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The classical charms of the wooden dhow-inspired superyacht fleet

HighLifeChannel April 3, 2023

What gulets are to Turkey and Croatia, dhows are to the United Arab Emirates. Wrought with tradition with builds dating back aeons – the dhows are an integral part of UAE culture and heritage and are still widely used today. This tradition has spurred on a strange phenomenon: wooden dhow-inspired superyachts.

 50m Full Custom wooden yacht

The first dhows that danced across the Red Sea and Indian Ocean were much thinner than they are today. Over the years they’ve stretched and expanded to offer more volume and more stability, but originally they were incredibly slender, packed with goods, darting from port to port.

Fisherman and pearl divers had different requirements and needed space to carry their equipment and daily catches. Importantly, they also needed space for more people. These beamier boats are a common sight across the UAE and many are so engorged, swallowing entire restaurants to offer fine dining experiences for hundreds of guests at any given cruise.

The wooden superyachts infuse the two traditions. “The DNA of these superyachts relate just as much to the original dhows as they do to the wide beam and voluminous modern ones,” Mahmoud Itani of IR Yachts told SuperYacht Times. “In this region, onboard space is really important as people want to go out with large groups of friends; usage is very different to Europe.”

“These yachts are hard to trace as they’re custom-built for individual clients and rarely go on the market – or to any shows, for that matter. “I’ve been attending and organising the Dubai International Boat Show for more than 10 years now, and I can’t remember ever seeing a single superyacht on display that was built out of wood,” Itani reflected.

Wooden yacht construction in UAE

It makes sense too, as these yachts are rarely – if ever – put up for charter, kept in private use away from the public eye. Boat Shows aren’t relevant for the shipyard’s marketing purposes either, as these wooden dhow-inspired superyachts are invariably single units and quite often the only one built and delivered by that particular shipyard.

“There are a few boat builders in the UAE that would build one of these yachts, but the design rarely comes from their in-house team. After meeting their own design team, the client will then approach a shipyard in either Al Jadaf or, more recently, Dubai maritime city,” Itani explained.

We believe there could be as many as 10 in and around the region, the largest of which is on the market listed with Bush&Noble. The unnamed 50-metre Full Custom wooden superyacht was delivered in 2020 and undertook a maintenance appointment last year, which included a complete repaint with a high gloss clear coat. She has a price tag just shy of $10,000,000.

Unlike the other wooden dhow-inspired superyachts, this 50-metre has a unique construction that utilises fibre and teak planks. She’s constructed with a teak hull and GRP superstructure, which has then been clad with teak for that traditional look and feel. Henderson Marine International designed and engineered her.

With a beam of 10.56, she’s a metre and a half wider than the average 50-metre motor yacht built after 2018. And once onboard it’s the first thing you notice. She’s cavernous and has been styled with the more familiar trappings, all sourced from Italy at “no expense spared,” as central agent Bush&Noble explain.

The main saloon is home to many seating areas for socialising, a breakfast bar, two screening areas and a formal dining area. She has six staterooms and can comfortably accommodate as many as 12 guests. She can also host five crew in five cabins.

When asked about the buying profile for this superyacht, Bret Noble of Bush&Noble  anticipates the most attention from Qatar. “There are many well-built traditional dhows in the region,” Noble explained. “Qatar is really the number one region for these boats. But they’re also not an uncommon sight in and around the UAE. The 50-metre Full Custom superyacht is unique though and interesting for the Australasian market.” 

The second largest known wooden superyacht is the 47.55-metre Tiger, delivered in 2009 and currently berthed in Abu Dhabi. Then there’s the 47.5-metre Al Adaam  and 47-metre Al Maqam both delivered in 2016.  

One of the earlier wooden superyachts to hit the water was Touch Wood II,  delivered in 2011 by the artisan shipyard  Saif Belgaizi Ship&Building & Carpentry, which typically builds traditional dhows and bespoke furniture. Touch Wood II  spans three decks, with an interior volume of 450 GT. She’s constructed from Indian teak.

Tiger in Dubai

Touch Wood II’s predecessor, the 37-metre Dijer  (ex. Touch Wood), was built at a different shipyard, Obtain Bin Juma Bin Suloon, the Guinness world record holder for building the largest wooden dhow. Dijer is believed to have been delivered in 2005 with a volume of 400 GT. “I’ve been onboard,” Itani said. “She’s pretty dark inside as even her interior is made of wood. But she’s very big and the guest areas are incredibly spacious.”

These yachts are also built to a different class – Tasneef, a local classification society –  that allows them to be built in a certain way. The owners have even more flexibility with their designs and can put further emphasis on the cabin and guest areas. “They’re also not powered by large MTU engines either,” Itani added. “They’re low power, low consumption vessels that are extremely quiet when underway.”

The three smallest are perhaps more dhow than yacht, but the list comprises 33.2-metre El Emadi , 31.2-metre Project B  and 30.35-metre Alaska, all built by Al Mannai in Doha, Qatar.


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