Under Sail in Zighy Bay, Oman


My travel companion bursts into my cabin with an evangelical look on his face. He’s had what he describes as “as close to a religious experience as it gets”.

First, some context. We are on board Dhahab, a three-storey wooden dhow recently acquired by Oman’s sexiest beach hotel, Six Senses Zighy Bay. We’re moored in a tiny horseshoe bay in the northernmost reaches of the Gulf of Oman, miles from civilisation.

A few hours earlier, I’d left my pal bobbing about on a speedboat, fishing rod in hand, with instructions to bring back something for supper. Feeling faint from the heat (temperatures exceed 40 degrees in September), I’d returned to the mothership for an air-conditioned lie-down. So, according to his testament, this is what I missed…

First of all, I missed the sunset. No ordinary sunset, no. An epic sunset, the likes of which are unlikely ever to be repeated: a milky riot of glowing pinks, peaches and saffrons exploding on the horizon like an empyrean end-of-days event. Then, once the crazy-precipitous Al Hajar mountains had faded out, my friend and his merry crew were plunged into a ravishing inky blackness, the kind you only get when there is zero light pollution. Beers in hand, they revved up the engine and ploughed back towards Dhahab (with an icebox of grouper, trevally and snapper fish in tow).

Suddenly – and this is where it gets really good – the water around the stern of the boat lights up as if floodlights had been switched on, but this tiny fishing vessel had no such sophisticated lighting system. What they were witnessing was in fact nature’s most elusive subterranean display: bioluminescence. That’s what I missed.

Cut back to the interior of my cabin. “That is entirely unfair!” I squealed, “I’ve always wanted to see bioluminescence.” Moments later, I was clambering upstairs and calling out to the crew: “Don’t put the speedboat to bed…We’re going back out!”

This story serves to highlight several things. Number one: what a remarkable voyage Dhahab provides. Number two: the extraordinary lengths to which the crew will go to ensure passengers have a good time. And number three: in no uncertain terms; you snooze, you lose.

Cruising around the jagged inlets of the Musandam peninsula, Dhahab is available for two-night, three-day charters. So long as she hits her daily navigational targets (little-known coves such as Haffa, Sanat, Lima, Khor Kabahl and Khor Habaleen), your time is entirely yours to play with: For fishing. For snorkelling. For diving down into coral-encrusted chambers. For lounging around listening to Coldplay at volumes that should never be allowed. Or indeed for chasing bioluminescence.

I spent most of my time padding up and down the superyacht’s sleek decks marvelling at the otherworldly scenery and fantasising about circumnavigating the globe. Should you ever do such a thing, you’d want to do it on a yacht like this, that’s for sure. A fully restored traditional Omani dhow, Dhahab is a masterpiece in seafaring design. Measuring 27 metres and sporting a mix of navy canvas, dark polished wood and cappuccino-coloured daybeds, everything is hand-crafted and elegantly rigged to reflect Arabian voyages of old. Two twin rooms and a master bedroom sit below deck (room for six) fitted out in the same rugged luxury of the guest villas at Six Senses Zighy Bay – think thatched-palm ceilings, rope-framed mirrors and burnished copper washbasins.

The parallels don’t stop there. Dhahab comes with a team of five, including the captain (who doubles as the ship’s DJ), chef, butler, two crew boys and, should you require it, spa therapists. Beds are turned down, fresh iced-tea is made on the hour, there’s someone to help you into your flippers – and crucially out of them – and when it comes to meal times, four-course Arabian feasts are laid out with such lavishness, you’ll forget you’re at sea altogether.

Factor in the alien barren scenery, the sea urchins the size of pouffes, the silently falling shooting stars, and a complete absence of WiFi or phone signal for the duration of the cruise, and one could easily find oneself entirely adrift from the real world. Astronauts speak of an ‘overview effect’; a type of cognitive shift experienced when viewing the Earth from orbit, and on board Dhahab, a similar thing happens. I found myself staring at the horizon questioning whether life at home really existed at all, and if it did – or didn’t – did it really matter anyway? What a profound thrill.

Two-night cruises on the Six Senses Dhahab start from £16,290. Virgin Atlantic (virginatlantic.com) flies from London to Dubai from £359. For more information, visit www.sixsenses.com.