Another early morning as we approached Muscat, the capital city of Oman. Such is the humidity (95%), the difference in temperature between our air-conditioned Bridge and outside, the windows are covered in condensed water and we have to use the window-wipers to keep a modicum of clear view.
I am alternating the ‘navigator’ role between the Navigation officers for arrivals and departures and thus it is our 2nd officer, Arie, whose turn it is to dock the ship. We approach the harbour breakwaters and a tug wends its way out towards us, its purpose this morning is to carry the pilot to us.
He reaches the Bridge, a wizened old gentleman, his wrinkled face burned brown by the sun. He shows little interest as I explain the morning’s maneuver and we proceed into the small harbour and its turning basin; we are going to swing and back down towards the berth, it has been a long time since we went port-side alongside and we are taking the opportunity to hire a cherry-picker, (extendable crane) to replace some parts on our port bridge-wing searchlight and do a fresh-water wash-down of our hull, which is covered in sand and salt.
Arie swings and then backs down, using joystick, his first time on it and does an admirable job of bringing her alongside, my heart-rate increases not one jot. It is a busy day in Muscat’s harbour, 3 cruise ships, us, the Europa 2 and the Splendour of the Seas. Combined with that are 3 Iranian warships on a goodwill visit, 2 cargo ships and the ever-present Royal yacht, so large that it would do nicely as a cruise ship. Later, a U.S. warship arrives, the USS Sirocco, its berth is ‘boxed-in’ by containers as a security measure. Later, while on the shuttle bus, we pass the Iranian vessels and I notice that their close-range weapons are cleared and at-the-ready, full belts of ammunition in the breech.
After a de-brief of our docking and a scheduled drill, it is time for myself and this year’s ‘mob’, K1, K2 and Ivana, to board the provided shuttle-bus to town, the drop-off point being the Souk, (market), which does not bode well for me, however it should provide some photographic opportunities.
Sure enough, they do not manage to pass the first shop without visiting the interior, my worst fears are being realised and while I wait outside, I receive many humorous comments from passing guests. I am not alone, I see several men waiting in a similar fashion outside other stalls, them, like me, have the patience of Job. 😕
Nevertheless, going through the souk at an average of 1 shop every 2 minutes provides time for me to take some photos. The ‘mob’ is searching for head-wear for the evening’s ‘Arabian’ theme on board. At a loss for them to find anything suitable, I suggest a frying pan, a wok, a fake helmet and even a fez, brave of me I know and if looks could whither, I’m dead.
We spend an hour or two in the winding alleyways of the souk, the mobs shopping-list by no means complete, nevertheless they are carrying bags full of heaven knows what. Lunch beckons and we choose to go to a hotel which has been mentioned by several guests, the Al Bustan Palace, this lies on the coast, to the west of Muscat and involves a 20-minute taxi ride. We are fortunate to find a driver who not only speaks good English but has a wonderful sense of humour and knowledge of the area.
He takes us on a longer route with the intent of giving us some photo opportunities. The coastal belt of Muscat has parks, green grass, date palms; this strip of land is in stark contrast to a few yards inland, where the harsh, dry cliffs and mountains are barren, many of the higher points reveal forts or watch-towers.
The hotel is magnificent and, as its name implies was once a palace. We make our way to the beach-side restaurant, where we have a snack to tide us over, washed down, (in my case) by a cold beer. Replete, we return to the foyer, where our driver, who promised to be back at the appointed time, was waiting for us and we returned to the shuttle bus pick-up point for our journey back to the ship. Fortunately, there was a bus waiting, so no need to re-visit the souk, yes! 😎
Sailing time and while we worked, the guests were enjoying the ‘Arabian’ theme sailaway, complete with authentic belly dancer. The ladies made use of the decor before the party, just to practice of course.
Benito, another 2nd officer, took her out, no pilot boarded as he had asked, before he left in the morning, whether I required one for departure; no-brainer for that one and having left the berth and turned for the open sea, destination Salalah, another Omani port, 620 miles away by sea. I leave you with my remaining photos.