Emirates Sailing School keeps UAE nationals in touch with their maritime tradition.

The UAE has a rich maritime tradition. From pearling to fishing and trading to sailing, the people have thrived on the treasures of the ocean.

Abdul Rahman/Gulf News
ESS promotes modern sailing and offers a range of marine activities to UAE nationals.

The sea remains, but maritime traditions have taken a backseat, giving way to spiralling economic growth, thanks to the discovery of oil. But one school based in Abu Dhabi has not forgotten its roots and is striving to bring the past into the present, with a contemporary twist.

Enter the Emirates Sailing School (ESS), an institution that promotes modern sailing and offers a range of marine activities to UAE nationals, enabling them to reach international standards and represent their country in the world of modern sailing. The ESS thrives under the umbrella of the Emirates Heritage Club (EHC).

Something for everyone

Aptly located on Al Samaliah Island, the ESS offers a wide range of activities for nationals of all ages wishing to deepen their connection to the ocean, strengthen their athletic abilities and represent their country abroad.

While the focus of the school is mainly on the sailing of boats such as the Optimist, Topper, Laser and Laser-II, the ESS also trains nationals in other water sports like windsurfing, swimming, diving, kayaking and even sand yachting for those who prefer the comfort of dry land.

"Our students learn the rules, the confidence, the cooperation and the team work involved in sailing," explains Abdullah Mohammad Al Obaidly, director of ESS.

"Through the teaching of sailing, you can learn a lot of things. Traditional dhow sailing is part of our culture and heritage. We are trying to assemble some of the best sailors in this field to teach today's youth the tricks of this magnificent sport."

The ESS provides students with world-class teaching standards as it collaborates with international sailing schools, academies and organisations. Instructors of the highest credentials are brought in to train UAE nationals, so they can compete at international levels and, in turn, become instructors themselves.

Andrew Nutton, the ESS' chief instructor, joined the school six months ago from the United Kingdom. An avid sailor, Nutton earlier worked for the UK Sailing Academy where he was a professional instructor. At the ESS, Nutton also trains the Laser team.

"I set up and run all of the activities and staff. I make sure all health and safety regulations are in place and that everything is running smoothly," he explains. "We are training young nationals to get to Royal Yacht Association (RYA) levels."

Students of the ESS are progressing fast and reaching levels they could hardly have imagined when they started off. Ammar Al Marzogi joined the ESS at the tender age of 13 having started off with the Optimist boat, the best beginner's boat. Currently on the Laser team, Ammar, now 17, has qualified for the assistant coach position.

"Three years ago, I would have never imagined being an assistant coach," he says. "Every one of us got to places that we would have never believed."

Omran and Erfan Al Hashimi, 17-year-old twins, also started their journey with the ESS at a young age. "I joined at the same time as my brother. We were 11 years old," explains Erfan. "We went to the club once and we had a lot of fun. Afterwards, they gave us a call, we tried out, trained and eventually got on the Laser team. It's amazing fun."

When asked why sailing is important to them, Omran reflects on his roots. "It's important to hold on to your traditions," he explains.

"We have our own traditional sail and we have modern sailing. With modern sailing, you're holding on to your tradition in a different way."

Ammar agrees that it is important to keep sailing a part of life in the UAE. "Sailing is an important Olympic sport, but it is also fading out from the minds of kids," he says.

"If we bring in modern sailing to children, they will remember the heritage of our country and enjoy the advantages of modern sailing. Also, they get to experience what their ancestors used to do."

Only 10 years ago, little was being done to promote marine sports in the UAE. However, in 1998 came the opening of the Abu Dhabi International Marine Sports Club (ADIMSC), a gift from Shaikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan to the youth of the UAE, to ensure that suitable training facilities were available to them.

International competition

Today, the UAE has its own sailing team and members of the ESS travel to Bahrain, Qatar, the UK and Italy, among other countries, to compete in international championships. "We are members of the International Sailing Federation (ISAF)," explains Al Obaidly. "Almost half of our team is from the Abu Dhabi club."

From humble beginnings, the ESS is shooting for the moon, and with good reason.

"We believe we are natural sailors, it is part of our tradition and culture," adds Al Obaidly. "Why not participate in the Olympics? Norway has won for its sailing skills, why can't we?"

From the land of the sea and time- honoured seafarers, I don't see any reason why not.

ESS facts

  • Located on Al Samaliah Island near Al Raha Beach, 25 km from the centre of Abu Dhabi and an hour's drive from Dubai.
  • Total number of students during summer activities between June 4 and July 27: 900
  • Nine instructors, both part-time and full-time, national and expatriate.
  • Open to UAE nationals of all ages, although it is preferable for children to be over 7.
  • It is/has been involved in competitions such as National Day Regatta, Emirates Open Regatta, Al Samaliah Modern Sailing Open Regatta and Dubai Modern Sailing Open Regatta.