With the Shinas to Musandam

April 2009

 

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At the time of travelling the 'Shinas' held the record of being the fastest diesel powered ferry in the world


We had been in Musandam before but the new fast catamaran ferry service currently running between Mutrah and Khasab was an easy temptation and a good excuse to go again. Two nights and a full day in between the ferry crossings would allow us to explore the area around Khasab a bit better, something we could not do in previous trips because you never do the obvious?  If you want to know more about Musandam in general and exploring its coastline by Dhow check out our 2005 Musandam story. This trip was all about the fast ferry and Khasab.
Ferry from Muscat to Khasab, total distance approximately 419km. Traveltime is about 5 hours, with possible delays docking in Mutrah Harbour. Cruising speed impressively between 83 and 85 km/hr. Google Earth Track listed in linked zip file.
How to get there:
The ferries are operated by The National Ferries Company (NFC); website www.nfcoman.com. Bookings can only be made in their office at Mutrah (close to the harbour). Tel: 800 72000 (Toll Free) Fax: 24711333 Email: reservation@nfcoman.com. We took the "weekend ferry" leaving on Wednesday afternoon 15:00 hrs from Mutrah (check-in 13:00hrs) and returning on Friday afternoon at around 20:30 hrs in Mutrah. You may want to hire a car in Khasab and we can recommend Khasab Rent a car, close to downtown Khasab (mobile 968 99447400 and office tel/fax 968 26731722). The best hotels to stay are the new Golden Tulip (4-star, www.goldentulipkhasab.com) and the old Khasab Hotel (khoman@omantel.net.om www.khasab.hotel.net) depending on your budget. Both feature a nice swimming pool.
The ferry infrastructure is not in place yet and therefore you should not be surprised about a bit of disorganised feeling until the moment you board the ships. The people are very helpful and the boat will not leave without you, but there is a bit of a hassle with buses to get to the cay before that. Check-in time is two hours before departure. You can only take small hand luggage, whereas bigger luggage items will have to be handed over to be loaded separately. You do need passports and resident cards, which are strictly checked on the way back from Musandam.  Also recommendable is to take something warm as the on-board airco system is working very well. Plenty of reading material of course as well. You will be traveling for more than 10 hours in total, and part of that will be in darkness. Leaving at 15:00 hrs from Mutrah means you will enjoy some scenic views from the coast up to Seeb before the ferry takes you further offshore where you will see the occasional tanker or fishing vessel. Only close to sunset you may just see the Musandam coastline. On the way back this will be in reverse, with plenty of opportunity to admire the Musandam Khawrs and only distant light in darkness when approaching the coast near Seeb. Mutrah harbour is a bit too crowded for the ferries requiring time-consuming maneuvering particularly when docking. The subsequent bus-squeeze is another disappointment after the tremendous ferry experience itself. So let's look at the bright side of this experience. Where in the world would you get the opportunity to go boat racing in luxury? The boats travel truly very fast, with a cruising speed of some 83-85 km/hr for 5 hours. Amazing fast. And you don't really notice until there are other ships that from far away don't move, but close-up definitely move, but nothing compared to these fast catamarans. On the way back we met halfway Shinas' sister-ship 'Hormuz' also speeding at 83-85 km/hr. Taking pictures has to be fast as the boats approach each other at racing speed of almost 170 km/hr. We had opted for the business class at 85 ORE (return). Economy class is 44 ORE and residents of Khasab pay only 22 ORE. What is special about business class? Seating in the front of the ferry with panoramic view is great. Special service with coffee, tea, refreshments and food (plane-like). But economy class is very comfortable as well with great views and easy access to the sun-deck is not at all bad either. It may be quieter in business class, but on the other hand there is a bit more life in economy, so this is up to your own choice and budget. The seating is similar to a plane, with reclining backs and earphones. The sun deck is sheltered in the middle of the middle deck. Sticking your head out a bit and you will definitely notice the speed. Not surprising there is always one crew member on duty to ensure you don't do anything dangerous. The pictures below, and the ferry 'facts' give you a bit of a feeling of this fats-boat experience. 

Photograph provided by NFC

The "Hormuz" in the harbour of Mutrah, taken from the "Shinas"

Ferry Details

When the entered service in 2008 the two ferries "Hormuz" and "Shinas" were the fastest diesel powered ferries in the world.

“Hormuz” recorded a maximum speed of 56 knots (103.7km/h) and a service speed of 52 knots during sea trials held near Henderson in Western Australia in July 2008. Its sister vessel “Shinas”, recorded a maximum speed of 55.9 knots in 2007.

The boats are reported to cost 70 million US$ each.

The original plan was to introduce the ferry service between Shinas and Khasab, but it was altered because port facilities in the Batinah town have not been completed. These are expected to be completed in mid 2009

The ferries are operated by the National Ferries Company. In total, NFC will run five ferries including Shinas and Hormuz. There will be two ferries in the north (linking Khasab with Muscat), two in the south (linking Halaniyat Island with Salalah) and the third ferry would link Masirah Island with Shannah in the east.

Ferry Fact sheet

Onboard features include a helicopter landing facility suitable for a medium class helicopter, which will be capable of assisting in search and rescue and medivac operations.

Both vessels are powered by four MTU 20 cylinder 1163 series diesel engines each producing 6,500 kW and driving Rolls Royce / Kamewa waterjets. The vessels are built in accordance with the requirements and under the survey of Det Norske Veritas, conforming to HSC 2000.

PRINCIPAL PARTICULARS:

  • Passengers 208
  • Crew 12
  • Vehicles: 56 cars or 54 truck lane metres + 40 cars
  • Length overall: 64.8 metres
  • Length waterline: 61.1 metres
  • Beam moulded: 16.5 metres
  • Hull depth moulded: 6.2 metres
  • Hull draft (maximum): 2.1 metres
  • Deadweight (maximum): 146 tonnes
  • Axle loads: - aft main deck: 9 tonnes (single wheel) 12 tonnes (dual wheel) - remainder of main deck: 3 tonnes (single wheel)
  • Vehicle deck clear height: 3.1 metres
  • Fuel (approx): 44,000 litres

PROPULSION:

  • Main engines: 4 x MTU 20V 1163 TB73L 4 x 6,500 kW
  • Propulsion: 4 x Kamewa 90SII waterjets
  • Gearboxes 4 x Reintjes
  •  Service speed: 52 knots

Manufactured by Austal (asutralia): For details of the vessels check out the Austal Shinaz & Hormuz information sheets

 

Photographs left are courtesy of NFC showing one of the engines (top) and the control room(bottom)

 

So much about modern technology. Let's not forget that there still is a bit of an unpredictable sea out there where even the most modern ships have to give their best. We definitely experienced that when rounding Ras al Shaikh, the most northern bit of the passage and getting into rough waves at the western side of the Musandam peninsula.

Thor Heyerdahl sailed along the cliffs of Musandam in 1978 with ten other men to show that ancient seafaring links would have been possible between the early advanced civilizations of the Middle East - Mesopotamia (Iraq), Egypt, and the Indus Valley (Pakistan). There can't be a bigger contrast than Heyerdahl's primitive reed boat (the Tigris) and Shinas, our fast catamaran. A quote from Heyerdahl's book describing his passage is very appropriate reminder of our humble beginnings and the forces of nature. Musandam certainly looks very different from the fastest ferry in the world. But when we took strong waves west of Ras al Shaikh there were soon some green faces searching for little bags and getting even a better feeling for Heyerdahl's words:

The sky was blue above us, but there were white cloud-banks along the entire horizon ahead. Cloud-banks, but what the devil did we see above the clouds? I grabbed the binoculars and what Asbjörn had asked about jumped clearly into view. For a moment I could hardly believe my eyes. Above the cloud-banks, raised above the earth, was land, like another indistinct world of its own. Solid rock was sailing up there, still so far away that the lower parts seemed transparent and did not even reach down to the clouds; the upper ridge seen against the clear sky was of a different shade of blue. What we all were staring at seemed far too high up to be real. Were we heading for the Himalayas? Was this an optical distortion, a Fata Morgana? .... We dug out our boxes a land-map of Oman. It showed that this Arabian dagger, with the Hormuz Strait at its tip, rose steeply to an elevation of 6,400 feet above the gulf. The whole peninsula was a lofty mountain chain with rock walls dropping almost perpendicularly into the sea on the gulf side that we were now approaching. Detlef had just measured a record speed of almost five knots .... The map showed only a single indentation where Said might have taken Rashid and the other men in among the vertical cliffs to get the shelter needed for making their repairs; Ras al Shaikh. It would seem to be a most inhospitable cove between rock walls, to judge from the skyline we now saw. We were soon to find out. We had to clear Ras al Shaikh on our way up to the final cape marking the entrance to the Hormuz Strait .... We were fighting our way up the coast, taking the weather in athwart, but we were also getting closer to the cliffs we wanted to avoid on the starboard side. A more forbidding land I had never seen: sky-piercing in every sense, and yet not even scrub or a green tuft of grass to brighten up the sterile ascents. A petrified desert tilted on end. The stormy weather struck these walls head on, and assaulting seas were violently rebuffed and rebounded with full force for many miles, stirring up a chaotic turmoil of tossing and leaping waves of a treacherous kind never encountered in the free ocean spaces. How utterly illusory it was for armchair anthropologists to believe and teach that pre-European voyages were possible so long as the navigator could hug a mainland coast, and that ocean crossings were impossible before the days of the Spanish caravels. Nowhere is the sea worse and the problems more acute than where rocks are or where waves and currents encounter shores and shallows. To hug a coast can be the most demanding task for any primitive voyager. Ancient seafarers must have felt like us in similar situations, unless they were far better prepared. Never have I or my companions been tormented by more problems when travelling on primitive craft at sea than when we have struggled to clear the last mainland capes to get into the open ocean, or when upon an ocean crossing we have approached land on the other side. To hug this Arabian peninsula gave us not the slightest feeling of security. On the contrary, it was quite a nightmare, from which we would have wished to wake and find ourselves safe in the middle of the Indian Ocean… My only hope was that these conditions would change when we came still closer to land. The elements themselves would be forced to change course the moment they hit the lofty cliffs. The current would be turned parallel to the coast instead of against it, and be compressed to gain in speed, and so would the wind when striking the rocks at sea level. The only opening in the compact wall was the Hormuz Strait, way up at the tip of the peninsula. If nature was forced to follow such an escape route, we would be dragged along too.… Never on any sea had we seen so many brilliantly lit ships in motion at the same time as appeared around us at the moment when Detlef ordered a sharp, 90° turn to starboard and the men on the bridge sent us into the main traffic lane of Hormuz Strait….


Leaving Mutrah harbour

Slowly rounding the breakwaters of Mutrah harbour

Opening the throttle and a rapidly disappearing harbour at the back

It certainly doesn't feel like 83km/hr in the shelter of the sun-deck. The car deck below is empty, waiting for the infrastructure to be completed to load cars and trucks in the future

A glimpse of economy class

with a central refreshment 'bar'
and business class in front.

Quality time with good friends, thanks Danka and Jan Dam.

Reading in between....


Sunset approaching Musandam.
Glad to be in Musandam and that disembarking was fast and easy. The new terminal building in Khasab harbour is very much like an airport arrival/departure hall. We had a bus waiting taking us to the Khasab hotel and found our reservation in perfect order. The Khasab hotel is a bit older but features a nice secluded swimming pool  and a good restaurant; but service needs a facelift. The new wing has big rooms with all modern comforts. Being in Khasab you can easily explore the area, but a car is strongly recommended if you have only one day.
Arranging for a rental car was easy the next morning and took only a phone call from the reception with the car delivered at the entrance shortly thereafter. This is easy-going country where people still trust and don't require deposits. The biggest car we could get was an Echo.... a bit of an experience as well, but remarkably spacious for such a small car.

Our itinerary included a visit to Khasab Fort, because of the great museum that it houses, next a drive along the magnificent coastal road in the direction of Bukha, visiting the petroglyphs in Qida, climbing some great viewpoints and of course in between having a great lunch, with a great view, at the Golden Tulip Hotel. Easily filling a day completed in style with diner at the Golden Tulip. Lucky that the weather in the evening was near ideal. One of these rare evenings that everything is perfect, the place, the food and the company.


Entrance to the Khasab Hotel restaurant

Front of Khasab fort,
Khasab fort (castle) is open for visits Saturday to Thursday 9:00 am - 4:00 pm, Friday 8:00 am - 11:00 am. The fort used to be at the seafront, but now sheltered behind the new harbour and its protective dikes. Less interesting is the new Lulu supermarket that is being built almost opposite. Surely there would have been a better place to hide ugly supermarkets? The Portuguese constructed the present fortress at the beginning of the 17th century, most likely on top of an older building. Subsequently the fort homed the Khasab Wali and his family for many several hundred years the It has been beautifully restored and now homes a very good museum showcasing Musandam's unique heritage. In the courtyard you will find a selection of Musandam's traditional boats as well as replica traditional winter and summer houses. The central tower as well as three of the four corner towers have permanent exhibitions covering geology, history, culture and snapshots of Musandam life in the past. You can easily spend hours enjoying the exhibitions in a great historical setting. Certainly a must. Mind your head as some of the doors are a bit low. Also appreciate the traditional build that does not require air-conditioning, such as in the Wali's barza where the air circulation is amazingly refreshing and one forgets time sitting on the pillows as people used to do in the old days. 

Restored ceilings made of wooden beams covered by mats and subsequently palm fronds on top covered by mortar

Bow of a common Musandam boat, the Battil decorated with shells and goatskin.

Top: Notice the stitching of the Battil keel with the side-planks. A remnant of ships that were completely stitched in ancient times. Tim Severin (1982) describes the building and the journey of the Sohar, a tradition style Omani dhow, completely stitched, as in Sindbad the Sailor's time. More information of Oman's early seafaring times can be found in the book "Oman a Seafaring Nation".

Right: in front of a traditional summer house, made of palm fronds, open on all sides and on stilts. Such houses were used by people coming from the mountains and other remote locations who came to Khasab in the summers to fish and harvest dates. Next to this house is a 'bait al qufl' or the 'house of the lock' used by people in the mountains, built of heavy stone partly dug deep in the ground.


The jirz, the small, long-handled axe, a symbol in the heritage of Musandam. Still made locally but difficult to find. More on that story below.

Lunch at the Golden Tulip Hotel, which is built on a rock promontory several kilometres west of Khasab, with magnificent views across the bays.
A few kilometres west of Khasab along the coastal road to Bukha is the small village of Qida. Turn into the wadi and follow the gravel track through the village and data plantations. Note some of the older houses plastered against the steep cliffs and some partly built into them. Leave this village behind and continue until you get to a second group of houses. Just before is a big pile of large rocks that have tumbled down from the cliffs a long time ago. Note the cellar-like building partly below and in-between the rocks. Look around for the flat rock surfaces on these big boulders and you will discover an old world of rock carvings, hammered into the stone, petroglyphs of people, camels, horses and boats. Some very faded, some looking fresher. How old these carvings are is unknown and difficult to investigate. From their weathered appearance one can safely say that they are hundreds of years old, made by people living between the rocks. Similar petroglyphs are common across Musandam. Have a look when you see big smooth rock surfaces close to wells and gardens in the wadi's, but also high-up in the Mountains.  

Qida, limestone block with camels an a bit more  faded, mounted horses?

Qida next to water well. Lilian sitting on a block with horses and riders carrying weapons?
Left: The road along the coast from Khasab to Bukha. An engineering feat. Not surprisingly there are places where rocks have fallen down recently and one just hopes it will not happen when you drive there.

The rocks dip towards the east, the direction that the whole of Musandam subsides in, slowly pushed down by the immense forces related to crustal plate collision between Arabia being pushed below Asia.

Coastal erosion shaves-off the thick limestone packages, aided by a dense network of vertical fractures in the rocks. 

The ferry leaves only in the afternoon, leaving sufficient time on Friday for our second quest: finding a Jirz. Not easy, but helpful people pointed to the "Iranian Suqh" behind the "Lake Hotel" just when you drive into Khasab. We soon discovered the many "import and export" as well "international trading" companies in this area. These turned-out to be the source of the many grey bags that we had seen precariously loaded on pick-ups heading for the harbour on the previous day. There they are loaded onto small powerful motorboats. Go to a cliff with a view and you will soon see groups of two and three boats coming back or heading towards the other side of the streets of Hormuz. A lively international trade, fully legal at the Omani side as we were told, but smuggling as soon as the international boundary is crossed. What is in these bags? Anything from huge fridges to expensive electronics it appears from what we saw in the Iranian Suqh. What is coming back? Not so sure but it is in big bags as well.

One of the many export and import companies, bagging electronics for a hazardous crossing of the straits.

Many small motorboats waiting to be loaded with the hundreds of bags piled up on the jetties. One boat returning from the other side, full to spill with...... more bags.....
Yes, we did find the Jirz and are now the proud owners of this iconic symbol of Musandam. Found in what appears to be the only shop, selling pretty much anything, in the middle of the Iranian Suqh. Have fun hunting for them. They probably sell for anything between 5 to 20 ORE depending on quality.

In the afternoon back home again, but now a daytime racing with the Musandam Khawrs in full view and even glimpses of dolphins. 


Leaving Khasab, waiting for the police boat, looking fast as as well.

Khasab in the far distance, quickly powering-up to a cruising speed of 83 km/hr.

Rounding Ras Al Shaikh

Musandam's most northern headland with sheer vertical cliff faces at a safe distance of several kilometres

A lovely interplay of rocks, sea and haze.

Sometimes noticing our speed, turning sharp to avoid fishnets crossing our route.

Meeting "Hormuz" halfway, rapidly approaching and disappearing as both catamarans run at some 85 km/hr in opposite directs. hardly time to take pictures.

Sunset on the way back, heading for Muscat
Disembarking in Mutrah was a bit of an anti-climax, with hardly any space to dock it took a very long time. Subsequently all passengers were being stuffed in buses, at least that is how it felt. A check at the harbour gate, where we got the feeling that we were all potentially Iranian smugglers? This can definitely be done better. How can one match careful safety instructions on board compared to overloaded buses. I hope that the NFC will improve the infrastructure because that is what these great ferries deserve.

In between you may have picked-up the hint for taking lots of reading stuff. What better than the adventure stories by Heyerdahl and Severin?

References

 
  • Experience History Khasab Castle, Sultanate of Oman, Ministry of Tourism. www.omantourism.gov.om
  • Heyerdahl, Thor, 1982. The Tigris Expedition; in search of our beginnings.  Unwin Paperbacks, London, p. 194
  • Musandam, Schreurs, J., April 2005
  • Oman: a seafaring nation. Ministry of Information and Culture. Second edition 2005.Al Nahda Printing Press, Oman. 0p. 196.
  • Severin, Tim, 1982. The Sindbad Voyage. Arrow Books Limited, London. p 238

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@ J. Schreurs April 2009