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History of marine navigation and naval architecture has been impressive because of several reasons. We have learned about various aspects of ancient shipping, including instruments such as mercator charts, sextant, chronometer and magnetic compass for navigation in the earlier days. We have also learned about the construction of various boats such as skin boats, bark boats, cogs, and dugouts. In this article we will take up the subject of dhows or dhow ship and learn about their construction, design and history.
Dhows are ancient two-masted sailing boats that were used especially in the Middle East regions. Generally known as traditional Arab boats, dhows were used in the olden times for trading goods and fishing activities. Dhows were typically of three to five hundred tones in weight and had a slender hull design. Dhow ships are still used in many countries around the world, mostly those in the regions between Persian Gulf and East Africa.
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Construction of Dhows
Dhow ships are known as innovative sailing vessels that have a raised hull and a sharp pointed bow. Made from wood, dhows usually have minimum two triangular sails. Many dhows even have single large sail that not only facilitate easy sailing but also provide excellent power to the boat. These large sails are called lateens. The timber that was used in construction of these dhows was mainly Mahogany or Ekki, which is found in the forests of Africa.
However, dhow was famous for few salient features – one is the lateen and other is its stitched construction. For constructing dhows, the wooden planks were arranged and sewn together. The masts for sails were generally made out of teak and coconut wood. The earliest sails were made by weaving palm leaves together, however later on cotton was also used. Generally all the dhows used to have two pairs of sails - One for night and rough weather condition and other for daily use during daytime.
Though the dhow sails used to look triangular in shape they were in fact quadrilateral. Different types of sails were sewn according to the requirement of the dhow ship. In case of an application requiring more thrust, a less flat sail with fuller luff would be used. Moreover, as most of the dhows were Arabic boats, they used to have traditional designs carved at various places on the vessel, including the hull portion.
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Type of Dhows
It is said that though until now varied forms of dhows have been built throughout the world, dhows can only be classified into two main types -
Shu'ai is supposed to be known as the smallest of the dhows. Generally used for fishing activities, these boats had a stern area higher than the bow area.
Boum is also a form of dhow but was used for both fishing and commercial purposes during the ancient time. However, the structure of boum is quite different from other types of dhows. Boum has a stern that is tapering in shape and its overall structure is also more symmetrical.