November 22, 2005

Zanzibar Dhows

The sunny side of Zanzibar is filled with pearl white beaches, delicious seafood, and a fleet of fishing vessels that are as distinctive as they are charming.

On the northern tip of Zanzibar the heat of the afternoon sun is cooling down a little and the fisherman are getting ready to head out to sea. The water is crystal clear, reflecting torquoise blue off the pale white sand below. Zanzibar is famous for it's unique sailing craft, the Dhow. These yachts feature a low mast and a single lugg poled sail that varies subtly from the Asian lanteen rig. The rigging is very flexible. Once the lugg is lofted to the top of the mast the sail is let out for running downwind or footed in at the bow to point into a breeze. They are majestic little craft of beautiful proportions and exotic flare.

A few Dhows come in late in the afternoon with a load of sardines. The fishermen use very small nets and snorkels to corral and bundle schools of sardines. Occasionally they hit a big school and the Dhow is filled to capacity upon returning to shore. As the vessels slip into the shallows there is great yelling and men and children flock to unload the catch. Tubs are filled to the brim and carried off one by one. The fish just keep coming. Children clammer for a share of the spoils and the fishermen oblige with small allocations in return for assistance to offload. For a good 30 mintues it's pandamonium. People are shouting and calling and the fish just keep coming. The scene is repeated several times.

The majority of the fleet heads out in the middle of the sardine bonanza. They are seeking larger catch such as tuna, kingfish and swordfish. They will head a long way out to sea during the setting sun and continue catching through the night. They drift with their lines out and hope for clear skies on moonlit nights. The return journey to shore is completed by 6am and the fish are sent directly to market. This is the catch that will be served on restaurant tables that same night, fresh and full of flavour as all good seafood should be.

Further south along the shore are holiday beaches and hotels that cater for a relaxed style of tourist. The sand is soft, white, and gently washed by the clearest of water. Between each stretch of beach the restaurants provide decking out over the water and a magnificent view of the sunset. Dhows come and go while the sun fades behind the horizon. Some carry tourists out for a joy ride, others are simply a little late as they head out for the fishing. Food and drinks are cheap. Seafood is the pick and the spices of Zanzibar feature proudly on the menu too. The combination is indulgent! The local drink is Dawa - gin, vodka, lime juice and honey. Pick a bar with african beats to accompany the scenery and let the Dawa slide on into the night.

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