ABU DHABI // The fishermen of Abu Dhabi who venture out to the deep sea at this time of the year count themselves blessed when their boats return safely.
"The most dangerous thing over the sea is the strong winds, and we are afraid of capsizing when towering waves throw our dhows," says Maggan Bhai Tandle, an Abu Dhabi fisherman for 25 years.
"Sometimes it reaches up to 30 knots and more."
And with the seasonal tides and currents, fog and poor visibility, falling into the sea often means the end.
"It would sweep the body miles away in minutes," Mr Tandle says.
Fishermen at Mina Zayed say there were several deaths last year when men fell overboard and drowned, but still they gallantly launch their dhows to return with fresh fish.
Supporting them is the Abu Dhabi Fishermen's Cooperative Society, which keeps its members posted about unsettled conditions through weather warnings. It has more than 400 members, or 95 per cent of the active fishermen in the emirate.
But the society's diligence means little if the fishermen have no proper safety plans in place.
"During low visibility and foggy weather conditions, particularly during the night and early morning, we deploy two persons in the front and two in the back to watch closely [for] any approaching ship," Mr Tandle says.
"When the weather begins to deteriorate and the visibility level worsens, we immediately anchor the ship or sail towards the nearby islands."
His ship takes shelter at Das and Zarko islands. When it cannot dock, it anchors.
Mr Tandle says he is lucky that he has "never met any tragic incident".
"But we encountered bad situations when the engine of the boat stopped functioning," he says.
"We go deep in the sea around 100 miles offshore where hardly any help can reach in time.
"When the engine stops working, we swim [under] the ship and remove the ropes, wires and plastic stuck to the fan."
Such situations can often arise. Mr Tandle says that in the deep sea, a fisherman must be defiant and a good swimmer. He should be ready to face any kind of challenge, be it from weather, fish or boat engine.
Champak, a fisherman who has lived in Abu Dhabi for a decade, says, "We don't have much problem from the low visibility and foggy weather as we remain cautious and stop the ship. But the biggest problem is the strong winds."
The waves can be several metres high, and the boat gets tossed around as if it were made of paper.
"Then we feel frightened," Champak says.
Fog is more dense at sea and visibility is often reduced to zero. When that happens, the fishermen just wait it out.
The heads of the traditional wooden fishing dhows are popularly known at the mina fish market as nakhuda, a Persian word meaning master of the vessel.
The dhows leave their berths at either 4am or 8pm each day to catch shari or hammour. Both are popular in the emirate.
Almost all of the nakhudas in Abu Dhabi are Indians from Gujarat state.
They have four-men crew from the same region. The catch is divided evenly - half for the crew and half for the dhow owner.
A typical outing would bring in a catch worth between Dh15,000 and Dh25,000, depending on the condition of the nets and, of course, the weather.
A ship leaves dock three to four times a month during the winter months, and spends four to five days at sea. In summer, they only sail twice a month.
Each trip brings its own adventure. The crew takes food for a month in case of emergencies.
Mr Tandle says sometimes they see creatures - whales and sharks - bigger than the boat.
The crew takes care to avoid them so they do not attack. It would be easy for them to overturn the boat if provoked.
Champak says the evenings are spent mending nets for the next trip.
It is not unusual to take more than 100 nets on an outing as they are easily damaged by big fish.
But one net is always intact - the safety net provided by the fishermen's co-op.
"During the winter seasons fishing in the sea is a very risky and dangerous job and we keep fishermen warned about weather conditions," says Ali Al Mansouri, general manager of the society.
"The most dangerous thing is strong winds, which could catapult the dhow. Sometimes winds reach up to 30 to 40 knots.
"If the weather is unsettled we always we advise them not to sail."