The history of dhow boats started a long time ago when Arab and Indian merchants began exploring East Africa. The merchants used them to travel a long way, from India, Oman all the way to Zanzibar and back, using monsoon winds. Zanzibar became a hub for exporting goods, particularly spices, unfortunately slaves and also elephant tusks.
Since then Zanzibaris have been using these dhow boats to travel across the seas, to carry goods like charcoal, timber and fruits from Tanzania’s mainland to Zanzibar.
Since the dhow boats became the major kind of transport, the locals started to design them in different ways according to their requirements. There were types for transporting passengers, for carrying goods, others for fishing. However, because the world is changing with other demands, nowadays we see less dhow boats. People are using container ships for goods and big ferries and cruise ships for passengers.
Dhow boats at One Ocean
However, at One Ocean we have been trying hard to preserve this culture. We have designed our dhow boats to meet our clients’ needs in Stone Town and in Matemwe. We use these dhow boats to take our clients diving and snorkelling and everybody loves them.
Stone Town - as the city describes itself - is the heart of Zanzibar. This is where the Arabs and Indians used to load and unload their goods. It’s a very old city and pace of life here is nice and slow. We say and live by “pole-pole Zanzibar, hakuna matata”. The reefs around Stone Town aren’t far from land that’s why we prefer our dhow boats. It only takes twenty-five to thirty minutes to get there. We also sail in the evening for the sunsets but we do have an engine on board.
In Matemwe, from where our famous Mnemba Atoll is not far away, we use our dhow boats too. Powered by two ninety-horsepower-engines, it takes about thirty-five minutes to get there.
Maintenance of the dhow boats
Maintaining these dhow boats is another thing to take into consideration. Since the dhows are made with wood or timber, they need maintenance every three months. We use a traditional method where we have to take them out of the water and put new cotton, a process we call ”kalafati”.
To prevent the boat from leaking, cotton mixed with coconut oil is stuffed between the timber. We also check for broken woods or broken ribs and replace them. Again, different dhows need different maintenance. The smaller dhows that are used for fishing get maintained by bringing them to the beach and burn them from the outside to dry fast.
All in all, I’ve seen different kinds of boats: the fastest, the beautiful, catamarans, speed boats, glass boats and more, but still sailing on these dhow boats gives you a unique experience you will never forget.