Monday, 24 December 2012

Fitting Out?

Old rudder with severe osmosis
I know it's a bit early to be thinking of fitting out, a task usually reserved for the European Spring but with Temptress out of the water, rudderless, we asked the yard to look into obtaining and fitting a water maker. Like all big boat purchases, the Skipper has spent a long time pondering what was needed, asking fellow cruising sailors what they think of their model, where such a beast might fit and putting off the acquisition until we are closer to needing it.

Now we know exactly what model we want, what power it will consume, what quantity of water it will supply and that it will fit mostly under our bunk making use of the seawater inlet for the galley. Or at least we thought we did until we had an email from the yard informing us that the object of our desire had been discontinued as "more efficient models are now available in the market".

So now we are back to researching and pondering. If the unit is size x will it still fit in the space we have? Come to think of it how big is that gap under the master bunk behind the drawers? Did we ever write down the measurements? Should we try another little-used space aft behind the fuel tank? What size are the other components? Where could we fit them? What power consumption? How much water do we really need to produce each day, which really equates to how long do we want to run the engine for each day?

Power toys!
Meanwhile the Skipper has been doing a little bit of shopping himself and purchased a couple of Chinese 100w solar panels, a regulator plus a few other bits and pieces. The intention once Christmas and the last of the transitional rains are over is to attempt to power our balcony pot watering system with the kit. A trial run if you like towards adding some extra generation capabilities to Temptress, complementing our 2001 wind generator and the most recent addition to our charging systems, a heavy duty Balmar alternator. The latter ensured we could remain at anchor most of our summer holiday. The motoring we did into and out of ports keeping the batteries more than adequately topped up no plugging in to mains electricity required but diesel costs and has to be sourced when you are cruising out of the way places so an alternative is needed.

So it seems we really are doing some long distance fitting out. Happy Christmas!

Sunday, 23 December 2012

Use of English...

There is a wonderful little book "English As She is Spoke" which always used to sit on my bookshelf to be taken down and read whenever I needed cheering up. It is a crazy Portuguese-English phrase book the content of which always makes me chuckle, my copy currently resides back in the UK on Temptress but help is at hand here as almost everyday something language-wise tickles me pink.

Recently I've noticed both Kevin & I seem to be adopting small phrases that are peculiarly Dubai-speak like "at the back-side of" or should it be "backside" or even "back side" - like a lot of things here the spelling is phonetic. It basically is a direction to go round to the far side of something. For example at the back-side of the hotel would be around to the rear of the building. Whereas at the back-side of the supermarket could be describing the location of the item you are looking for, ie it can be found at the back of the shop.

We are also used to seeing "Jebel Ali" followed by 'Jabal Ali' on successive blue motorway signposts close to home.  And too the pondorous language used on notices about fire alarm testing or window cleaning at our apartment block. Language and spelling which convey the sense perfectly but isn't necessarily how a native English speaker would say it and annoyingly, you often can't quite decide how you'd phrase it instead.

Todays little gem came from a phone call made by the Aramex man who arrived at our apartment with a delivery for "Mr Kevin" who this being Sunday morning was at his office. Having established the recipient was not present the courier asked to see Mr Kevin's passport before he would hand over the package containing a replacement debit card. I explained that said passport is currently in Dusseldorf being renewed so it was not "at home" to use his phrase.

The courier unphased promptly phoned Mr Kevin and asked for his ID number. I heard my other half's voice commence reading out a number only to find himself interupted by the courier; "no, the number with photoside down". Brilliant! I will endeavour to use that instead of "on the reverse" as soon as I can find an opportunity!

Tuesday, 13 November 2012

Dubai Muscat

Obtaining visas is a regular feature of expat life and a topic on which many who work here in Dubai can wax lyrical on for hours. Unlike GCC citizens who have the ability to move freely around the Gulf countries similar to Europeans within Schengen Treaty countries, the majority of expats require a visa for the country they wish to visit for work or pleasure. Virtually every company of any size will employ a PRO whose daily task it is to acquire visas for visits or for permanent residence in Dubai and Kevin's employer is no exception. With several hundred employees in the region this particular PRO is an expert on obtaining visas quickly and efficiently. As Kevin visits for work countries such as Saudi Arabia, India, Jordan, USA and Libya we too have built a wealth of visa knowledge which often proves totally useless in the face of officialdom.

Some GCC countries issue visas on entry for certain classes of passport so for example as British expats we can drive or fly south to Oman or to its northern enclave Mussandam and obtain the relevant paperwork at the border for a fee. Though recently Sharjah decided briefly that you could only cross the border at Dibba if you had an official letter from a tour company or hotel temporarily preventing resident expats from indulging in camping amongst some of the most beautiful mountain terrain here. OK we thought what could be simpler than to race a yacht to Muscat?

There was some indecision by various parties as to whether we would be granted visas on arrival or whether they should be acquired in advance. As no conclusion was announced by the appointed date (last Saturday) it was decided as a crew to try to go through the process locally. Of the crew, all but two are UAE residents and six of these had their passports available - well it was a start. The crew flying in later in the week would have to wing it when we sailed into Oman.

The aforementioned PRO kindly volunteered to assist. After some research he told us the Omanis needed two passport sized photos for each person, our passports, a letter of invitation for which the NOR (Notice of Race) would suffice, a copy of the boat papers and a completed form which he would obtain from the consulate in Bur Dubai on Sunday morning. If the documents were submitted on a Monday morning before 11am then the visas would be issued that day and available for collection after 3pm. First hurdle was that they wouldn't let him take the forms away, no problem the PRO would complete them when he got there with the other documents on Monday morning.

Monday morning the first panic is a crew list but easily resolved with an emailed copy of the entry form.Then the consulate reviews everything and asks where is the Skipper? Well err he is not here.... sorry we can't process this request. Turns out we needed a representative authorised by the Skipper, the PRO is not employed by him so won't do, why couldn't they have let him know this the day before? Ah well that's par for the course here, official information is often spoon-fed on an as needed basis. After some discussion it was decided we had two alternatives: Firstly try again tomorrow appointing the Skipper's wife Clare (and co owner of the boat) as his official representative via a letter written by the Skipper. Secondly risk arriving in Muscat without visas and take our chances with the rest of our crew. All this going on whilst Susie was helping Clare and some other press ganged volunteers to take the boat in question to be lifted and weighed at DIMC marina on Monday morning. Having internet access on the phone is amazingly useful at times.

Later in the afternoon as we headed home from DOSC we called the organisers to see if any new information had been obtained by them. Yes they confirmed visas can be obtained on arrival. Phew! Now attention could be turned to collating the UAE departure forms (name, passport number, nationality with colour copies of passport and residents visa page attached) to ensure they reached a faceless immigration official by 9am Tuesday morning! After all this actually racing to Muscat and then back to Khasab should be fairly straight forward.

Monday, 29 October 2012

A Cacophony of Sound - first impressions of Sri Lanka

Just arrived
It was dark more than the usual pre-dawn tropical darkness somewhere before 6am. We'd landed in Sri Lanka shortly before and been welcomed by a requirement to make an official "gift" because I'd mis-typed my passport number in my online visa application. The immigration officer had escorted us to his bosses office saying it would cost £100 to correct my error at such short notice... the boss took one look at my printed visa confirmation and my passport and dismissed us but on walking back to his desk the officer said in a quiet voice that a "gift" would see us straight through - Kevin offered him 100AED (about £20) - he took it tried for more but one look from Kevin and he stamped us through. Outside in the melee that was the queue of people seeking access to the airport arrivals area we soon located our pre-booked taxi for the drive south into Colombo.

The shopping streets of Pettah
The streets were already alive with traffic and pedestrians, it had rained recently so the latter were occupied dodging puddles and spray. Every vehicle seemed desperate to make its way into central Colombo first, beeping, overtaking in front of oncoming lorries or buses or swerving left onto the "pavement" area demarcated only by a thin white line from the rest of the road. There were no ordered rows of shops or houses, every building was a different shape or size and covered with adverts. Some were residential and some commercial, workshops rubbed shoulders with upmarket boutiques or modern bank buildings. Crammed in the back of a small saloon car we found our view restricted to that through the windscreen, as soon as you noticed something of interest and turned your head to watch it pass you were blind, the rear windows were tinted so dark it may as well have been an unlit street we were being driven down. I felt more than a little sympathy for the blinkered horse.

Tut-tuks - Manning Market
An hour or more later we turned left into the leafy cul-de-sac where the Havelock Place Bungalow is situated, a quiet oasis away from the noise and chaos of the main road. Everywhere was green, unfamiliar plants growing up in front of the low walls, trees and shrubs overhanging the potholed lane. A large, highly polished brass plaque just on the right indicated we'd arrived and a young sleepy man in a white jacket came out to greet us. The staff don't arrive until 07:30 so we could wait in the lounge, he turned on the lights and the overhead fans as he guided us into the the rightmost of the two bungalows. We had forty minutes or more until any hope of breakfast or checking in so decided to go for a walk in the balmy warmth of an October morning. Across the main road was a sports ground, walking past the entrance we were intrigued it wasn't the expected cricket pitch but a rugby club! A small bakery had opened so we sat in for tiny cups of sweet coffee and cake.

Our home for the next few nights were two restored colonial bungalows separated by a small swimming pool and some fishponds. The gardens were overflowing with plants more usually found indoors in the UK as well as bananas and many unfamiliar trees. A wonderful smell of cinnamon pervaded the whole place. The further bungalow had tables and chairs outside and in, as well as rooms the Havelock has a good restaurant serving an eclectic mix of Asian and European food - Sri Lankan chilli beef fry, strogonoff or pasta with lots of seafood featured. The rich coffee was served with hot milk and there were huge pots of Ceylon tea for one - both available at almost anytime! Homemade jams and marmalade can be purchased by the pot if the breakfast portions whetted your appetite. And the homemade ice-cream was to die for - it literally was frozen clotted cream with fruit or ginger.

Redonions and potatoes - Manning market
Once checked in, showered and breakfasted on a very unhealthy porridge with clotted cream and honey we met the resident tuk-tuk driver who conveyed us to the station as our first aim was to book some tickets for a rail trip up country to Kandy later in our stay. Mission accomplished we wandered the nearby Pettah markets - tuk-tuks were everywhere beeping frantically to clear the way, the rest of the traffic responding in kind. The street facing stalls produced a wall of noise making conversation impossible - garish boom-boxes (literally quilted plastic covered plywood boxes more closely related to a bathroom footstool than hi-fi equipment) with large speakers top and front demonstrated their capabilities. Lottery ticket vendors used amplifiers to tout their wares above the boom boxes and the DVD stalls shrieked the latest Bollywood hits. Our ears were ringing!

Police biker - love the shopping bag!
Everywhere we were asked where are you from. England seemed the easiest response, oddly the majority of the Sri Lankans often only wanted to say a polite hello. Only in tourist areas like the bazaar selling craft items were we accosted by persistent men trying to sell us things we didn't want, often to the embarrassment of the stall holders. In muddy back streets lined with shops we were greeted frequently with no hard sell, simply answers to our questions that tried to close a deal and things were cheap - I was very tempted to buy a gorgeous red silk sari for a tenner but not certain what I'd really do with it so resisted. We actually managed to purchase nothing on our first day. Umbrellas were everywhere, extremely practical - they keep the sun off in the heat of the day and then protect you from the inevitable late afternoon downpour. Dodging them became a bit of a sport.

This street sold only plastic flowers!

Colombo is a relatively small city in terms of places of interest and a day exploring was ample, we loved the colour, the chaotic tuk-tuk rides, the welcome we found everywhere and the cheap beer and good food at the newly restored Dutch Hospital, the traffic police in their huge white gloves. We walked Galle Face Green briefly before seeking the shelter of a tuk-tuk as the rains started. Even the cacophony of sound that seemed to accompany everything in this crazy city was entertaining.

The slightly quieter FOSE (Federation of Self-Employed) Market
Cool calm elegance of the Dutch Hospital

Wednesday, 11 July 2012

Losing Weight

No the crew are not on diets even if perhaps we should be, this post is about reducing the overall weight of Temptress.

Port-Aft Cabin - two bunks full of stuff to leave ashore
The problem with having a boat as a home is that you tend to keep all sorts of things on board that will be needed one day but aren't required for the present. Our next big adventure is the Tour des Ports de Manche regatta starting on Sunday from St Vaast La Hogue on the east coast of the Cherbourg Peninsula (La Contentin). For this event we don't require a library of books, several hundred DVDs & CD (the iPod will suffice), duvets, bedlinen & spare bath towels, a storage box containing reels of electric cable or the spare battens that don't even fit the mainsail we'll be using and much more. Some of the stuff has to go simply to make room for our crew!

With storage ashore kindly provided by our home marina slowly we are emptying cupboards and shelves as well as the port aft cabin, which in live-aboard mode is used for stowage but will be required for crew accommodation from Thursday. It is proving to be a great opportunity to clean places seldom reached! Meanwhile the boat is a mess with piles of things everywhere until it goes ashore. However during this unexpected spring clean we have even gone through those boxes of spares that every boat carries - plumbing bits, light bulbs and deck gear - throwing away rusting objects whose original purpose is a mystery to both skipper and first mate and reinstating some order to each box in case the contents are needed in a hurry.

Three Boxes of Books & Bears
It is amazing that so much could have been stowed on one boat! And each time we think that has to be it, another little something occurs to us. What about the diving tank and allied kit stowed under one of the aft bunks? Or the extremely heavy set of boule tucked away in the bottom of a locker full of fleeces & jackets? Come to think of it do we need an entire winter's worth of jackets, jumpers & fleeces for a week's summer racing? Or will the small overall weight loss be outweighed  by the hassle of finding yet another receptacle to store them in? Just how much stuff is it actually worth removing given that she is not exactly a lean mean racing machine by design?

On deck, the outboard and the main anchor with its more than 75m of chain are earmarked for leaving behind. The anchor and chain are already resting in the marina mud and the bow sits a full inch higher. Our lighter, secondary gear of 30 m of chain attached to lots of warp has been retrieved from the bottom of the anchor well and the smaller CQR attached - it won't hold us in a big blow but will kedge us if the tide proves unfavourable for progress on the race course.

Staying Afloat - Boat Ted & Vase
A bird book and the flower vase are staying - a matter of principle for the former (a tale for another day from our 2005 Fastnet Campaign) and of standards to keep up in the case of the latter! From the galley cupboards weighing scales, mixer, travel iron & toaster are going ashore but would an electric kettle be useful in port with so many on board? As we've run out of boxes for books the collection of pilots for exotic parts will most likely have to stay but the chart folios will not. Then all the sails need to come out of the forward lazerette so the bikes stowed under them can go ashore while the spinnakers need switching to racing mode too by removing them from their snufflers and repacking into bags more suited for rapid deployment.

By Saturday afternoon five crew and their kit will be on board ready for Sunday's first race to Cherbourg so it's only a very temporary weight loss! Then in a couple of weeks we'll be trying to stow it all again prior to our summer cruise but at least the cabins & lockers will be cleaner.

Monday, 18 June 2012

Bait Al-Qefel

Were these walls in Wadi Saham once a lock house?
In our travels through Musandam and the mountains of the northern UAE we have often come across low stone structures with very thick walls. The picture to the right was one of several such ruins we came across in Wadi Sahm & Wadi Helo this weekend. They are usually abandoned and roofless today but were once strong rooms know as Bait Al Qefel literally "House of the Lock".  NB: the Arabic word  for "lock" is a great illustration of the problems of transcribing a spoken language I've seen it spelt "qefel", "qafl" and "qufl"!

These modest stone structures reveal a little of the pre-oil nomadic lifestyle of the Omani and Emirati people. In the northern tip of the Arabian peninsula it is hard for a visitor to differentiate between the people of the two countries. Indeed Oman has enclaves within the Emirate of Fujairah and the citizens of the GCC pass freely between Musandam and the UAE whilst tourists and residents will find no border controls when entering the enclaves. There are slight differences in national dress but that is a topic for another day.

Kevin demonstrating the door height
The residents of this part of the world migrated seasonally (and to a lesser extent still do) from the mountains to the cooler coast in summer. Whilst they were away at their other home there was a need to safeguard vital supplies of oil and grain as well as household goods from marauders. The Lock House evolved into the ideal architecture for this purpose. First a floor was dug out at least a metre in depth, usually more, no mean challenge in the rocky terrain. Low walls maybe a metre thick are then built around with only one aperture, a low doorway less than a man's height. It has a stout wooden door with two locks to prevent entry.

Storage jars wider than the doorway were put in place before the roof was added so could not easily be removed. They would contain items like water, dates, date honey, grain, palm oil and other provisions to ensure the returning members of the family had food to sustain them when they returned to their mountain farms in the cooler, wetter winter months. Some Lock Houses, over 200 years old are apparently still in use today. There is a superb reconstruction of a Lock House in the museum in Khasab which is well worth a visit.

Thursday, 14 June 2012

The Migration Season

Above the clouds in Wadi Bih
In the UAE there are only two seasons Winter and Summer. The former is when temperatures are mostly like a hot Summer's day in Northern Europe at around 25 C (77 F). The latter is when it is so hot and humid you'll drive the car to the supermarket, a few minutes walk away, and kill for a parking spot right by the entrance. Summer temperatures in the shade are frequently in the high forties with humidity soaring to well over 80%.

In the winter flowers and trees thrive bloom whilst through the summer months from July to September only the succulents and some grasses survive absorbing water from the atmosphere. My geranium leaves are already bleached almost white despite regular watering. The petunias in the flower beds at the roundabouts have been replaced by more heat hardy vincas. And it's odd to see the trees precipitated into an early "autumn", dates are already beginning to ripen on the palms ready to drop their sticky mess on every pavement.

Vinca Rosea (aka Madacascar or Cape Periwinkle) thrive here
In between the seasons is what meteorologists call the Transition Period. A time of frequent sand storms and occasional, very localised rain caused by unstable pressure systems over Saudi and Iran squeezing air down from Iraq and Kuwait. The UAE sits at the south eastern end of the Gulf so bears the brunt, air thick with fine dust appears foggy as strong winds spring up almost without warning. The colder air blasts the coast whipping up the usually flat sea and as it meets the warm humid air over the land causes real fog especially in Abu Dhabi. When the onslaught clears sometimes several days later, everywhere - balconies, cars, plants, windows, even drying laundry if you fail to recover it in time - is covered in sand.

Trees & Shrubs are Autumnal
However all is not so bad during the Winter-Summer Transition - the breezes also mean cooler temperatures and lower humidity making outside more bearable form time to time. This year we may have become more acclimatised to the humidity and heat but also the transition has lasted well into June so that on Tuesday night we were able to gather on the terrace outside the bar at DOSC after racing for our ritual post race analysis and banter. It was noticeable though, as we re-entered the marina shortly after 19:30, that the cabin top & sails were damp. The humidity is increasing and our Tuesday evenings outside are numbered.

Dawn on the mountains above Wadi Bih
The end of the transition period also brings migration. With schools in the throes of exams and contracts coming to an end many expats in Dubai are already planning their exits either permanently or simply for their family summer holiday back home in more accommodating climes. Every day it seems we are saying farewell to friends heading home to Australia, New Zealand or London for the last time. Its sad to see them go, remembering the good times we have had together but at the same time Kevin and I are excited as we too look forward to a summer sailing in Europe. By the time we return to Dubai in late August Ramadan will be over and there will only be a few short weeks until the Summer-Winter transition when outdoor life can begin again. A small price to pay for the amazing privilege of being here.

Sunday, 15 April 2012

Desert Challenge 2012

Setting off for AD on Sunday, JJ packed with gear
 The first week of April we took a week's "holiday" in the sands of Rub'_al_Khali, one of the largest if not the largest sand deserts in the world (why this could not be considered a holiday in the usual sense of the word will become apparent shortly). We were there to join a marshalling team of ME4x4 members manning checkpoints and more during the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge.
We've been on day trips to the area around  the Liwa Oasis before and had even camped just off the Arada Rd to the SW of the huge crescent shaped oasis early last year. Away from the moisture of Liwa, the sands are mostly empty of vegetation, camels and human life but even so vary a lot in character as you move from east to west.

Luxury Camping
Our first duty as a team (not counting Kevin & I's contribution at the Special Stage run on an empty lot by the sea in Abu Dhabi (AD) on Sunday afternoon) was to run a passage control at a pipeline crossing some 180 km south of AD. We met the night before in the DC bivouac (a tented town adjacent to the Al Qasr Sarab desert resort) and requisitioned one of the square old fashioned tents as our accommodation, though Ram & Sujit decided to sleep in their cars as they hadn't packed camp beds. Fortunately JJ's load included some food and our camping stove. The Bivouac would not be fully operational until the following day when the competitors arrived so tents but not food was on offer. After a bit of a delay the portacabin showers and loo's were connected to a water supply so we went to bed clean in preparation for an early start the next morning.

Welcome Shade
Monday set the pattern for our days.... up early, refuel the cars, collect some boxes of bottled water, breakfast on the hoof, a bit of road driving followed by a track or two to our appointed location somewhere in the desert. In amongst all the stuff packed into JJ we'd signs to erect to inform passing traffic that the rally was crossing the pipeline "road", red flags (on loan from F1 in AD) to wave to stop said traffic plus a series of signs to indicate to competitors where to enter the passage control, where to pause to get their cards stamped and where to exit. And a radio with which to communicate with Race Control when atmosheric conditions and location permitted, oddly during the week we often found that driving to the top of the nearest dune and making a mobile phone call was more effective!

Pipeline Construction - The DC's SAR Helicopter parked nearby
Our first task on Monday was to drive down the stage route from the pipeline crossing as three weeks of recent sandstorms had all but obliterated it. Sujit & I with GPS in hand and accompanied by Ram headed off in two cars leaving Kevin to meet & greet the pipeline safety team. Once back there was a long, hot wait for the competitors who were finding the stage very hard going with powder soft sand, due to the sandstorms. Eventually around noon the first bike appeared and we dutifully stamped their pink card with a number three, recording the passage time on the yellow record cards we had been provided with. By late afternoon all the motor bikes, quads, cars and buggies, about 75 in total, still in the race had passed, there seemed to have been a high rate of attrition as barely half the cars & buggies made it to us from their start near Abu Dhabi. The highlight of our day had been yesterday papers & coffee provided by Doug the South African Safety Manager and a visit from one of the rally's SAR helicopters. We also pulled a VIP car out of the sand directly in front of our post and saw several huge rig trucks with wheels taller than most of us trundling past on their way to or from a new gas drilling rig. Interestingly the latter were sharing their track with the competitors. On the other hand the pipeline track was like a busy main road with other traffic to and from the workers camp; buses, cranes, refrigerated lorries carrying food and water tankers as well as saloon cars. The red flags were needed!

Once we were signed off by Race Control we packed the gear and were free to play.... soon we discovered that the local sand was really really soft and rapidly called it a day after a hose on Ram's car came unclipped causing him to loose most of the cooling water. Tired, sweaty and suffering from mild dehydration we headed to a popular lorry drivers cafe in Humeem for a cup of chi before making tracks for the bivouac, a quick supper, a beer or two (to combat the dehydration you understand) and our beds.

Hanging Around Waiting for Competitors to Arrive
Tuesday the team changed, Ram had headed home to Dubai after supper so just three of us in tow cars drove the full length of the Liwa Crescent road to a point on a gash track somewhere west of Arada, not far north of the border with Saudi. Dev, officially our team leader and Sudhir drove out from Dubai to join us soon after we had set up. We watched the first bike fail to follow the correct route and have to double back to make the passage control, then every one else seemed to follow his track in the sand until a group of spectators on quads drove the correct route but even then we still got the odd competitor doing an abrupt about turn as they hit the gash track some 200m north of our position! The cars with their navigators mostly got it right. One of our visitors during the day kindly brought coffee and the previous day's papers - we were beginning to enjoy this lifestyle!

Curry Supper on Day 4
After a long day Sujit headed home to Dubai whilst the rest of the team decided to drive the stage route back towards the bivouac where we could refuel & restock on water again. It was a great drive over steep yellowy dunes with some superb slip faces. A few stucks ensued when we foolishly tried to follow the bike path but all in all it was great fun. After refuelling we then drove back the direction we'd come but this time along the tarmac, making first for Mizaira'a and supper in a Bangladeshi restaurant there before heading for the Liwa Rest House. The Rest House is a government provided B&B, it's a little run down & basic, the beds are more than a bit hard but it is very, very clean and cheap whilst the avocado ensuite bathroom provided lashings of hot water to rinse all the sand off. It was to be our home for three nights.

Sunrise in Rub Al Khali
Wednesday we were sent out into the desert to man the first PC of the day so it was an early, early start. The post was in a flattish bowl so when the SAR helicopter arrived it tried a couple of spots before choosing the dunes well above us to land so they had comms with HQ. When Sudhir drove up to take a look, one of the crew hitched a lift down to us. Gareth turned out to be a Professor of Physiology in Ulster who was conducting a study on behalf of FIM into the dehydration or otherwise of the marshalling teams. The four of us gave up urine & blood samples as well as having our temperature and other measurements taken. It appeared we were fairly well hydrated, probably because as a group we are used to being in the desert. We had made amends for the start of the week and were now drinking a lot of fluid as well as including regular doses of isotonic powder in the water we consumed in addition to eating plenty of salty snacks. When the last competitor had passed us, the reward for our early start was an amazing drive eastwards all afternoon followed by another curry supper in Mizaira'a and an early night.

Helicopter  on Manouevres
Thursday was a change of plan, the Chief Marshal asked us to take on another remote posting rather than a round about close to the Resthouse, so we arranged to meet Azim and his wife Sona in her Jeep on the Gayathi Road which runs north-south some several hundred kilometres west of AD to join the Liwa Crescent at its western end. This was a longish drive from the rest house so we set off in the dark. Around day break we came across the tanker intended for the competitors service stop, it was some 20k short of its intended position. After a quick phone call we escorted it to the right location as we too needed its services! Then we carried on north to meet up with our new team mates and were soon heading off the tarmac, south westerly into the sands for the day's PC, our remotest spot yet.

Stamping Competitors Cards is a Dusty Business
This was a route we'd driven before on a Confluence Drive back in October (a confluence is where the Lat and Long are round numbers, in this case N23, E053). The dunes here in the west of the UAE are like a red Salisbury Plain, gently rolling and very flat making high speed driving very easy. Until the next slip face that is, so you always have to be careful. Apart from a couple of quad bikes who retired at our PC bringing the sweep team to us to truck their bikes back to the bivouac we saw very few people except competitors during the morning... too remote a point even to be noted on the maps provided to spectators. Hence it was great to greet friends from the ME4x4 club when the sweep team arrived even if their stopover was short and they were very busy manhandling quads onto pick-ups. Another day and another spectacular desert drive with a curry supper to round it off. We all recognised how privileged we are to have the opportunity to drive in these remote areas.

Day 5 - the very last day of the Desert Challenge 2012 and we ended it back where we'd started, at the pipeline...this time no PC just managing the traffic on the pipeline track, oh and driving the stage from PC1 to the pipeline before the competitors started racing at 07:00.  Hence another early morning drive in the dark from the Resthouse across the Crescent to refuel at the Bivouac before heading up the gash track to open up the route. We did however manage to grab breakfast at 05:30 in the Bivouac and say hi to many friends that we'd hardly seen all week.

Oops - Dev wished he'd not landed just there
The early start meant time for another play in the desert when our duties were done. We were due in AD for the awards ceremony at 16:30 so the six of us in four cars decided once more to follow the stage route until we hit a road. The dunes here were short and steep and very chewed up by the competitors, more than once we were forced to find an alternative path. On the way we met a competitor car where driver & co-driver were just finishing reattaching bumpers with cable ties & duck tape after they'd hit the sand rather hard. Shortly after we came across a ME 4x4 friend Mike R, one of the sweep team. Mike has a large white GMC pickup, it was very stuck. After helping him out, together we went in search of his partner in crime Streaky, who was stuck on the other side of the same dune! For a while they joined with us until duty called and they had to go in search of a bike or two abandoned further up the course.

JJ at the Dc's Mobile Service Station
Eventually we hit the tarmac and made AD just in time for the start of the awards in the grounds of Yas Marina YC. Afterwards there was a party for all at the Rotana. Kevin & I were staying in a nearby hotel so proffered our facilities to Sudhir, Dev, Azim & Sona so they too could freshen up and change. Amazingly the Staybridge staff did not bat an eyelid when we requested extra towels at check in nor when we later asked that the room be serviced whilst we were out at the party and no one queried the large amount of sand on the carpet and in the bath after the six of us had showered and put on our party clothes.  It had been an amazing if exhausting week doing something completely different and all of us had thoroughly enjoyed ourselves.

At the Awards Ceremony

The Winning Car from France

Sunday, 5 February 2012

Pitfalls of Apartment Hunting

Someone's Pleasant Living Room, Al Murjan JBR?
Ooops...nearly got caught in a scam. Susie responded to a property ad and got an email with pictures of a lovely flat in JBR. Rent was reasonable and the "owner" had a good reason for renting tho' some of the email was a little odd. Ever heard Wales described as being "near Ireland"? And since when has the Thanet Offshore Wind Farm (he claims to be the Construction Manager)  been near Wales either! Who is this man - well he has the longest Arabic sounding name ever: Othman Abdulrahman M. S. Sultan Alolama. Still he said he had put the apartment in the hands of a reliable international agent and had paid all the fees.

We asked if we could view the apartment in our next email and were astounded by the response which we include here in full:

Dear Susie,

      Thank you for your reply. In order for you to move into the apartment, will send you a package containing the keys of the apartment and the tenancy contract. For this to happen, please provide me with your complete name and the address where you wish to receive the package. I will forward these details to and they will make contact. You will receive instructions to deposit an amount of AED5400 into their account. will send you the package in 24 hours after confirmation of your payment. Starting from the day you receive the package you will have 7 days to inspect the apartment and see how you accommodate. You will be ensured because the money will remain in custody, until you inspect the apartment and declare yourself pleased. After you decide to move in, will grant me access to the deposit you have made with them, and this way your deposit will become the payment for the first month of rent. I will also be ensured because will keep the money in their account until you move in. If, for whatever reason, you decide not to rent the apartment, you simply send back the keys and tenancy contract to and ask for a refund, but I know that this won't happen because you will love it.

      So, if this is okay with you and you are determined to rent my apartment, then please send me your complete name and address, so I can forward your details to and they will start the formalities immediately.

I wish you all the best and I'll be waiting for your answer.

Othman Abdulrahman M. S. Sultan Alolama
Thanet Offshore Wind Farm Offshore Construction Manager

Email Disclaimer Notice:
"The information in this communication is confidential and may be legally privileged. It is intended solely for the use of the individual or entity to whom it is addressed and others authorized to receive it. If you are not the intended recipient you are hereby notified that any disclosure, copying, distribution or taking action in reliance of the contents of this information is strictly prohibited and may be unlawful."

Looks More Like  A Serviced Apartment...
Off to look at Property-Instant.Com, not to be confused with an entirely different property company with a similar name in Puna that Google thought was what we wanted to look at. Alarm bells were definitely ringing when Susie found that Google search didn't produce it... a very new website then! More alarm bells on looking at the site - only email contacts, some very squeaky clean pictures of the management team and no property search facility despite some fairly authentic looking "recently listed" apartments & villas for rent being shown for each for the countries they apparently do business in.

A bit more digging turned up an almost identical screen shot in a forum warning of scams here, only thing is it's a different company "Fast-Property.Com". A polite email was sent back to Mr Othman Abdulrahman M. S. Sultan Alolama explaining that we wanted to view both the property and a draft tenancy agreement before handing over any money.

And since when did anyone use their company signature with their hotmail account?

Oh and the real Mohammed Sharif Sultan Al Olama died in 1958, he lived in a recently restored house in the Bastakia area of Dubai!