Dubai Creek Raft Race 1971
Dubai's Annual Raft Race was one of the Oldest Events in Dubai, an event held for more than 35 years. Originally run on Dubai Creek the concept was simple. Dubai Community entered Teams of 2 or more people. Each Team built their Raft from empty 45 Gallon Oil Drums, Timber and Rope on the banks of Dubai Creek. Next day, Teams raced their Rafts on Dubai Creek over a set course. Race Rules initially prohibited any welding of the oil drums but permitted later. Eventually all rafts were welded often with oil drums shaped to improve performance. Racing became very competitive.
How Dubai's Raft Race started
The first Dubai Creek Raft Race was organised by me (Steve Camm), Robin White and David Aitecheson, members of the Dubai Motor Club (Dubai's first but little known Motor Sport Club). I must be honest but I do not remember why we organised the first raft race. I remember it was a lot of fun but made no money! The demise of the Dubai Motor club left a gap. I was often asked about another Raft Race. Later I joined the newly formed Dubai Creek Football Club and suggested the Club organise the Raft Race. We did so yearly with moderate success until 1974 when Dubai's first colour TV station was built. A local businessman donated a 14inch Sony Colour TV Set as a raffle prize. That year Dubai Creek Football Club made 90,000 Dirhams from the event! We moved the event to the new Mina Seyahi to attract more people.
Steve Camm (Dubai Resident 1969-78)
Dubai Creek Raft Race Course
Start of racing coincided with the tide change so no strong currents to battle against. Start/Finish Line was a line in the Creekside sand. At flag fall, Crews carried their rafts across the Start Line into the Creek, jumped onto their raft and raced to the first buoy, then up Dubai Creek to round another buoy and back towards Start/Finish line. There they jumped off their raft, picked it up and carried it across the Finish Line. Race Official judged which Team crossed the line first. His decision was final! There was a series of Heats then a Final
Dubai Police, Construction Companies, Sports Clubs and Dubai's Expatriate Community entered Teams. Some took the Race seriously, others took a more relaxed approach! It was as much a social occasion as a sporting event with Dubai Expatriates of all Nationalities and Dubaians coming to watch. Each year the competition became more fierce as more Teams entered. Dubai Police and the Construction Companies had dedicated Teams training full time for the Raft Race. They had manpower to do this. Honour and glory of winning meant a lot to these organisations and their Teams. Dubai Police soon became the Team to beat - they rarely lost!
Raft Race grew in popularity and size. Organising the event became increasingly difficult. Any organisational delay meant the had Tide turned and Teams were battling strong currents. Exhausted Teams often had to be rescued and towed ashore by the safety boat. Spectators grew in number. Road access was non existent. Access was over desert sand and in the early 1970s people did not have 4WDs to get across the sand. Better parking and spectator facilities were needed.
In 1979 Dubai Raft Race moved to newly built Mina Seyahi which provided a sheltered harbour, easy access and space for spectators and facilities. The Race it grew into a major annual entertainment event attracting Corporate Sponsorship and larger crowds from Dubai's increasing population. From humble beginnings on Dubai Creek, Dubai's Raft Race became as a major annual Dubai Entertainment Event.
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Race started onshore. Rafters had to carry their Rafts into Dubai Creek
Races were round a set course and timed to coincide with slack water at the turn of the tide to make rowing easier.
Crowd was a mix of all nationalities as were the Raft Teams
After completing the race circuit, Rafters carried their Rafts across the Finish Line - a line drawn in the sand!
The Finish!! Note the Race Referee on right with his Clip Board. Steve Camm (Race Organiser) to Referee's right.
Relaxing after a Race! Dredger deepening Dubai Creek in the background. Dubai Airport is on the horizon.