Cruising The Emirates - A Developing Story
Posted Jan. 29, 2015, 11:50 a.m.
Cruising the Emirates - Developing Story - Yachting Matters Edition 27
Over the years the UAE and its respective semi-rivaling powerhouses of Dubai and Abu Dhabi have been in the marine and international press for a variety of reasons. Whether it be ‘almost’ hosting the 33rdAmerica’s Cup or tales of construction worker woes, to successfully fulfilling the last edition of the Louis Vuitton Cup, hosting the Volvo Ocean Race and RC44 worlds, Class One powerboating, Abu Dhabi F1 Grand Prix, the world’s tallest building, the richest horse race, and many more headline-grabbing events, for such a small geographical area the UAE has powered itself into the mainstream.
Situated on the old spice route mid-way between Europe and Asia (hence the designation ‘Middle East’), in principle the UAE is perfectly set as a winter destination for the Med-set, allowing the opportunity for private and charter yachts to cruise via the Indian Ocean idylls of the Maldives, Seychelles, Mauritius and more in blue sky warmth, while the Med shuts down as temperatures fall after the Monaco Yacht Show the UAE beckons.
Even positioning apart, from a yacht spotters perspective, who could overlook the league table stats of superyacht ownership in the area - missing only two of the Top Ten largest yachts on today’s seas: 1 (Azzam), 3 (Dubai), 4 (Al Said), 5 (Topaz), 6 (Prince Abdulaziz), 7 (El Horriya), 8 (Yas), 9 (Al Salamah). But this always leaves the question: If the largest yachts in the world are owned by families from this region and the seasons perfectly juxtapose those of the Med, why is it not considered a superyacht hotspot?
Having been based in the UAE for nearly a decade as a journalist, yacht broker and marina manager, let me offer you a realistic guide to what coming ‘round the bend’ is really about.
What they don’t say
- Getting here can be a problem. Yes, there is a security concern with vessels coming through the Suez Canal and Red Sea. Whether on their own hull or transporter, there is certainly an acknowledged security premium that yachts need to prep for. But that is the same for any bluewater cruising superyacht these days.
- Navigational permits and entry procedures are not publicly available, and so it is essential that you hook up with the right agent as soon as your itinerary is announced. The more advance notice your agent has to find the best visa, berth and immigration solution for you, the better.
- There are only a few marinas with superyacht capabilities, so expect to sit on gensets. If you can get into a marina, some won’t have the right amount of juice. Below I list the ones that do. For all the advertising and talk, very few marinas and marina managers also understand the infrastructure requirements of big yachts – they just see size, power and berth price. So make sure that you also verify greywater/blackwater services, garbage disposal, vitteling access for goods lorries and how your VIP owners will get aboard, i.e. helicopter landing permission, vehicle access to dock, etc. Sounds basic, but I know many marinas that advertise dock space, but without any of the back-of-house support.
What they should say
For yachts over 50 metres, there are only a handful of berthing options in the UAE, each unique in their own way. Dubai and Abu Dhabi are the only places where full superyacht infrastructure exists, as in power, commercial access, etc, though if a yacht is prepared to run alone there are many places to pull up due to the canalization of many commercial ports. Most superyacht-friendly ports are listed in the online and printed international port guides, but to highlight the best:
Dubai: Set beneath the iconic Dubai landmark of the Burj Al Arab, Pavilion Marina at Jumeirah Beach Hotel is the region’s most expensive and best-located big boat marina. Though space is often at a premium, with instant access to the centre of Dubai and deepwater access to the Gulf, it is the luxury visitor’s first choice in Dubai.
Space can sometime be found on the small extension to Dubai International Marina Club in Mina Seyahi bay, but most yachts either stay at anchor in the bay, or large hulls, like Pelorus and Topaz, sit at anchor in the lee of The World islands archipelago. There are always other less glamorous berths to be found in the commercial ports and even in Dubai Creek – it depends on your type of visit.
Abu Dhabi: With Yas Marina designed for the F1 Grand Prix, it certainly has the biggest infrastructure for large yachts, but 10 miles inland, with a 28m height limit and a 30 min drive from the Abu Dhabi Central Business District, it is also not ideally placed for the international visitor. Emirates Palace Marina, set in the grounds of the region’s most exclusive hotel, is the premier choice due to its impressive environment, central location and luxury facilities for yachts up to 160m LOA. But as the venue of choice for royal yachts, there are only a few large visitor berths available.
The crews of the yachts that do get out here have the time of their lives. The large yacht crews that I have accommodated in two of the marinas that I have been responsible for have always made the most of the climate and easy access to bars, nightlife and air hostesses. Flatwater and predictable winds ensure the opportunity for watersports when on downtime, and the availability of beaches ensures tans can be topped up prior to departing if heading home.
With a yacht build track record including the iconic yachts, Dubai, Dubawi and Yas, and renowned companies such as Greenline Yacht Interiors and Donald Starkey Designs calling the UAE home, it is not surprising that there is ample capability for all types of refit activity across the Emirates. With all labour, from grafting to project managers as an international moveable force, yards in Ras Al Khaimah and Abu Dhabi have been slowly biting into the more established Dubai businesses due to their lower overheads and larger work areas. Thanks to increased military and oil business infrastructure development, ISO quality is increasing making inroads into commercial yards, meaning that the future will become even brighter for the UAE as a winter refit destination, and size is certainly not a restraining factor.
Okay, so it’s never going to be the Cote d’Azur, but there are undeniably advantageous reasons to have a large yacht stationed in the UAE, particularly for business purposes. With its central location to both the developing MENA and BRIC markets, one of the reasons for the UAE’s growth has been its ‘hub’ status, benefiting from the meeting of businesses coming together from different cultures and geographic areas and while the leisure and hospitality options for such business arrangements are varied and numerous, what better way to seal the deal or impress an associate than with a private yacht party? Whether it be a cruise along the coastline, or moored up in front of one of the UAE’s iconic landmark hotels, business and yachting have always gone together, which is increasingly being incorporated into the UAE’s cultural emphasis on hospitality.
With areas like the Seychelles and Maldives in the same catchment area, it’s not really fair to claim the best cruising grounds for the UAE, but for an owner looking for a more natural environment in the area there are certainly some fascinating itineraries on offer. With hundreds of islands ringing the coastline, both natural and artificial, offshore tourist development has been slow to take off simply because traditionally local families take their large yachts and support boats to their own islands for getaway time and are in no need of catered hospitality. However, as the size of local families expand in line with population growth, and an increasing amount of expat owners are investing in larger yachts, developments can be seen to be finally taking place for the offshore tourist.
Traditionally the Musandam Peninsular, at the entrance to the Arabian Gulf, has been the small jewel in the large yacht itinerary crown, as it is certainly a natural wonder. Fjord-like bare rock rising for hundreds of metres, with little or no vegetation and no community except for abundant wildlife offer a true back-to-basics experience. Stepping ashore at one the new resorts now opening up in the bays here allow for a luxury treat after few days of isolated cruising.
However, the real growth area is Al Gharbia, or the Western Region of Abu Dhabi, where the Arabian Gulf curves down to the Saudi border. Though not brilliantly charted due to the changing of oil rig placements, this is where the best fishing and Arabic heritage sights are to be seen. Whether it be the protected Dugong area around BuTinah island, or the nature reserve on Sir BaniYas, there are some very different experiences to be found. As infrastructure grows, large yachts will soon be welcomed at Sir BaniYas and Delma islands, where guests can step ashore for hotel accommodation, and if guests are in contact with any local families, an invite to their private island could certainly be on the books.
Middle East nationals are traditional charter clients in the Mediterranean, but until recently have been reticent about spending domestically. In part due to not wishing to demonstrate their leisure activities closer to home, and also a previous lack of international standard destinations, both these obstacles are increasingly being eroded and the attitude to domestic charter is opening up. While the opening up of the above discussed cruising grounds does increase the attractiveness of the UAE as a charter destination, the real external market focus should be on those Eastern block countries whose citizens find difficulty getting into EU/US territories – for them the UAE is the perfect charter destination. With a host of top events coming up in the next few years, from the annual Abu Dhabi F1, to the ISAF World Championships, FIFA 2022 in Qatar and Expo 2020 in Dubai, let alone what other events will be scored in the meantime, there is an increasing opportunity for charter in this region, particularly for commercial, promotional and film events. While there is a reason that none of the big charter houses have dedicated offices here as yet, the domestic charter market, I believe, is a growth spurt just waiting in the wings.
SO WHAT NEXT?
All Foreign Flag yachts arriving into the UAE, whether by ship or own hull, require an agent to process their inward/outward clearances, visas, permits, etc. Traditionally treating yachts to the same codes as commercial vessels, the Emirate of Dubai has recently eased restrictions on visiting yachts from the traditional 21 day stay to a 90 day stay (renewable), which is fantastic. Captain Stephen Corbett brings 17 years of GCC (Gulf Cooperation Council) experience to his Yacht and Charter Service Company, and can advise on all requirements and procedures. Currently handling over 85% of large yacht traffic entering not only the UAE, but all Gulf destinations, he has a handle on both current regulations, and also the needs of international visitors on yachts of all sizes. The first full member of the AYSS (Association of Yacht Support Services) in the Middle East, The Yacht and Charter Service Company can greatly assist superyacht operations and their management for a smooth and pleasant stay in the UAE