Last night I came up to the bridge and took over the watch....made a cup of tea....and headed out onto the bridge wing to feel some wind in my hair. I was watching the sun get oranger as it got lower and was thinking about heading in to grab my camera. Then I noticed all the Dhows....so I grabbed my camera...their were literally too many to count!
A Dhow is a traditional Middle Eastern sailing vessel. It is very rare these days to see Dhows actually sailing - almost all that I run across are motoring. Historically they were used to trade and transport items like fruit, dates, mangrove timber, etc. The Dhows I see are mostly fishing. They can truly make a watch miserable. They are extremely unpredictable. They can cross your bow 3-4 times before finally choosing a side and idling their engines to let you pass. They steam from fishing trap to fishing trap - if your vessel is going to get near their gear they'll try to edge you off by getting as close as they can and then stopping. This sometimes means them stopping dead ahead of you with very little warning. At night it can be very difficult to ascertain their intention because they don't typically use running lights and may have a hanging lantern that they turn on when you get too close for comfort. Sometimes it is impossible to tell if their tiny light is just that...a tiny light relatively close by or a large rig 30 miles away....they reek havoc on depth perception! I have many times had sudden outbursts on the bridge that sound like this "FREAKIN' DHOWS!!!! MAKE UP YOUR MIND!!!!!". Sometimes they'll flash lights in the direction of their gear....but you definitely can't count on it. As I watched them make a sunset mass exodus from the port I realized that they were all on their way to zig zag and weave back and forth of some other poor tanker mates bow.
The thing about the Dhows is that you have to feel sorry for them. There are usually about 3-4 guys working on deck but I've seen as many as 8. They most likely don't own their gear and having a ship your size destroy even one fishing trap could really set them back financially. I can't even imagine what their living conditions are like onboard. I'm sure there is no flushable head or water to shower with. Sometimes you'll hear them calling on VHF pleading 'ship captain, ship captain....pleeeaassseee.....alter course to starboard....please ship captain please....i'm flashing you...can you see me....please captain...' It can go on that way for quite some time. However, they very rarely have a means of providing you with their own position let alone your position. Sometimes it's impossible to tell if the fishing boat you see up ahead is the one making the call. In dense traffic it really becomes difficult to maneuver for fishing boats that may or may not be calling. When I see a fishing trap I do my best to avoid it because ultimately you are affecting someones lively hood.
I've been able to walk up to a few of them. All of their bows are painted white and a lot of them have very intricate motifs with scrolling artwork and eyes. Thank goodness their bows are painted white because from a distance it is the only way to tell which is forward and which is aft! Without the white bow you would never be able to tell which direction it was headed and therefore whether they planned on crossing your bow or stern.
As I watched the sky soften and the Dhows pass by I sipped my tea and thought 'thank God for anchor watch'!