SINGAPORE // A replica of a ninth-century sailing dhow built to retrace an ancient trade route from Oman to the Far East completed its journey yesterday when it berthed in Singapore. The 18-metre Jewel of Muscat arrived at Keppel Bay Marina, where its captain and crew of 17 were welcomed by the blast of horns from docked boats, and performances by Omani and Singaporean musicians and dancers.
The 3,800km journey had taken nearly five months. The dhow sailed from Qantab, near Muscat, where it was made by Omani shipbuilders using traditional methods. The 50-tonne vessel was officially handed over to the Singaporean president, SR Nathan, by Sayyid Harib bin Thuwainy Al Said, representing the Sultan of Oman. Saleh al Jabri, the captain of the Jewel, said: "It is wonderful to be in Singapore at last. This ship has been our kitchen and our cradle, our office and our classroom.
"Our lives have depended on her in the most adverse weather conditions, in tossing seas and in driving winds. She has not failed us. For the crew, this voyage has forged unforeseen relationships to our past. Perhaps more importantly, it has produced unbreakable relationships among us here in the present. "We had Omanis and Italians, Indians, Australians, Sri Lankans, Singaporeans, Malaysians and British, among others. The voyage and this ship have brought about much growth in all the boys, and in myself.
"I hope the Jewel will remain a living example of the values of friendship and co-operation between nations and people." The voyage was sponsored by both countries. The idea for it came after the accidental discovery by fishermen, in 1998, of the wreck of a ship that went down off Sumatra, Indonesia, in the ninth century. Around 60,000 pieces of Chinese porcelain were recovered when the wreck was excavated. The pieces, which were bought by Singapore, became known as the Tang Treasures.
The replica dhow was built without nails. Its planks were sewn together, watertight, with coconut fibre. The crew lived as they would have in the ninth century, sleeping on bunks and using the same galley and toilet facilities. They ate mainly dates, dried fish and rice. The journey was made using ancient navigational methods, including Al Khamal - determining the latitude of the celestial bodies to measure distances.
The dhow stopped off in southern India, Sri Lanka and the Malaysian island of Penang en route. George Yeo, the Singaporean foreign minister, said: "We doff our hats to the courage and skill of Captain Saleh and his crew, who travelled with no engines but only the monsoons behind them. "Friendly navies provided security. When the main masts were found to be cracked in Galle, two big teak trees were felled so that new masts could be fashioned."
Yusuf bin Alawi bin Abdullah, Oman's foreign minister, said: "This heroic and courageous deed brings to mind the noble seafaring heritage of Oman." The dhow is to be exhibited alongside the Tang Treasures in Singapore's new museum of maritime history, when it opens next year. @Email:firstname.lastname@example.org