x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Maritime past still holds its currency

The Dh20 note, initially expected to go out of print, has become one of the more popular bills in the UAE, in part because it reminds people of the sea.

DUBAI // Twenty dirhams may not take you as far as it used to, but the Dh20 note's design takes us on a journey as long as the country's history.

On the front is a building that became one of the first in a series of instantly recognisable UAE buildings, that housing the Dubai Creek Golf and Yacht Club.

Flip the note over and the building's inspiration becomes instantly apparent, with an image of a traditional dhow in full sail.

Brian Johnson, the man behind the club's unique design with its striking, sail-like-roofs, never leaves home without a Dh20 note in his pocket.

"When I run out of business cards I just hand out a Dh20 note," says the British architect, whose design won an international competition in 1990.

"It seemed an ideal opportunity to celebrate the timeless link between Dubai and the sea by designing a building that evoked the lateen sails of the traditional dhows."

Living in Dubai since 1975, Mr Johnson, 61, has been a witness to the great changes in Dubai.

"It is interesting that a building designed 20 years ago is still regarded as one of the symbols of modern Dubai," he says.

Mustafa Al Hashimi, the manager of the golf and yacht club, sees poetry in the Dh20 note, which was released in 1998, five years after the club was opened on one of the original marinas that shaped the country.

"I believe the Dh20 note is capturing our move from the past to the present, a sort of a poetic transition from the traditional sail to where we are now," Mr Al Hashimi says.

In a special booklet provided by the UAE Central Bank, the "hidden" beauties within the Dh20 note are explained.

"When the note is held against direct light, the watermark, in the form of a falcon's head, is seen in the left hand side on the front of the paper, as well as in the right hand side of the back of the paper," the booklet states.

There are several security features, including red and blue fibres that shine brightly in ultraviolet light.

Then there is the print of a falcon printed in silver in the top centre on the front of a note.

The club has been expanding since it first appeared on the note, adding a golf academy, six restaurants, a Park Hyatt Hotel and villas. The marina part provides protected moorings for vessels up to 165 foot, and a boat-repair facility.

"We move with the times and needs," says Mr Al Hashimi, who plays golf and introduced this non-traditional Emirati sport to his wife. He also convinced 10 of his cousins to play.

"Golf is no longer limited to the wealthy few," he says. "That image has changed and now everyone from all walks of life play it."

A few people still depend on the traditional dhow, or sama'a, preferring it to any new boat.

"When you are out on a real dhow, made of real wood, you can feel it dance with the mood of the sea as everything is from nature," says Ahmed Obeid, 62, a fisherman from Khor Fakkan.

Mr Obeid says there was a time when everyone depended on various kinds of dhows and what they could bring from the sea.

"We got everything from the sea - the pearls, the fish and even some medicines from certain types of seaweed," he says.

The Sharjah Maritime Museum displays one of the most impressive arrays of dhows, along with information on how they are made, their history and their future.

Visitors can see the tools used to make the different shaped hulls and the characteristic large triangular sails, known as lateen.

The dhow and the different shades of blue on the Dh20 note remind sailors of the sea, and for that reason many seamen tend to be especially fond of it.

"I love the Dh20 note," says Mr Obeid. "It is my favourite. It is like Dh2,000 to me because it has a dhow on it."

rghazal@thenational.ae