With more than 1300km of coastline, the Arabian Gulf is a popular spot for sailing. Entrenched in the region's history, sailing facilitated the development of early maritime trade routes when traditional wooden dhow boats would sail as far as East Africa, exporting local dates, pearls and mangrove wood. Today, sailing is as much a leisure pursuit as an industry.
During winter, weather conditions are ideal, with minimal tides and predictable winds. This adrenalin-fuelled sport of sailing is one of the most exciting ways to explore the region's striking shoreline.
With a population comprising approximately 80 to 90% expats, sailing is also helping to bring multicultural communities together in the UAE. Dubai Offshore Sailing Club (DOSC), a non-profit organisation run by volunteers, gives sailors of all origins and skill levels the opportunity to crew sailboats and compete in races.
Team Lavazza, just one of the crews in Division 1 of the Keelboat Commodores Cup, has 20 members hailing from 15 different countries.
"Different countries mean different backgrounds. Because of different climates, philosophies and cultures, we all learn from each other here," says Team Lavazza captain and professional pilot Bernardo Landavoure. "And there's a big common denominator here: we all love sailing."
Founded in 1974, the DOSC has grown to more than 700 members today. Its facilities include a marina with 152 berths and a clubhouse. In addition to a calendar of regattas and other racing events, it offers sailing courses.
"It's very active," says Team Lavazza crew member Werner Leppan. "We've got everything from Tuesday night social sailing to dinghies. We've got people starting at five years old, learning in the small optimists [sail boats] right up to retirees. Sailing is something that anybody from all walks of life can do."
Werner Leppan points out that while most of those sailing in Dubai are hobbyists, the sport is still highly competitive.
"We do take things very seriously, especially in Division One," he says. "We don't always come out on top, but we're normally one of the top finishers. We push pretty hard, and we get there."
From short-course racing in the Dubai Duty-Free Sailing League to the 10-day Dubai to Muscat Offshore Race, DOSC stages a host of races throughout the year. The most fiercely contested is the DOSC Commodores Cup, running from September to May, comprising eight to ten rounds. It's during these intensely competitive events that the greatest bonds are formed between crew members.
"We have people from all over the world. Being on a boat, you have times when there's a bit less wind and you can talk," says fellow Team Lavazza crew member Fredric Penizzutti. "Other times, in competition, you have no time to talk. You have to work and you have to work together, sometimes in extreme conditions. That's where you really get to know people."