Abras on Dubai Creek
Abras provided the only convenient way to cross Dubai Creek prior to Al Maktoum Bridge opening. Engineless Abras, each rowed by solitary local boatman, carried around six people at a leisurely pace from one side of Dubai Creek to the other. With the introduction of diesel engine powered Abra in 1960s, these larger, faster and noisier Abras began replacing Rowing Abras. Creek development provided purpose built Abra Stations in 1980s leading to Rowing Abras finally disappearing from Dubai Creek.
Rowing Abras were small wooden boats made using traditional materials and building methods. Capable of carrying around six passengers and the Boatman, these Abras had no "creature comforts" although a rudimentary sunshade was provided against the summer sun. Boarding an Abra was never easy. With no purpose built Abra Stations back then, passengers had to scramble over rocks on Dubai Creek's embankment, then carefully step onto this small, potentially unstable, Abra. Passengers boarded one by one as a result!
The Boatman used two simple oars made from tree branches and wooden planks tied by rope to the end of the tree branch. Placing one foot against a deck beam, the Boatmen then pushed against this beam to lever short quick rowing strokes propelling the Abra sedately through the water. Progress was never fast.
Boatmen were all older local Arabs, usually thin and wiry with muscles as a taut as piano wire. Tide, current and wind affected their progress so there was never a direct course from one side of the Creek to the other. Battling tide, current and wind meant rowing either up or down the Creek to either beat the weather or take advantage of it to eventually arrive at the opposite side of Dubai Creek.
In the late 1960 and 70s, Dubai Creek was a Working Creek servicing Dubai's newly discovered and developing offshore oil fields. Boatmen had to be very strong and fearless as they faced tugs towing huge barges, small sea freighters and the many dhows moving up and down Dubai Creek. These hard working Boatmen took you where you wanted to go and waited for you to return - if you were returning soon and if you asked that is!