Ancient Dahabeahs Still Sail the Nile in Style.0
Dahabeahs, spelt seemingly in a dozen different ways, but named from the Arabic, still ply the River Nile in Egypt in small numbers today. These flat bottomed barge-like sailing boats have been around for hundreds of years. On the walls of Pharaonic tombs are pictures of craft that look remarkably similar. In Ancient times, the ancestors of dahabeahs sailed South with the predominant Northerly winds, ascending the Nile, trading with communities along the route. As the river flowed northwards towards its outlet in the Mediterranean, the return journey was aided by the river’s flow, even if it required tacking down and across the river constantly or using oars.
Dahabeahs are twin sailed, with one larger lateen sail at the front, and one smaller one at the rear. The rulers of Egypt in the Ottoman era used gilded dahabeah, and the name of the boat is derived from the Arabic for “gold”, dahabiyyah.
The arrival of steam powered boats spelt the end of the age of sail nearly everywhere in the world and Egypt proved no different in its response to the impact of the new era of fossil fuel. In the 1920’s and 1930’s the dahabeyahs enjoyed something of a revival as they were decked out for the rich and powerful of Egypt’s elite, and wealthy foreign travellers. They were built with an iron hull and deck, rather than of imported timber and equipped with a motor and luxurious cabins, bathrooms and had space for teams of servants. The motor allowed them to keep moving when there was no wind or return to the towns of the North without waiting for the current, paddling or tacking.
These wealthy travelers often rented the boats for several weeks at a time and gently sailed up river with the wind, stopping at temples, monuments and other sites of antiquity as they went. The river breeze helped to keep the temperature down and insects away from the boat.
The few remaining dahabeahs of today are almost exclusively designed for the tourist trade, although their smaller sister boats, the more common feluccas are still used by Egyptians for everyday trading and passenger transport up and down the Nile. Those people who visit Cairo, Aswan or Luxor and go for a day sail or, more likely, an evening sail up and down the river to watch the sunset, are much more likely to be on a felucca.
The modern dahabeahs, up to 40 metres long and six or seven metres wide are much more likely than before to be built out of beautifully crafted timbers. Most of these vessels have between four to ten cabins and begin their journeys in Luxor or Aswan and sail South to view the great monuments like the “Valleys of the Kings and Queens” or temple sites at places like Edfu, Kom Ombo and Philae.
Egypt, of course, would not really exist without the Nile. It has proved the dominant feature of every aspect of Egyptian life and culture throughout the ages, so a slow journey by sailing boat fashioned like those of antiquity is a fitting way to visit this country.
The dahabeahs are normally fitted out so that their top deck becomes the social and dining centre of the boat, with its views of the riverside communities and ability to catch the breeze. Passengers are normally accommodated in rows of cabins towards the bow of the boat on either side.
In keeping with their ancestral craft, these tourist oriented dahabeahs still sail South without the need to use their engine, unless the wind dies, but will also have back up generators to provide electricity for the cabins.
Tags: Egypt, journeys, Nile Sail Cruise Egypt Luxor Aswan, sailing, vessels