Solo kayaking around Musandam


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Alan Pimm-Smith describes his kayaking adventure around the musandam peninsula.

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  • Alan, great read! That must of been awesome on your own!!! Im actually due to do a very similar trip from RAK to Fujairah, and wondered if you would mind letting me pick at your brains and experience? I hope you this is ok, i can be reached at would be great to hear from you!

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Solo kayaking around Musandam

  1. 1. Sea Kayaking Notes: Solo paddle around the Musandam PeninsulaT hursday: Pushed off the beach at 10.30 am. Perfectly calm. Six and a half kph, occasion- ally seven. Max speed recorded on GPS8. Stopped at small beach and cove on the head-land that separates Khor Sharia and Ahmed’s Khor(where Mark and I went). Rested only fifteen min-utes or so.Thought I’d avoid Lima because of the village,though it looked as though there was a good dealof deserted beach to the right (north) of the village.Headed for the next Khor, sun setting. Small beachwith a few houses. Everything dark grey and mauve.Mountain coastline merging with the sea and the sea Stop for a breather.blending with the sky, a sort of marbled effect. Khasab. Prior to that he had worked at the Customs-Couldn’t go back to Lima, so landed. Four houses, post at Thabit (the Omani border at Sham). He askedfour families (see Google Earth). Half a dozen men if I had a passport and visa. I offered to show him,and some younger boys came to meet me. All very but he said no need. No problem.curious. One stood out from the rest. Very present-able type, spoke some English: Ahmed Hassan. They then all left to let me prepare for the night and have my meal. Ahmed offered me a roof forI asked if I could stay the night. They helped me the night. I declined. He then said he’d come backpull up the kayak. Ahmed wanted to know where I when I was settled. He told me he had four houses inhad come from, where I was going. I told him. He various locations. How one family had moved fromsaid he was a police officer at the Customs Office in Lima and settled in Dubai. They never came back. His father was here, an older man with one eye. The Evening light, paddling along the coast near place was called Marawi. Lima to eventually stop for the night at Marawi. He showed with his torch the way the track went upFour day kayak trip around Musandam from Dibbato Ghalilah.
  2. 2. First night’s stop: Light fading nearing the through the gap between the tip of Ras Marawi and tiny hamlet of Marawi. the island at the point. Rudder touched the bottom.the narrow wadi to the settlement in the mountains. At Marawi one of the boys had told me that highJebel Khatamah, where his family also had a house. tide was at 6.30 pm. I made a mental note of this forHe would get a boat back to Khor Negd on Friday the Bab Musandam crossing. Absolutely no landingafternoon, then by car to Khasab, ready for work places between Marawi and Khor Habalayn. Rason Saturday morning. Helicopters sometimes took Marawi, then Ras Samid, then on the other side ofthem. They landed at Lima, but also on occasion at Khor Qabal, Ras Secun, then high vertical cliffs allMarawi. the way to Ras Sarkan at Khor Habalayn.I showed him my GPS, checked our position on the Fortunately it was flat calm with no wind whatso-map. He was very much on the ball. Read the map ever. This would be a difficult stretch in rough orstraight off, told me the names of places. windy weather. Didn’t know what landing spots there were on the southern side of Khor Habalayn,Tuna and sweet corn with milk for supper. Also Arab but knew there was one quite near Ras Dillah to thebread and cheese. Tomato soup. Tea. Raisin cake. north. So kept paddling and crossed Khor Habalayn.Slept well.Friday: Left at 7.30am.Flat calm. Ahmed had toldme that there was a mili-tary base at Khor Qabal,the next Khor along,and that it was a forbid-den area. So no restingplace there. Just squeezed Paddling past Ras Dillah at the en- trance to Khor Haba- layn. Photo taken by American couple in a powerful motor boat on a previous occa- sion (hence I’m pad- dling in the wrong direction.)
  3. 3. Shisah and make for the beach Tim and I withdrew to after having failed to get through Bab Musandam. About an hour and a half from point to point. In addition another hour or fifty minutes rounding Ras Khaysah finger and paddling in to the bay the other side round Ras Qabr Al Hindi. Saw a dozen or more twitching fins, long, black, thin and curved, near the rock. Very close to my kayak. Sharks perhaps? Two osprey flew over head. Later saw them perched on the second rock island off the finger Ras Khaysah. In the evening, rounding Ras Al Hindi, saw four rays somersaulting in the air. Saw one do this earlier on the first day. Very strange antic. Like tossed pan- cakes, but squarish, grey on one side then white on the other. Quite a high leap. Several feet in the air. As I headed for the beach in the last of the sun’s rays, a large powerful launch bore down on me from behind. I knew it wasn’t a fishing boat and turned to greet it fearing the worst. Sure enough, an Omani Coast Guard motor launch with three men on deck, one with a gun in his hands. Camping in Khor Habalayn on an earlier The captain spoke good English. Asked where I had occasion. come from. I said Lima. And before Lima, he asked.One hour to get across the mouth of the Khor.Couldn’t see a beach and didn’t fancy adding to mymileage by going back into the Khor, so decidedto paddle on. Saw a beach in the bay immediatelyaround the point, but decided to carry straight onacross the next Khor – Gubbat Ash Shabus.Headed on for the beach Tim and I camped on on thelast trip. All the way flat calm. Parallel to the rockthat sticks out in the middle of the shallow curvedbay I noted a landing spot. But if one had got thisfar, better to go a bit further to the beach at the topcorner where the finger of Ras Khaysah starts. Thisis where Tim and I camped before. I pulled in. Stilldead calm. Coming across this bay I saw a fishingboat. As far as I remember the only boat I had seenall day. On this stretch very few fishing boats com-pared with the west coast down to Khasab. Spent an Second night, on a beach round the cor-hour there. ner from Ras Qabr Al Hindi, and near the entrance to the Musandam Gate (Bab Mu-Didn’t feel like stopping so early in the day, and well sandam). Across the water, Iranian Baluch-rested so decided to make the big crossing of Khor istan.
  4. 4. I said Dibba. Where are you going? I said Khasab. Do you have a passport and visa. Yes. Can I see it? I point to the beach and to my unreachable hatch covers. He dismisses that idea. And takes my name and address. Then he relaxes. Says it’s dangerous. I say I’ve done it before. Point to my sponsons tucked under the bungee cords. Explain that with this device I am unsinkable. Also that I have plenty of food and water. He clearly thinks I’m daft. ‘Only one of you?’ (No one understands this.) Why no friend? You are going to sleep here? As he heads off, he shouts, ‘You need a girlfriend to keep you warm.’ The beach not as nice as I had remembered it. As it was the place we had retreated to after a frightening attempt to get through Bab Musandam last time, no doubt my memories were coloured. I somehow pic- tured a sweeping curve of fine white sand with palm leaf sunshades. Anyway, it was very good as Musan- dam beaches go, all coral pebbles, no sand. Small patch of almost flat ground above the high tide level. At night, the sea breaking on the beach formed an arc of electric light. Mesmerising. Also as it washed around a half submerged rock. The play of light wasAbove and Below: Perfect calm heading to- fantastic, darting this way and that. Fish leaping outwards the Musandam Gate (Bab Musandam) in the bay caused periodic flashes of light.- known by sailors as Dead Man’s Gap. Put a rock on the beach to mark the high water mark.
  5. 5. Moved it periodically as the tide came in. Reckoned All this food, water and gear made the 17-foot kayakthat high tide was around 7.30 pm. This meant I had weigh a ton, but made it very stable in the water. Au-timed it nicely for Bab Musandam the next morning. guring well for the passage through the MusandamShould hit it at the slack at around 8 am. Gap, a pod of dolphins described effortless arcs as they surfaced close to the beach.Saturday: Got up at 6 am as usual woken by mywatch alarm. Made a cup of tea in the dark, had I paddle cautiously up towards the gap between Rassome cereal. Small cartons of long life milk good Al Bab and Musandam Island – the north eastern tipfor trips like this. Packing getting more efficient and of the peninsula. This time I keep close to the cliffsquick. Lots of dry bags. One for clothes, one for of the headland. Not a ripple in sight. Paddle outsleeping bag and thermarest, one for gas stove and midstream and find I’m barely drifting. Now headmess kit, two for food. Enough food for a week or west across the top of Musandam towards Khormore, plus nuts and raisins, dates, energy bars of one Khumzar. See a beach with a house or two at the endkind and another, raisin cake, almond cake, tiny tins of Khor Maawi, just before Khor Khumzar. Whenof sweetened condensed milk, 48 small bottles of Tim and I struggled along here last year in fadingMasafi water. If the weather turned nasty, I could sit light it must have been out of sight or we’d haveit out on a beach like this for days if need be. headed for it.Looked out over the sea. Thirty-five kilometers due Everything has been so smooth. I’ve completed theeast across the Strait of Hormuz was the coast of Ira- east coast section turned the corner through the gap,nian Baluchistan. Midstream out there the tidal flow, the weather still perfect, just a pleasant, cold breezeaccording to my Admiralty chart, was about 3 knots. to keep one feeling fresh. The passage across the topIt didn’t say what the maximum flow was through could be done in no time at all. I make for the Khorthe Musandam Gap, merely showed a few wavy Tim and I got to last year, just before Kumzar. Onlines to indicate that this was an area where there is a the way fifty or more boats with powerful outboardtide rip with standing waves or overfalls. motors stream past me. Like a James Bond movie.Khor Sharyah seen from an abandoned Shehhi settlement. Photo taken on a previous trip.
  6. 6. They are on their way across the Strait to Iran. towards it, but don’t land on the beach as I need to be heading on. See people on the beach. Take a fewGreeted by fishermen. All very intrigued. Invited photos and head out now making for the northwest-into majlis where I am left with a thermos of sweet ern tip of the Peninsula, the other potentially difficulttea. I take photos of boats and men. The name of the point with strong tidal – Khor Mangal. Notice a beach at the end of the first of the KhorsMove on after a half hour stop. Pull around into after Khor Kumzar – Khor Ar Ran.Khor Kumzar. Small beach. Pull in there. See the vil-lage of Kumzar at the end of the Khor. Paddle down Excellent weather. At the northwestern headland,
  7. 7. Aerial view of Khumzar, where they speak Baluchi. I avoided stopping at the town in case officials asked to see my passport, as I had no visa for Oman.Ras Shuraytah, expect to see still water, thinking I Carry on down the channel between the island andhave hit the slack. But find a long line of standing the headland – Khor Al Quwayy. From the lookwaves on the island side of the gap. I keep close to of the prow of the kayak moving through the wa-the headland side. No problem, but find my kayak ter it feels as if I am making good progress. I stopbeing pulled around as I move across the eddy line. paddling and look at my GPS. Discover that I amA few vigorous sweeping strokes straightens me out moving at 5kph, backwards. The tide is against me.and I paddle for it, not wanting to find myself being Paddling at full strength I make 1.5 kph. This makesdragged into the overfalls. sense as my normal cruising speed in good condi- tions is 6.5 kph.As to be expected, a certain amount of cross choparound the headland. I know there is a beach just About half way down the channel the wind begins toopposite the naval base on Um Al Ghanam Island. rise. It gets rougher. I am making very slow prog-I plan to pull in there for a break, but change my ress. I know I have to get to the other side of Khormind when I find myself suddenly in the middle of Ghubb Ali, near the entrance of which is a beach.a stretch of rapids like standing waves. I paddle like Conditions worsening by the minute.fury with quick short low wide strokes to keep mybalance as the backward breaking waves almost slew Coming around the southern end of the island theme around broadside. Heart rate speeds up consider- cross chop is bad, worse than anything I can remem-ably. Once through the tide rip I don’t fancy pulling ber having encountered before. The wind is com-in to the beach but find another nicer one just a short ing from the west to my side. My hat is blown backway further on. Stop there. Take some photos of the held on by the chin strap. There are a lot of whitemosque and base on the island opposite. caps now. The kayak is getting slapped around a fair
  8. 8. bit. The troughs between waves are very short. Thekayak surges through the top of each wave then getsslapped down hard into the trough. From time totime waves break against my midriff and chest.The kayak feels very stable though. The thing isto go with the motion of the waves, varying one’sstroke as required, occasionally delaying or evenskipping a stroke. I find I can keep up a pretty regu-lar rhythm of long slow strokes.Imperceptible progress, but with the paddle pullingthrough the waves the kayak is made more stable,the paddle acting as an outrigger.I know I have to get past the mighty headland of RasKhutaymah the far end of which is Khor Ghub Ali. Itis this vast block of mountain that is causing all theconfusion at its feet, for as the waves rebound off itthey form counter waves which meet the oncomingones. The result is random turbulence. When oncom-ing and rebounding waves meet they double in sizeand break vertically rather than horizontally.I find waves breaking over me from either side. Andall the smaller stuff is very spiky. The wind picks upthe spray which lashes against one’s life jacket andevery now and then into one’s face. Landsat photo from space of the MusandamI have already been paddling for eight hours and by Peninsula. The starting point of the trip is out of the picture, bottom would ordinarily be feeling done in. But oncethe battle is on the body seems to find extraordinarystaying power. ening sky. A fishing boat in trouble no doubt; un- able to restart an outboard motor and adrift perhaps.The excitement is tremendous. I want to shout, but Not much I could do, so I carried on laying out mytell myself to calm down and concentrate – rather ground sheet thinking that the use of distress signalslike a violinist playing a Presto movement in some was something I should look into.heart stirring symphony: all around tympani, windand strings are going hell for leather creating surg- I had in fact seen a small boat with two men oning emotion, yet each musician has somehow got board apparently just tossing about in the keep dispassionate counting the bars, playing the With night falling and the uncomfortable state ofnotes precisely and not missing a beat. (As a matter the sea it seemed a strange time to carry on fish-of fact, I did allow myself to shout ‘Come on Ghub ing. Whatever the case, someone must have been inAli’ at one point.) trouble because very soon after a police launch with searchlight scanning the waves entered the Khor.The sun had gone down by the time I landed on thebeach. I wouldn’t have cared to continue out there in I had my head torch on at the time and must havethe dark. I secure the kayak, unpack, dry myself off been seen. Within minutes it had pulled up in frontand get into warm clothing. of me, its searchlight scanning back and forth across the beach and finally resting on me. I waved feeblyWhile doing this, happening to look seawards towards the blinding light as it edged nearer. ‘Annathrough the vertical walls of the entrance to the Kayaker’, I shouted. ‘You OK?’ Came the reply.Khor, I saw a yellow flare falling through the dark- ‘Yes, no problem,’ I shouted.
  9. 9. Sunday: Up to this point I had carried a spare Screen shot of Google Earth showing where paddle, as all the books say one should. However, the paddle is hid. Anyone finding it is wel- just before setting off at 7 that morning, I climbed come to it. Here are the co-ordinates: 26 16.589N, 56 19.785E some way up the rocky slope above the beach and, with immense relief, hid my spare paddle behind aIt immediately turned away giving me a glimpse of boulder. I then noted the position on my GPS. (Seeits blue and white hull and the letters spelling Police. Google Earth for co-ordinates.)Once they were gone I cooked my evening meal –two cups of tomato soup, a tinned steak and kidney Anyone passing that way is welcome to it. Now thepie, and a whole tin of rice pudding, an apple and or- reason for this odd act is this. Some paddles can beange. Lying snug in my sleeping bag in the few mo- split into two halves. These can easily and neatlyments before I dropped off to sleep, it felt as if the be stowed under the deck bungee cords behindearth itself were tossing and swaying beneath me. In the cockpit. Other paddles have a single shaft and,addition, my blistered hands felt tight and sore and I what’s more, their blades may be feathered, i.e. theached from one elbow upwards and right across the blade on one end stands at right angles to the bladetop of my back and down to my other elbow. That on the other.had really been some workout.
  10. 10. Such paddles cannot easily be stowed on the deck,and in fact are downright dangerous, as I perfectlywell knew before setting out. The problem with themis that they are so long they have to be stowed infront of the cockpit, and because of the angle of theblades, one blade is always sticking up, either catch-ing the wind or worse still digging in to the wavesalong with the front of the cockpit and thus leveringthe kayak into a somersault capsize.I knew this from experience, having capsized thuswhen surfing down a wave off Jumeirah Beach inDubai. Before setting out on this trip I weighed the APS looking younger and fitter.pros and cons of carrying this single shaft sparepaddle and decided, on balance, to take it. But now, immediately felt immense relief at having a paddleafter yesterdays difficult passage, I knew one hun- free deck in front of me. There was still a lot of crossdred percent I had to abandon it. chop with white cresting waves as I exited the Khor, but it was quite manageable. All I had to do now wasIn any case, I had my working paddle tethered to the to cross the 14 kilometre mouth of Khasab Bay andkayak with a length of bungee cord, so even should then I’d be on the home straight down to Sham andit be blown out of my hands – as almost happened on Galilah across the Oman-UAE occasion – I could still retrieve it. To begin with, however, I headed down the coastPulling out of Khor Ghub Ali early that morning I waiting to see if the wind picked up, in which case I would work my way the long way around the bay. Below: Khor Haffa, near Dibba, at the start Before long I judged conditions to be good and of the trip. Photo taken on a previous occa- decided to go for it, direct to the distant point of Ras sion. Sheikh Masud.
  11. 11. far from the point, but other than that all the beaches Khor Shams. Not on the route. Photo taken were backed by the road and villages. on another trip from the narrow strip of land separating Khor Shamm and Khor Ha- I pulled in at Jiri for a half hour stop, then again balayn (the west and east coast).s). at Jadi to study the map. At this last beach a group of local Emirati girls, students from Abu Dhabi’sThe very changeableness of the sea is what makes Women’s College, came to look at the kayak and asklong paddling trips so interesting. Yesterday I had about my trip. They plied me with drinks and fruitbeen surprised by a sudden change in weather, but and gave me a push start when I headed out into thenow was being charmed by constantly improving surf.conditions. The breakers were quite strong and, because of allAt the tip of the headland just inside the bay there the attention, I guess, I got the timing wrong and gotis a fine little beach with a picturesque mosque. I smashed when hardly afloat. I managed to get outsnapped it with my camera and carried on around the through the surf but found my foredeck had beenpoint where two more dolphins surfaced nearby as if swept clean, four bottles of water and my underwaterwishing me goodspeeed. It had taken me three hours camera had gone. At the same time my spray deckto cross the bay, not having paddled in a straight line had collapsed and had taken in gallons of water. Aacross it. I rested briefly and had a snack. most unsatisfactory departure, just when I wanted to impress.From this point on the adventure seemed all but over.The coastline was dramatic enough: towering moun- Shortly before sunset I had got to the point wheretains rising precipitously from the sea as before, but there is a military post with a rocky promontory –the difference here was that there was a highway Ras Khatm. On the northern side of this promontorysnaking its way along the base of the cliffs. was a long beach and the village of Bukha. It was time to stop as the sun would soon be setting, butI had to camp that night, but was going to find it dif- there appeared to be absolutely no privacy on theficult to find a private patch of beach. There was one beach, so I decided to chance it and head on roundfine beach with a fisherman’s hut and a few boats not the promontory. As it happened, just on the other
  12. 12. Ancient Shehhi dwelling somewhere along Monday: I rose early and was ready to go at about the way. Photo taken on another occasion. 7.30. A young Omani stopped to have a look at the kayak. He seemed quite knowledgeable and indicat-side, and just as the sun was setting, I found a small ed that they had kayaks, perhaps at some club.beach. He also knew about GPSs. He asked a pertinentThe stretch of sand between the rocks was not question: ‘When did you arrive here?’ I told himvery large and the breakers were fierce, but I had ‘Yesterday evening, around sunset’. He said: ‘Howno option but to go for it. Luckily, I had on my did you manage that then. The sea was very big.’sponsons. I did a hanging brace on the first mon-strous wave to hit me, but found myself uninten- I then discovered that I no longer had my distancetionally spun 180 degrees out of it facing back out glasses. They had been hanging around my neckto sea. when I landed the previous night. They must have been ripped away from the cord as I came in.I then positioned myself so that I would end up onthe sand rather than the rocks, and took another big Going out that morning the breakers were quite man-breaker with a high brace in. The sponsons were ageable and I made sure I did it right.magnificent. For sure, without them, I would havebeen mangled. By 10 in the morning I was passing Sham, and inside UAE waters. I took the precaution of paddling wellThe road passed within yards of where I camped, but away from the shore so as not to bee seen by thethe beach was deserted and as it was now dark I was customs people at either Thabi in Oman or Sham.not noticeable. A cold, strong wind blew much of thenight, but I slept well enough knowing that getting My original arrangement with John Gregory was toout through high breakers was easier than coming land at a beach in Sham within sight of the borderin through them, and knowing that my trip was all point. But I knew he wasn’t expecting me till the fol-but over. I was hardly an hour’s paddle away from lowing day and that my Nissan would still be at hisSham. factory in Galilah.
  13. 13. So I paddled on an extra mile or two and finallybeached in Galilah at around 11.30am.The sea that morning was glassy smooth with only agently undulating surface. This slight swell still cre-ated quite respectable breakers however.I waited to let a large set pass, then, thinking I hadtimed it perfectly, started furiously paddling in, mysponsons inflated. Hardly had I started paddling,from nowhere, it seemed, a huge wave loomed upand started to curl.It was the most exhilarating finish to a terrific jour-ney. Broadside, leaning heavily into the foamingwave, my kayak still weighing a ton but bobbingabout furiously on the sponsons, I was swept a goodfifty yards or more right up on to the beach.As I unloaded the kayak I noticed a large rock, abouteight feet in length and sticking two feet or more outof the sand. I had missed it by a matter of a couple offeet.Once I had changed into dry clothing and repackedthe kayak on some high dry ground away from thesea, I walked to the main road where there weresome shops.I phoned John’s factory. He was in Dubai, but his as-sistant said my Nissan was there and gave me direc-tions. I took a five dirham taxi ride and was therewithin minutes.