High speed dhows which race for $US 1 million prize money. David Glenn reports 13/3/06

Just before leaving Auckland bound for the Dubai boat show, I paid a fleeting visit to Brett Bakewell-White’s design office just behind the famous HQ bar and restaurant on what used to be America’s Cup row in Auckland.

Brett, well known for some very inventive and fast mid-sized race boats plus Konica Minolta (launched as Zanna) one of the new breed of maxi speedsters, regaled me with a great yarn about visiting the United Arab Emirates.

He got a phone call one morning in Auckland from a man with a very thick Arab accent. “It came out of the blue and he wanted me to go to Abu Dhabi to help him design a dhow – I thought it was wind-up at first and was wracking my brain for who could be calling locally,” said Brett.

But he was soon on a plane and then in the UAE taking a look at 15 dhows literally being built on the beach. The prospective owner of a new dhow had been given Brett’s number and wanted him to optimise a new 44. “These boats are purely for racing,” explained Brett. With 22-footers, a 44 and a 60. They’ve all got carbon spars but they are carvel built using 8mm thick teak planking over sawn frames. He said that up to 100 60-footers could congregate on the straight-line, dragster style course.
Some of the performance numbers Brett came up with were extraordinary. A 44ft dhow, built as described, weighs in at just 710kg can be completed in just12 days.
“But the extraordinary thing is performance,” said Brett. “They’re like sailing a razor blade, completely un-ballasted but with 12 crew sitting on the side.”

Brett reported that in just 10 to 12 knots of breeze the dhows recorded a steady 13 knots and they topped out at 14.6. “When you think the average sail area for a 44ft IMS boat is about 110sq m and that these dhows set about 200sq m you can see how powerful they are,” he said.

Most of the sails are made of spinnaker nylon which stretches out of shape fairly quickly but Brett reported that more advanced sail technology is being employed and that Doyle sailmakers were in on the act. With US$ 1 million prize money at stake one can see why this might gradually turn into an arms war.