Thursday, 28 February 2013

Local History - Riches Before Oil

As a child at junior school I was taken on a trip to a local roman ford. There we found some pottery which the teacher, an amateur archaeologist, took to the old Bedford Museum on the Embankment for identification. We also learned why the home counties village we lived in had schools named after well known figures from Scots history namely Robert Bruce and John Balliol (click here to find out).  From then on I was hooked!

Ever since understanding the history of various places we've lived in or visited has always proved interesting and thought provoking. Whitchurch, Hampshire is smaller than several nearby villages but has a town charter, our estate in West Molesey was built on a former horse racing track and Bahrain was once the thriving trading civilisation of Dilmun and possibly the Garden of Eden!

The Lookout Tower
Last weekend found us in the emirate of Ras Al Khaimah looking for a geocache that had escaped us on a previous visit. Close to our goal we stopped to tick off a few other caches, the first of which was located near a lookout tower. These rather Portuguese looking towers are common in the Northern Emirates where pirates and marauders were once frequent unwelcome visitors. They are usually round, constructed of coral stone and date palm logs covered with a reddish plaster finish. This one was not particularly tall but being built on a slight mound was probably sufficiently high in this flat landscape below the mountains to enable a good view out to the Arabian Gulf. Today even from ground level you can see the buildings of RAK City just a few miles away on the coast.

Circular Ruins
A few hundred metres further on there was a poorly fenced area containing the cleaned up foundations of yet another circular building. This would have been much much bigger. We wondered what it had been, there was no signage but someone had obviously been conducting an archaeological dig recently. And, as we drove towards the mountains, more ruins could be seen unfenced, simply partially obscured by the scrubby thorn bushes.
Steep Steps
Our next stop was to hunt for the Sheba's Palace cache. At the back of the village of Shimal,  a steep set of modern steps petered out into a gravelly goat track up to a curved rocky promontory. We were glad to have come here in the winter as it was hot work climbing up in the full sun. There were goat remains is several places, it was obviously a popular haunt for the local herd. As we rounded the corner we could see the ruined walls and what looked like someone's tomb on one arm of the rock. The latter had a barbed wire fence and the remains of Emirati flags flying at each corner. From the other arm  there were great views out over the flat land to the city and the sea beyond despite the somewhat dusty haze.

Who was this Sheba? Well from the cache description we gathered this was not The Queen of Sheba  (10th century BC) who ruled what is today known as Yemen but a more modern female ruler as this hilltop settlement possibly dates back only to the 14th century. However back home and curious I found an article in The National in which a local historian Dr Seray says from pottery evidence it was most likely an 18th century Portuguese built fort as they occupied this area known then as Julfar.

The Tomb
The locals actually call the site as Qasr al Zabba, the palace of al Zabba or Queen Zenobia. Zenobia, the warrior queen of the Roman colony of Palmyra, in what is now Syria, ruled from about 267 to 272AD. She conquered several of Rome's eastern provinces before she was defeated by the emperor Aurelian. Apparently the term 'Zabba' refers to a masculinised woman, so perhaps there was a local woman ruler here who was tough like a man, and hence was nicknamed by the settlers here as al Zabba. As Dr Seray says "it was not the most flattering of titles". Sheba or Zabba or simply a Portuguese fort? I'll leave to up to you to decide. Whatever its a fascinating piece of history in a land where most things seem to post-date oil.

Sheba's Hilltop Fort
Further on still in Wadi Hagil there is an abandoned village where pottery was once made however we failed to find the access track last weekend. I have since been provided with not just directions but also some pictures from twenty years ago so we will soon be making another trip north to this interesting corner of the UAE.  Meanwhile ceramics are still big down in the modern city with one of the larger local firms being the eponymous RAK Ceramics makers of tiles, sanitary ware and crockery! RAK may be poor compared to its oil rich cousins further south but its ancient past is a fascinating wealth of history for those who care to venture off the tarmac.


Modern RAK in the distance

Qasr al Zabba the palace of al Zabba or Queen Zenobia. Zenobia, the warrior queen of the Roman colony of Palmyra, in what is now Syria, ruled from about 267 to 272AD. She conquered several of Rome's eastern provinces before she was defeated by the emperor Aurelian. "The term 'Zabba' refers to a masculinised woman, so perhaps there was a local woman ruler here who was tough like a man, and hence was nicknamed by the settlers here as al Zabba, - See more at: http://www.thenational.ae/news/uae-news/palace-of-myths-and-legends#full
Qasr al Zabba the palace of al Zabba or Queen Zenobia. Zenobia, the warrior queen of the Roman colony of Palmyra, in what is now Syria, ruled from about 267 to 272AD. She conquered several of Rome's eastern provinces before she was defeated by the emperor Aurelian. "The term 'Zabba' refers to a masculinised woman, so perhaps there was a local woman ruler here who was tough like a man, and hence was nicknamed by the settlers here as al Zabba, - See more at: http://www.thenational.ae/news/uae-news/palace-of-myths-and-legends#full
Qasr al Zabba the palace of al Zabba or Queen Zenobia. Zenobia, the warrior queen of the Roman colony of Palmyra, in what is now Syria, ruled from about 267 to 272AD. She conquered several of Rome's eastern provinces before she was defeated by the emperor Aurelian. "The term 'Zabba' refers to a masculinised woman, so perhaps there was a local woman ruler here who was tough like a man, and hence was nicknamed by the settlers here as al Zabba, - See more at: http://www.thenational.ae/news/uae-news/palace-of-myths-and-legends#full

Thursday, 7 February 2013

Replacing the Rudder



Exhibit A: Lumpy Bumpy Rudder
Temptress of Down was suffering with damp in the rudder when we bought her in 2000, back then the rudder was drilled, drained and dried under a vacuum before she was relaunched for us, here new owners. Since then an accidental encounter with a quayside and the actual design (the very top of the rudder where the stock passes through can become submerged at sea) have not exactly helped matters. Apart from the poor aesthetics of a lumpy, bumpy rudder, by 2012 there was little surface over which water could flow unimpeded, not good for efficiency and goodness knows what condition the inner steel work was in. As we are planning an Atlantic crossing in the next year or so, prudence prompted us to replace it for peace of mind if nothing else. We were keen though to keep the old rudder in store in the UK as a serviceable spare in case anything should happen to its replacement.

Not Quite Right!
Initially our boat builder contacted Jeanneau via a UK agent but despite us supplying as many details as we could including the hull number  to identify our particular boat the rudder shipped did not match the one on the boat. The existing rudder has elegant curves, the replacement was more utilitarian in shape and somewhat shorter. At first we were tempted to simply fit the new one but coincidentally at that point the boat was being surveyed for insurance purposes. The surveyor unasked, proffered the opinion that the new rudder would dramatically alter the handling of our SO47. With the old rudder she was perfectly balanced on a beat, almost steering herself with little intervention from the helm and once the sails were set, there was little weather helm. Both characteristics we were keen not to lose.

New rudder fitted awaiting anti-foul

The boat builder went off to do some research and found a local south coast UK company that would create both a mould and the appropriate drawings from our old rudder. Having first made a mould, by carefully prising the rudder apart they could create drawings of the original steelwork as the basis to build new steelwork prior to building the replacement rudder itself using the moulds. Despite some terrible winter weather which delayed the actual shipment, in early January the new rudder was delivered, perfectly matching the old one. There was then some debate about whether or not to replace the rudder bearings too but as these were fairly new, having been replaced four years ago it was decided that this wasn’t necessary.
Re-launch

The boat has now been launched with her new rudder and her crew are waiting an improvement in the weather to de-winterise the engine and go for a trial sail. As for a spare rudder – Temptress is now the proud owner of a set of moulds and the drawings for steelwork for a replacement rudder. We also now know that it would not take long to build and ship to wherever we happen to be. If any other SO47 owners want to replace their rudder please contact us as we can put you in touch with JWS, our boat builder who would be more than happy to assist.  We are led to believe that this rudder is also the same as the rudders on several other Philippe Briand Jeanneau designs from 46 to 50 feet.

Monday, 4 February 2013

Wrecks...

There is lots of rubbish in the desert, some is really undesirable like plastic bottles, barbed wire and old tin cans, whilst some is also interesting with presumably a tale to tell that we'll never know, like both of the old kettles picked up recently. This post is dedicated to a few of the larger items left lying in the sands that we have come across during our off road trips:


Carhenge - a favourite of Oasis Offroaders

Carhenge - a few months later, the sand is swallowing it up
Somewhere in the nature reserve on the way to Hameem
The Tanker - another photo opportunity


This abandoned Toyota is somewhere east of Liwa

Another pickup - this time between Al Ain & Hameem

Still pristine but abandoned a couple of dunes back from Al Ain airport

And finally, this really is a ship wreck - near The Green Community, Dubai