By Carmen Loren
Kuwait is a nation of water babies. We swim and jet ski, fish and scuba dive, and on any given day of the year Kuwait’s coastal waters are littered with boats, bobbing up and down like so many toys in a giant bathtub… and now that the bathwater is cooling with the coming of autumn, it’s time to get out and do some sailing.
Considering the huge stretch of sparkling blue on our doorstep, and the varying degrees of breeze that we enjoy throughout the year, it’s actually a bit shocking that more people don’t own sailboats in Kuwait. I understand that boys here like their toys big, fast, and powerful, but sailing has not only played a pivotal role in the development of human civilization (both as a means of obtaining food, and as a means of travel, trade, and exploration) – it has evolved into one of the most challenging, high-tech, and competitive sports in the world.
Thanks to its rich maritime heritage, sailing and Kuwait share a very special relationship. It is in Kuwait that archaeologists discovered a painted disc dating back to 5000 B.C. decorated with what is considered to be the oldest depiction of a sailboat. One does not, however, need to look thousands of years into the past in order to appreciate the importance of sailing to this region. One needs only to visit the Scientific Centre’s Dhow Harbour and its beautifully preserved Fateh-el-Khair (the only surviving Kuwaiti sailing ship from the pre-oil era) to realize that two of Kuwait’s primary pre-oil economies, fishing and pearl diving, were dependant not on high-horsepower motors, but on billowing sails.
For better or for worse things change, and today I have yet to see a dhow under sail. I am however glad to be part of a growing community of sailors centred mostly around local sailing clubs such as the Kuwait Offshore Sailing Association (KOSA). Did you ever spot a sailboat near Al Kout, colorful spinnaker stretched out like a belly full of wind? Operating out of the Fahaheel Sea Club, KOSA actively promotes the sport, both on the water and at events such as the British Business Forum’s annual exhibitions; more importantly, it offers those interested in sailing an ideal opportunity to get out on the water. So if you think you must own a sailboat in order to sail in Kuwait, think again. Whether you already know how to sail, want to learn to sail, or just need a change of scenery, KOSA can help you realize your ambitions (and it won’t cost you an arm and a leg, either!). In fact, if you’re not sure whether you even like sailing, you can try it for free during their annual ‘Taste of Sailing’ weekends.
A quick look at sailing news over the past few years reveals a resurgence of GCC interest in the region’s sailing roots. A closer look at Kuwaiti sailing news over the past twelve months reveals consistently strong performances by local sailors in a number of regattas hosted by the Kuwait Sea Sports Club at Messilah Beach. In the 7th Kuwait International Open Regatta (December), the Kuwait International Open Laser Regatta (April), and the Kuwait International Catamaran Regatta (May) it was the locals, both Kuwaiti and expatriate, who left the competition floundering in their wake.
To capitalize on this renewed interest in a pursuit as old as time itself, many sailing clubs are concentrating their efforts on introducing the younger generations to sailing (both as a leisure activity and as a competitive sport). At the moment, unfortunately, Kuwait is behind its neighbours in this regard. I have had the opportunity to visit sailing clubs in both Bahrain and Oman, and was greatly impressed with all they have achieved. Oman Sail, in particular, is in my mind the model of what a Gulf sailing club should (and could) be, devoting equal amounts of passion to their youth sailing school and their successful bids in the world of competitive yachting. And let us not forget that just last year, Abu Dhabi entered a boat in the prestigious and ultra-challenging Volvo Ocean Race, in addition to hosting one of the official race stops. Since there is no reason why Kuwait shouldn’t rise to a similar challenge in the near future, I can only hope that with enough awareness, resources, and support, we too can become formidable contenders on the Gulf – and eventually global – sailing scene.
Images courtesy of Carmen Loren.