Arabian Gulf Pearl Diver

Arabian Gulf Pearl Diver - The Old Man & the Sea

His hands are hardened, pitted on the palm. On their back, dark bruising appears where his blood vessels aren't as strong as they used to be. But then, after 80 years of living, savouring life, Ali Mattar Humaid Al Shamsi's body is bound to show a bit of wear and tear ? just the slightest.

He is like an old boat ? still sea-worthy but creaking in a few places. And if anyone knows a thing about boats, it is Al Shamsi.

He has been hand-building teak rowing skiffs for racing since he was 15. Hundreds of them.

Most are still cutting through the waves of the Arabian Gulf as swift and as keen as the day each of them hit the briny, shining water.

They are solid and strong, works of wooden art, each skiff now skilfully crafted in a dusty workshop built in Al Shamsi's garden in northern Ajman.

Al Shamsi is the last of his ilk, still building boats, still following the direction shown by the late Shaikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan.

"The late Shaikh Zayed asked us to build these race boats all over the UAE, from Abu Dhabi down to Ras Al Khaimah," Al Shamsi says through a translator, his Khaleej-accented Arabic almost singing as he recalls with reverence the founder of the UAE. "He started the idea and made the suggestion," he continues. "That was more than 50 years ago."

"We have a saying in Arabic that means that the eyes of a person are his scales," Al Shamsi says. "I was 16 years old when I started pearl-diving. Sixty years ago, people used to leave the country to work in Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Kuwait and other places. It was around the Second World War. Then we returned home and started making boats of different sizes. This is our work now."

According to Al Shamsi, he is the last of the old skiff builders in the UAE.

"They have all passed away," he says with a heavy heart. "They all have sons, but they did not pass the vocation on to them.

"However, there is one person, Shattaf. He still makes boats and his sons have treaded the same road. He works in Ajman."
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