The waves slap slowly across the keel of the boat as the wind begins to freshen, gently urging the boat into life. It’s a beautiful evening at the Corniche, and the traditional wooden dhow boats moored along the quayside seem more than a constantly bobbing reminder of ancient Bedouin times.
City dwellers and tourists alike continually gather here to board one of these vessels and cruise around Doha Bay. They love this relaxed way to see all the sights that the city has to offer from the tranquil comfort of a dhow, granting them a perfect and fresh viewpoint of the city of Doha from the different perspective of the water.
Mohammad Hasan, a young man who is passionately involved in this business, shares his experiences and knowledge of Dhow boat cruising.
Tell us about your journey?
My father started our business almost 30 years ago, and had to work hard and struggle a lot to build the business to where it is right now. I joined him in working for the business around eight years ago, and now we operate three boats – a big boat, and two smaller ones. We named the boats Nur al Ghamar, Nasim al Khalij and Al Ashik!
Do you own your own boats?
No, only Qataris can actually own boats here, so we work with the help of our Qatari sponsor. He owns the boats, and we pay him monthly fees for the usage.
How much do you pay your kafil?
We pay QR 6000 monthly for the big boat and QR 3000 monthly for each small boat. And I must point out that our kafeel is very reasonable and very supportive to our business.
Do you face any difficulties?
Our major challenge is that the business is primarily seasonal. Although we operate all year round, the majority of our business happens during the winter, particularly in the months of February and March. However, we love our work so much that we welcome customers and like to make them happy with a relaxed, beautiful sailing experience at any time of year.
Where are your customers from?
We receive customers from a wide range of different nationalities. Most of them are from Qatar, other Arabic nations, and India, but we also have many European and American clients. We are busy all week round, but our numbers are usually much higher at the weekend.
What are your profit margins like?
We earn approximately QR 300 to QR 500 per day, but at times of peak demand we often exceed this amount.
What are your staff numbers, and how much do you usually pay them?
Currently, we employ ten staff. We pay them on a sliding scale, according to the employee’s seniority and length of service. For example, we pay senior staff QR 1500 per month, and junior staff members start from QR 1000. They come from as far away as Nepal and Bangladesh. We are very aware and conscious of our employees’ rights. We provide free accommodation, transport and food to all members of staff.
Have you ever encountered any unexpected challenges whilst sailing?
Never! The sea is extremely calm where we operate, and traffic is light. Consequently, our trips are extremely safe, and we have never had an accident whilst sailing. In the unlikely event that we encounter any difficulties, the coast guard is always available for us to call upon, and they would support us by all means necessary. We can call them on 349, and they would be with us to give assistance in absolutely no time. Moreover, the coast guard always issues timely warnings if the weather forecast is too poor for us to head out.
What time do you head out, and when do you return?
We usually head out around 3 pm, and return our guests at approximately 1 am.
What is the most enjoyable aspect of your job?
For me, working on and around the sea is incredibly enjoyable and satisfying in itself. I have always loved the beach – the smell of the salty water, the fresh wind in my face, the gentle sound of the waves, all these factors combine to create a sense of peace and inner calm. And I love taking people around the island, I enjoy seeing the wonder on their faces as they see familiar views from a brand new, unfamiliar perspective. It is a kind of magic, and I enjoy providing it.
I also love the sense of freedom in our work. If we feel good, and are enjoying ourselves, we will work very long hours, and if we are not feeling so good, we can leave early. We all support one another, and if any one of us feels too unwell to work, we send them back home, and cover for one another. Our main aim is to have a great time, and not create pressure for ourselves at work. And to further enhance that satisfaction, we also offer our clients excellent refreshments, and fantastic memories to take home. I am inspired at work by all these things.
What are your rates?
Our rates vary depending upon numbers. A regular dhow tour, by which I mean a minimum four people sailing, would incur a fee of QR 20 per person. If more than four people sail together the rate would be QR 15 per person.
We also offer tours on an hourly basis, and these range between QR250-QR300. Our sailing tours are very popular for families who would, for example, undertake a longer tour to celebrate a birthday or any other kind of special occasion. These longer tours are particularly popular with clients from Arab and European countries.
How do you finance yourself, have you ever taken a loan?
No, we have never approached banks for loans. Our business has always been self-funded, through our own investment.
What are your plans for the future?
We are now at the stage in our business where the long years of hard work are starting to pay off, and we have the funds and the plans to increase our number of boats. Our ambition for our business is matched only by our desire for our customers’ happiness, a wish that is fulfilled every time we sail gently away into the Doha sunset.