In a city home to over 200 nationalities, it’s rare to find an event reserved almost exclusively for locals. The fact that every crew member in the Al Gaffal Dhow Race must be an Emirati makes it a truly special event.
None other than His Royal Highness Sheikh Hamdan Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, UAE Finance Minister and Deputy Ruler of Dubai, is the principal financier of the event. He has followed the race closely since its inception in 1991.
The traditional dhow dates back to the days of pearl diving, once a main industry in the Arabian Gulf. Many Emirati families trace their roots to the pearl trade, having ancestors who were divers, dhow captains, or pearl merchants. The race was established in honour of these divers, who played an integral part in the development of Dubai as an international trading port, allowing younger generations to keep the skills and traditions alive while paying homage to their forefathers.
The route shows off some of the most impressive parts of the Dubai coastline. Starting at Sir Bu Nair Island, the race heads east for 23 nautical miles to a mandatory checkpoint at Moon Island, before turning southeast to the finish line. This happens to be the same route taken by pearl divers returning from long trips at sea. The term Al Gaffal translates from Arabic as “the return.”
Starting just after 5.30am, the dhows usually arrive at the finish line before midday. Spectators can watch the crisp white sails from anywhere onshore, or get up close and personal with the race action aboard one of the ferries specially chartered for the event.