RAS AL KHAIMAH // As the first rays of sunlight broke across the Hajjar mountains, gunfire erupted in the quiet harbour of Saqr Port.
A proud warship entered the harbour, the Union Jack fluttering. The last shot was fired as the warship passed through the breakwater.
And with that came a reply from the coast.
It was no act of war, nor a ghostly incarnation from the 19th century, but a 21-gun salute, a mark of respect between the British and the ruling family of Ras al Khaimah.
The British and the Qawassim tribe were once rivals who vied for control of the Gulf and the Arabian Sea. This ended with the General Treaty of 1820 that brought a maritime truce between the British and the powerful seafaring tribe, and ushered in an era of trade and prosperity on the coast.
Yesterday's ceremony on the Royal Navy warship was a tribute to the close friendship forged between the British in the decades that followed.
The 21-gun salute, an honour reserved for heads of states, will probably be the only one on HMS Cumberland's six-month journey.
A drumbeat signalled the arrival of Qawassim royals, who rule RAK to this day.
"VIP approaching sir," shouted an officer. "Hurray."
A trumpet sounded a few notes, and a 24-strong guard of sailors in white uniforms raised their rifles over their shoulders and pointed the toes of their black boots out.
Sheikh Ahmed bin Saqr Al Qassimi, the chairman of RAK Customs and Ports Department, stepped forward in a gold-trimmed cream bisht. The tartan-clad RAK Police band played God Save the Queen, followed by the UAE national anthem.
For band members, it was a solemn occasion. Some of the Baluchi musicians originally from Pakistan, had arrived in the UAE via Oman after fighting for the Sultan of Oman and the British in the Dhofar Rebellion.
Most had studied music in Scotland, where many learned to play bagpipes. For these Baluchi musicians, the legacy of the British in the UAE was more than a piece of history, but a piece of their own past.
Sheikh Ahmed approached the ship across a red carpet where he was saluted by an officer carrying a sword.
A shout of "Hurray, dismissed" ended the ceremony and he began his inspection of the guards on the ship.
Following this visit, the captain joined him at the dune-top palace of al Dhait in the city of Ras al Khaimah, another longstanding tradition.
For the first time in over six decades, the captain would not meet the late Sheikh Saqr who had ruled RAK since 1948. Instead, he met his son Sheikh Saud, the new Ruler of RAK and his grandson Sheikh Mohammed, named as Crown Prince a few days ago.
The captain returned to the ship with the royal entourage for a lunch of duck on board the HMS Cumberland with Dominic Jermey, the British ambassador, and Guy Warrington, the British consul general in Dubai. For more than 10 years, invitations to Royal Navy dinners have been highly sought after by Western expatriates.
For the crew of the Cumberland, the visit to RAK will provide a few days rest. Two weeks ago, they were in Abu Dhabi for the Queen's visit and followed that with a training exercise with the UAE air force.
Commander Robert Pedre, Executive Officer of the Royal Navy and second in command on the HMS Cumberland said: "We're really privileged to have this opportunity to visit RAK
"A 21-gun salute is really an indication of the high esteem the British Royal Navy has for RAK and also as a mark of respect to HH Sheikh Saud and also we're very honoured to have HH Sheikh Mohammed come onboard today."
The sailors will swell the small expatriate community of RAK by joining a rowing competition. A few may even go jogging with the Hash House Harriers running club for some exercise. They will open their ship to 50 schoolchildren and participate against expatriates in a friendly football match, another longstanding tradition.
"It's a little part of the UK alongside the UAE," said Lt Greig Murray. "For the expatriate community, it shows them that the UK is out and about. It's a different element to our jobs."
It will be one of their last ports of call before a Christmas Day at sea somewhere in the Gulf.
There is no Facebook at sea, so sailors are hoping for letters and presents to arrive in the coming weeks. Cadbury Advent Calendars are already in evidence, most shipped from loved ones at home.
If not, there is always Father Christmas.
"We do a Secret Santa," said "Arthur" Daley, a ship's caterer. "In theory, everyone makes something. It's just one of our navy traditions, really. Makes the day happier."
Sailors will indulge in a Christmas lunch of roast turkey, roast potatoes, Yorkshire pudding and homemade mince pies, along with Christmas pudding.
"I will miss playing out with my daughter in the snow," said Edwin Elliot, 29, from Manchester. "It will just be a normal day. I'll have Christmas Day when I get home, in March."
A ship's details
Eleven ships have carried the name HMS Cumberland, the first commissioned in 1695.
The current HMS Cumberland, a Type 22 frigate, was launched on June 21, 1986, and commissioned on June 10, 1989.
The 148-metre ship has a displacement of 4,600 tonnes. It has two Rolls Royce Spey gas turbines and two Rolls Royce Tyne gas turbines and four diesel generators that provide four megatwatts of electricity to the ship's systems.
It has a crew of about about 285.
The Plymouth, England-based warship can engage targets on, above and below the water's surface with armaments that include:
- Harpoon surface-to-surface missiles.
- Seawolf missiles, which provide self-defence against air attack
- Stingray torpedoes, which can be launched from the ship's helicopter.
- Sea Skua anti-ship missiles.