realized that, with all the calm water surrounding Abu Dhabi, a SUP might be nice to have. “Look at the ULI website,” he said.

Before I knew it, I was talking with Steve at ULI in San Diego, ordering an 11-foot board. It’s big but stable, good for beginners and larger people, so I figured both Mark and I could use it. $1800 went onto the credit card. What am I doing? We can use it on Wildcard when we get home, I rationalized. We’ll be sailing in Southern California and Mexico . . . and I can also use it on Lake Tahoe, which is only a half hour drive from our place in Nevada.

Zayed Mosque & Swimming 027
I'm often torn: bike or board?
So what if I have only paddled once? Oh, and a few minutes on Lake Tahoe.

When I told Mark over the phone that I ordered the board he seemed a little stunned, but to his credit, he didn’t balk. In just a few days, a large box arrived in Nevada. I unpacked it and set the board, with its pump, paddle, and carrying bag, in the pile of personal belongings to be shipped by container to the UAE – mostly shoes, electronics and scuba gear. It was mid-October, and we didn’t realize that we wouldn’t see our stuff until after New Year’s.

VOR SUP 3 UAE SUP & more
Don't you hate missing out? Photo: VOR

It wasn’t such a big deal to not have the board; I had a lot of learning and adjusting to do in this part of the world. Now that I look back, though, it would have been nice to have it sooner, be comfortable on it, and take part in the Volvo Ocean Race farewell paddle-out. I was dimly aware that there was a paddling event associated with the VOR.

Now I know that on January 14th 128 paddlers, the most ever in the UAE, gathered at the VOR Destination Village. On both SUP and surf boards, they paddled out with the race boats to see them off on Leg 4 of the race around the world.

Now that I’ve had the board for a few months and the winter sand storms have ended, I’m paddling regularly and it’s a blast! What freedom, to be able to get out on the water – albeit with a little warm-up workout with the pump – and paddle away. It’s like a bicycle on water! I don’t for one minute regret this purchase.

Biking 035
It was calm this day but the current rips here.

My first two paddles were at the Shangri-La hotel where my friend Terry lives, which I documented in the Caught at Maqtaa Bridge story already. Now it seems silly and overly dramatic to me. However I did bicycle under the bridge on a recent morning, when the conditions were just about the same as they were that day: swirly. I wouldn’t put in there in that current, that’s for sure!

An event that I saw in the paper soon after the VOR was the Yas Marina SUP Race on February 6th, which I read about it on February 7th. That made me aware, however, that there were SUP activities going on at Yas Marina. Race? Was I ready for that? Well, I could at least go and watch. So I joined the Abu Dhabi Stand Up Paddle Club and UAE SUP Facebook groups, to be watching for the next one.
YAS Marina SUP 002
It was breezy the day of the race. Photo: Lucy O.

Thus it was that on May 4th Lucy and I went to the Yas Marina for Splash @ Yas, just to check it out. The event included SUP demos and clinic with Jen Scully, the local SUP goddess, SUP races, and wakeboarding demos. The marina provided free SUP rentals, there were kids’ activities as well, and even a DJ blasting tunes at the Stars & Bars restaurant and bar. This is typical of Abu Dhabi events that I have been to – well organized, not crowded, and free.

We were there, ostensibly, to just observe. Still, I had my board in the car and before long I couldn’t resist getting out on the water. With Lucy’s help (what a great friend!) we inflated my board in the 100+ degree heat. We struggled to get it as close as we could to the recommended 20 pounds of pressure, but finally gave up at a little over 15. I paddled out across the marina. It was breezy and hot. In the shadow of the Yas Viceroy Hotel, there was some relief from both the wind and sun. I did half the course while Jen did a couple of clinic sessions. Then, with Lucy's encouragement, I decided to enter the race.

YAS Marina SUP 007
Lucy wanted free SWAG too.
Photo: Lucy O.

Of course signup was free, and I got a free racing jersey and UAE SUP t-shirt. What a deal! I entered the shortest heat, just once around. The race is all for fun, so if you sign up for the short course but want to go for the longer race you can. You just keep paddling. Or if you decide you don’t want to do the long race after all, you can stop any time and they will score you for a shorter race.

race course
The course was a grand tour of the Yas Marina.

Yas SUP race Jen Scully
Can you spot Lucy in the flowered sundress?
Photo: UAE SUP

After the race briefing where the starting line and course were explained, the racers paddled into the starting area. Based on my sailing experience, I decided that it would be good to be already moving at the start, but I noticed that none of the other racers seemed to think that way. They were sitting on their boards right on the starting line, waiting for the countdown when they would stand and get ready to paddle.

There were all kinds of people of all ages – young men and women and middle aged people like me. Some were on racing boards and others were on Yas Marina rental boards.
Yas Marina SUP 016 (2)
My board has three short fins because
it rolls up for storage.

My strategy worked and I was one of the first off the line. Then I realized: I do not have a fast board. Everybody I was with just pulled away from me. But, no worries, there were plenty of people behind, and soon I was pacing with a couple of guys at the back of the pack who looked like they were in their late 20’s or 30’s.

I finished my lap and wasn’t last, but almost. There were, maybe, four people behind me. I took some solace in the fact that they were all much younger than I am. The more serious racers continued paddling, but Lucy and I had to leave. We had a Cinco de Mayo chili cook-off party to get to. Even though I was almost last and we missed the end of the race and the prize giving party, the day was a big and successful step for me. I had gotten back on my board. I had met Jen and seen how relaxed and friendly the group is. And I even raced!
YAS Marina SUP 003
I chatted with Jen, who I had heard of
but never met.
Photo: Lucy O.

I was signed up to join the Full Moon SUP Social Paddle in the Eastern Mangroves the next evening, organized by Jen Scully, even though there was a sailboat race that day as well. Since our other races had ended around 4:00 or 5:00 p.m., I figured I would have plenty of time to get to the Eastern Mangroves by 8:00.



Snapshot 1 (5-26-2012 8-34 AM)
Dr. Yalla-Yalla Jr., far below us.

That weekend Mark was in the US and Emiliano was sailing in Croatia, so I sailed on Unwind with Paolo skippering and Marco, Matteo and Alessandro, and me as crew. Who would have thought, last year at this time, I would be sailing with four Italian men in the Arabian Gulf while my San Francisco sailing friends were sailing the Great Vallejo Race? Since they all spoke Italian, I couldn’t understand much of the commentary, but when it comes to sailing it doesn’t much matter.
Dolphin Snapshot 1 (5-23-2012 1-16 PM)
Ciao, dolfino!

The race was a long one; 14.5 miles. We were way ahead of our competition. The dophins were playing with us.

Then the wind quit, about two miles from the finish. The sun was setting. It was getting later and later. When we finally started the engine, motored to the slip, and put the boat away, it was past 7:00.

Now, the paddle I had been so looking forward to seemed almost undoable. It would take me more than half an hour to drive home. I had to change. I hadn’t eaten all day. I was dying for a beer. On the bright side, the put-in is just minutes from our apartment, so I could get there right at 8:00, if I was lucky. But I would still have to pump up my board by myself.

Or I could just crack open a cold one . . . but, no. I would never get another chance to paddle the Abu Dhabi mangroves under a “super” moon. I needed to at least drive to the put-in and see if I would have time to inflate my board and join the group.

When I got there people were still arriving, and I pulled out my board. I was relieved to see that the woman who pulled in after me was also inflating a board, although I soon realized that hers was about half the size of mine. Everyone seemed to already know each other. After a few minutes Jen came over to see who I was; it was hard to see in the dark. She helped me finish pumping, and showed me an easy way to carry my inflated board in the crook of one arm while navigating down the rock wall to the tiny beach. What a great leader and organizer for the Abu Dhabi SUP community.
Supermoon J Humphrey
The "super moon" appeared much more
dramaticat home in Nevada.
Photo: John T. Humphrey

Finally our group of ten was paddling away from shore. It was magical! I had noticed that others were wearing headlamps. “Don’t worry,” Jen said, “it’s just to see the fish in the water at night. Abu Dhabi never gets dark.” And it’s true – this is a city that never sleeps. Outside our bedroom window the lights make it look like dawn all night long.

We took the same channel that the kayak trip had taken, and then took a smaller cut to the left, among the mangroves. At one point a group of kayakers emerged out of the darkness, going the other way. It was peaceful, relaxing, and companionable.
sup race abu dhabi yas marina
That's Pippa in the foreground. Photo: UAE SUP

I talked with Pippa, a teacher from the USA whom I had met at the Yas Marina and also lives nearby. Pippa is very independent, and she told me that she paddles the mangroves alone all the time. “It’s completely safe,” she said. That was just what I wanted to find out, because living so close I wondered if I could just bring my board down and go for a morning paddle, before it gets hot. Yes!
Since I didn’t have a waterproof camera, I couldn’t take photos. I didn’t want to risk ruining my Sony camera, and I didn’t trust my balance at night. But a couple of days later, I went for a morning solo paddle with my camera in a plastic bag. It wasn’t very safe, but better than nothing. I managed to get some photos and even video. By the time I returned to shore I knew for sure that I need a waterproof camera.


The next paddling adventure was with Tom and Lucy. Tom had never paddled, so one Friday while Mark was still gone I took them out with me on the board. We were going to paddle out into the mangroves, land on a beach, and then take turns paddling around on the board. My vision was that the two of them would be sitting while I stood and paddled, kind of like a gondola.

Ha! The minute I stood, down I went. There was no way to control the board with two other people wiggling around on it. So we all three sat. Next, I noticed that most of the board was under water. Hmm. Very slow. But I didn’t want to give up, for a couple of reasons. First, we had gone to all the trouble to inflate the board. Second, and more importantly, I had my pride. The kayak rental company guys were at the put-in getting ready for a school group to arrive. They probably thought we were crazy, and I kind of agreed. But I knew it could work, had to work, just to get us to the island.
Me Lucy SUP
We're a good team.
Photo: Tom O.

Eventually we did work out a good system, with our weight distributed so that the board was mostly floating, one person kicking at the back, one stroking on the front, and me paddling in the middle.

Deb SUP 001
Deb "warmed up" by helping with the pump.
I need a little traveling compressor.

A few days later, Deb surprised me. “I want to try that board,” she said. Wow! The woman who was reluctant to get into a kayak wants to try the board! Absolutely, we can do that. So early one morning, we drove over to the Eastern Mangroves launch and I gave Deb a beginner’s tutorial on the board. Everyone is very wobbly at first; it’s a totally different feeling, standing on a floating board.

Deb SUP 009
Shortly after this, Deb was in the water.
But, no big deal!

Deb didn’t fall until the end, when her legs, ankles and feet were fatigued. Standing and balancing on a board uses muscles that we don’t normally exercise. A few years ago, when we first met Deb in the Caribbean, she had a broken ankle. That’s another story, but the point is that even years later, an injury like that can come back to haunt you.


Evening SUP Social Yas 020
Yas Marina still has lots of empty slips.

Finally, I want to mention SUP Yas Marina Thursday Evenings. Again, you can get a rental board for free and paddle around the marina at sunset. Afterward, you want to get a cold beverage at the marina restaurant, Stars ‘n’ Bars. There’s music and dancing, as well. They also open the marina to paddlers on Friday mornings, with free rentals. Call the marina office at 800-MARINAS if you are a local and want to try it out.

Evening SUP Social Yas 009
Pete and Terry.

We went this past week, and met Terry and Peter there with their son Christopher, who is preparing to begin an internship in international law, with a focus on human rights issues. It’s a great way to start the weekend!

Evening SUP Social Yas 038
Tres Amigas.

Thanks for reading.
And wherever you are, bring on the summer!

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

What’s My Name?

I don’t usually name inanimate objects that I own, but for some reason this one hit me while I was cruising around on my bicycle.

To celebrate my 50th post, three winners can receive a box of Zadina dates OR Arab sweets! Just guess the name of the bicycle that’s been taking me around Abu Dhabi. I will deliver the prize to you in person this summer or if that’s not practical, I'll ship it to you.

The pictures are a clue. Also, it’s an American name. If nobody gets it today, I will add another clue tomorrow.

James Lucy Tom

We have one winner already: Lucy Osaer. I know you think it was fixed, but believe me I was stunned that she got it. She only had the clues you see above.

I guess all those trivia nights with James and Tom are paying off.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Pedaling Abu Dhabi

Biking 043
My bike is my new BFF.

Bicycling is a great way to sightsee. You go fast, you go far, and you feel the wind in your face. Plus, it’s always been my favorite form of exercise. So when Mark arrived in Abu Dhabi ahead of me last October, one of the first things I asked him was, “Should I send my bicycle over? Can I ride there?”

“No,” he answered. “You would be killed.” So I left my bike at home in Nevada.

We weren’t here for long before we started asking around and learned that there are two places to ride. Of course the Corniche has a bike path. And there’s Train Yas. On Tuesdays and some Sunday evenings from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. people walk, run, and bicycle the Yas Marina Circuit Formula 1™ track. How cool is that!

This was enough to motivate us to start looking at bicycles, as I had secret plans to venture out on my own and find some neighborhood routes. There aren’t many bike dealers in the UAE, and after looking around in Abu Dhabi we headed to Wolfi’s Bike Shop in Dubai . This, we could tell from the moment we walked in, is a serious bike shop. In addition to sales and service, they organize road rides around Dubai. Before long Mark was deciding to buy us each a bike.

The bikes will fit better on the Cayenne,
but we haven't tried them there yet.

As a mechanical engineer, Mark is always intrigued by technology and the latest model of anything, and there was this new bike coming out. So we ended up each getting a Scott SUB 10. The bike is belt- instead of chain-driven, with 8 internal gears.

The advantage is that it’s virtually maintenance-free, and very quiet. Also, you don’t have to be rolling to change gears, which I have found to be useful riding here. This isn’t a road racing bike, it’s not a trail bike, nor is it a bike for climbing the Sierra Nevada foothills. It’s a town bike. Here in Abu Dhabi, where it’s flat but we have lots of curbs and speed bumps, it’s perfect.

We ordered the bikes, so it was several weeks before they arrived. Since all of our bicycling gear was at home, we also needed helmets, which are not easy to find here at a reasonable price, especially to fit Mark’s head, and bright colored vests, so that drivers can see us. We went to the historic Deira shopping area in Dubai, where we found helmets and bright yellow workers’ vests much cheaper than at the bike shops. We also needed bicycle gloves, which we bought at Wolfi’s.
Destination Village opening
As usual, our timing was right on.

Our first ride was the Abu Dhabi Marina and Corniche area. We picked a Saturday morning, when it wouldn’t be crowded. Later in the day it gets very crowded and remains that way until late at night – and all night long during Ramadan. It was December 31. We parked at the Marina Mall, and rode to the Volvo Ocean Race Destination Village area, where we had been watching construction progress. As we approached, we realized that we had arrived just in time for the opening ceremony, so we watched the unveiling of the entrance as dignitaries shook hands and posed. Then we rode 7.5km/4.5mi along the Corniche to the Mina Port end, where the fishing dhow fleet ties up, and back, for a total of about 9 miles.

Next we decided to try Train Yas. .
Serious trainers and strollers are equally welcome
at Train Yas.

You drive onto Yas Island, are waved along to the entrance by a series of parking lot attendants or security guards, and park for free. Everyone is in their workout clothes. You flash your Train Yas card for them to scan the bar code or, if you don’t have the card yet, you fill in the form and they give you your free card, to use for each visit from then on. This is how they track who is there; it’s very efficient, especially for here in the UAE. On the way in, you can pick up a free bottle or two of water.

I felt like I was on a movie set.

Inside, it’s a futuristic wonderland. Dance music is playing over the loudspeakers. People are zipping around on bicycles in groups, pairs, or alone. People are running, walking, and strolling with or without children. There are people of all ages, sizes, shapes, and languages.

You can see the LED canopy from the freeway
as you drive by - a night-time landmark.

As darkness falls, the colored LED lights intensify, blinking and changing from purple, to blue, to green, and to red. On your way around the track, you breeze past the sheiks’ luxury yachts in the Yas Marina and cruise under the LED canopy as you circle the Yas Viceroy Hotel.

The entire F1 track is 5.55km/3.4 mi but can be split into two shorter configurations of 3.15km/1.9 mi and 2.36km/1.46 mi. The first time we went we were on a short track at first, and we could see race cars on the other side. Later on, they opened up the whole track.

I was so happy to be riding, until  . . .

Unfortunately, that night my brand-new bike started to make a weird clicking noise. We took it back to Wolfi’s, where it underwent extensive trial and error troubleshooting. Long story short, there was a problem in the gear box and it wasn’t until two months later that I finally got my bike back, with almost every component replaced except the wheels. Of course, everything had to be shipped over from the U.S. Meanwhile, I missed out on weeks of nice cool riding weather.

Lucy loves walking -- she did the
Susan G. Komen last year.

It just wasn’t the same, walking the circuit at Yas while Mark rode his bike – even though I did have Tom, Lucy, Deb, and Dana for company.
I finally have my bike back, and I’ve been venturing out on the streets of Abu Dhabi. Driving here has been great preparation for bike riding. On my bicycle, I think like a driver. This makes me different than the other bicycle riders I see, who wobble along on the wrong side of the road in their traditional loose fitting pants and tunics.

Shorter rides are pink and blue. Next post, you will find out more about that red line.

So far I’ve taken two big rides; they are in yellow and green on the map.

The first ride was the most ambitious.The yellow line generally shows my route to Bateen Beach, at the west end of 19th Street, aka Al Saada Street. It took me over one hour to ride to the beach, and much of the time was riding the sidewalks on busy 2nd Street, aka Airport Road, on my way to 19th.

Ever since I first arrived, I had looked at 19th Street as a possible bicycling route. It’s a wide boulevard strewn with fountains and lined with pedestrian walkways, perfect for a bicycle ride. At least that’s the impression you get, until you try it. The reality is, the walkways go for a while and then end abruptly in sand, parking lots, or debris piles. Some curbs have ramps, others don’t. Other hazards include cars making right turns into parking entrances or side streets . . . and there is just lots of traffic on 19th.
Bateen Beach 018
The Bateen Bridge is still under construction. Wonder when I'll be able to ride it?

Side streets! That’s the ticket! On the way home, I took a different route. Splitting the difference, I opted to ride along 30th, which is basically a freeway, until I found a pedestrian underpass near the Capital Gate building. Then it was neighborhood streets all the way. Almost.
There is no way to stay on all small streets here, so you have to be prepared to ride the bigger roads, at least to crossing areas. Traffic comes in waves; it’s all or nothing. So, I wait for nothing. Then I ride like hell to the crosswalk or turn that’s my next goal. It’s a process of winding through neighborhoods, or sections. You never know exactly where you will come out, but fortunately there are lots of landmarks: tall buildings, mosques (if you can tell one from another,) main roads, and the corniche. Plus, the sun is always out, so if you know what time it is you know the direction you are headed in.

Biking 029
The Capital Gate is a landmark,
for sure.
If this doesn’t sound like any fun, consider this. I really feel like I’m getting to know the city. An American woman riding through the streets of Abu Dhabi in padded bicycle shorts and a fluorescent yellow shirt, with a camera and a bottle of water. I have my cell phone, my Emirates ID, and a few dirhams just in case I break down and need a taxi home.

Of course, I have my trusty little Sony camera. I am riding past schools, embassies, Emirati government buildings, expat compounds, Emirati houses. I see women in abayas walking in their neighborhoods, I see and hear children in the schoolyards, I dodge delivery trucks (or they dodge me), I pass construction projects, men coming and going at the mosques, police investigating some invisible incident.


Biking 033
Home sweet home?

I see workers everywhere. When I smile and say hello, nearly everyone smiles back. The workers usually smile shyly and nod politely. Their vehicles are often decorated, like a home away from home.

Biking 031
Ladies' prayer halls have a different appearance
from mosques, which generally have domes.

Ladies have separate prayer halls, because women and men don’t pray together. Too awkward, all that standing shoulder to shoulder, kneeling and bowing down. Plus, women have many responsibilities with the home and children, so they don’t go out to pray that often. They pray at home.

Bicycling 003
I love this retaining wall evoking the Arabian sand dunes.
Zayed Bridge is in the background.

My favorite ride so far takes me along a road parallel to busy Al Salaam Road. I ride to the base of the Zayed and Maqtaa Bridges, past the historic Al Maqtaa Fort, and around to the Zayed Mosque area.

Biking 035
Al Maqtaa Fort is my idea of history.

There is almost no traffic to contend with – except the morning there was an accident a few miles away, and the traffic was frantic, whipping through the traffic circle that I ride through to get to my route and speeding and passing on the two-lane frontage road. Cars were coming at me head-on, which made me wobble a bit; I felt like one of those Pakistanis. I just hope that was a very unusual occurrence.

Biking 048
The future Ladies Club is . . . futuristic.

If I keep going, I can go underneath the Musaffah Bridge and around to the Armed Forces Officers’ Club area. There is lots of good traffic-free riding there, and I discovered the construction site of the new Abu Dhabi Ladies’ Club, right next to the Officers’ Club. Like everything else here, its architecture is over the top.


Biking 047
Add caption

The beach looks like it will be huge. I wonder if we will still be here when it’s finished?

I saw an amazing collection of public art sculptures. I wonder where they’re going? The Ladies’ Club, perhaps?
Biking 039
Remember those driftwood sculptures that used to be on the shoreline on the Emeryville mudflats,
near San Francisco? Somehow this made me think of those.

Biking 010
Public entrance to the mosque.

Now I head back toward home, riding through the traffic circle onto the overpass over 30th, and back into the Zayed Mosque area, which I am completely fascinated with. I can’t stop taking photos.

I admit it. I am becoming obsessed with this amazing mosque.

Biking 001
When I see this building I know I'm almost home.

There is architectural eye candy at every turn. I am constantly stopping to snap photos. This landmark building next to the freeway is on the UAE’s media and entertainment campus, named after the geographical coordinates.
Biking 053
I wouldn't mind living in one of these.

Biking 022
I love the wave design of the Rocco Forte.
I have toured the inside. Spectacular!

I head home by way of Al Noor Hospital and the recently completed landmark Rocco Forte Hotel, where I cross busy Airport Road at the light. This is probably the worst place for traffic because I have to ride in the street on Airport Road from the traffic light past the very busy petrol station, where cars typically careen across several lanes to line up for gas. Yikes! Fortunately it’s only about a hundred meters, then I veer off onto the access road to Al Bateen Airport and wind my way home through the neighborhoods.

Biking 008
There isn't much shade, and I always
make sure I drink my water.

These days I ride early in the morning, because by 10:00 it’s just too hot. I don’t even know how much longer I will be able to ride at all, as I am told that it gets to the point where it never cools down. Good thing I don’t mind the heat. It reminds me of how I used to bask in the steamy Michigan summers, knowing that it would end and winter snow would come back.


I know my adventure here will end sometime, for me, for good. So I am soaking up everything while I can, even the heat. When I get home from a long ride and I can feel the heat radiating from my face, I suit up and go for a swim. The water is lukewarm, but still refreshing, and in the most intense heat of summer they will cool the water.
Zayed Mosque & Swimming 048 (2)

It’s not a bad way to spend the morning.


Biking 007

 By the way, I have thought of a name for my bicycle. Can you guess what it is?
First person to guess correctly gets a box of Zadina dates or Arab sweets!

Thanks for reading. And wherever you are, stay as safe as can be.

Next up: PADDLING!