Legends abound about Sinbad the Sailor, but the people of Sur will tell you that Sinbad came from there hundreds of years ago. Certainly the boats he would have sailed in have been built there for centuries and still are today. Sur has a strong history of ship building and was the gateway for trade with East Africa up until the building of the Suez Canal. We visited the only remaining dhow building factory in Sur on a fine, warm morning when the sun was glistening on the waters of the Gulf of Oman. In the showroom were intricate, commemorative models of special dhows that have been built there.
We ventured into the outdoor factory to see the labourers busily working on different stages of two dhows which were being constructed for members of the Saudi Royal family. We were able to wander for as long as we wanted around the factory area and view the unique construction methods being used to form the curved shapes of the hulls of the boats. Holes are drilled in the large planks with hand drills and then they are joined together with huge nails. In the past ropes made from coconut fibre were used to lash the timbers of the boat together and many traditional sailors believed that they were stronger than nails.
In the guest lounge we leaned against Omani style cushions drinking strong Turkish coffee from tiny cups and eating dates while the work continued around us. The smell of freshly cut timber filled the air as did the sounds of the workers going about the business of constructing these elegant vessels. As we left the factory an Omani dhow sailed into view and it was easy to imagine Sinbad standing on the deck.