Abu Dhabi and Galway are being brought closer together thanks to the Volvo Ocean Race and an imaginative spin-off programme that is jointly organised by the Galway Hooker Association and Emirates Heritage Club in the United Arab Emirates.
The Royal Abu Dhabi Sailing and Yacht Club hosted a traditional race between the Arab Dhows and a Galway Hooker as part of the Volvo Ocean Race on water activities in Abu Dhabi. The Sailing and Yacht club trained Galway men Cóilín Hernon Jnr. and Éinde Hernon as how to rig and sail the 22-foot Arab dhow boats. Each dhow is sailed with two people on board and is the boat used to train Emirati sailors on before they progress to the much larger 60-foot boats. Éinde Hernon joined a local Emirati sailor to sail in the regatta.
Majed Ateeq Almehairi, of the Abu Dhabi Sailing and Yacht Club presented the foot long Gold Dhow Trophy to the Galway - Abu Dhabi Maritime Cultural Exchange delegation. The trophy is a replica of their larger 60ft Dhow which is used by local sailors for traditional racing. The trophy is currently on display in Hartmann’s Jewellers, William Street, Galway.
Both organisations have been engaged for many years with restoration of traditional boats and revival of sailing skills. Elegant sailing dhows and evocative hookers share several things in common, including the fact that both were working boats on which their communities depended, and both owe their sailing characteristics to an Arab invention that revolutionised boat design: the lateen sail.
"Sailing and boats is a means to unite people not to divide them", said Galway boatman Padraic De Bhadraithe.
The media interest in the Volvo Ocean Race is exceptionally high and the attention that the race brought to Abu Dhabi and is bringing to Galway is a marketer's dream. The Maritime Cultural Exchange Programme is a very small part of this massive event, but one that has caught the attention of international media and the general public.
This is a model for development of similar events in future, drawing on sailing as the catalyst to bring different cultures together. The return exchange will happen with the Volvo Ocean Race Galway Grand Finale June 30 – July 8 2012. An amazing spectacle of six dhows and 60 Emirati crewmembers will be hosted in the city, the Volvo Ocean Race finishing port, to take part in an exhibition race against a fleet of Galway Hookers as part of the grand finale festivities.
Enda O’Coineen, chairman of Let’s Do It Global said he was delighted at how the cultural exchange was unfolding, “The working Arab Dhow is very symbolic of Arab culture and their history through trade is highly respected as a sacred link with the past”, said Enda, “Likewise the Galway Hooker was the workboat of the West of Ireland and has similar attributes. We are really looking forward to hosting the Arab dhows in Galway in July.”
The Irish Ambassador to the United Arab Emirates, Ciarán Madden, and members of the Galway Hooker Association, worked together with the Abu Dhabi-based Emirates Heritage Club to develop the cultural exchange programme. With both cities hosting a stopover or finish for the grueling 39,000 mile round the world ‘Everest of Sailing’ in 2012, the initiative celebrates common ties between the two.