As we leave the shaded medieval alleys and magnificent Temple of Khnum in Esna behind us, Captain Mohamed unfurls the splendid sails of the Dahabeeya Abundance. Dahabeeyas need to be pulled by a strong tugboat when there is no wind. Captain Mohamed though is a traditionalist and a passionate sailor. He loves nothing better than to sail the Dahabeeya as it should be sailed: gliding majestically over the waters of the sparkling blue Nile, propelled by nothing but the wind in its own two huge sails.
It is a sight to see the wind filling up the canvas and pulling the boat along. There is a silence and an elegance to sailing that sparks a similar stillness inside of us… A quiet lassitude descends on the top deck as the beautiful banks of the Nile flow past… Green, luscious fields with diligent farmers working the small strip of fertile land next to the Nile against the backdrop of the desert mountains not far away, water buffalos, donkeys, goats and sheep grazing, village women washing clothes and children playing in the glistening waters and shouting enthusiastic hellos to us as we pass by in our ‘golden boat’ – the meaning of the name dahabeeya. We can do nothing other than just take it all in and raise our hands languidly to return the children’s energetic waves.
As Lady Lucie Duff-Gordon said about dahabeeya sailing mid-19th century in her book ‘Letters from Egypt’:
“Enjoy the luxury of doing absolutely nothing.
The luxury of doing absolutely nothing… That has become a coveted luxury indeed in our present times, but it is something we can tap into easily on the smoothly sailing Dahabeeya Abundance – everything is taken care of, there are no noisy engines, and all we need to do is lean back and give in to it all… The gentle breeze, a glass of mint tea, the lovely views, the sun caressing the Nile.
Whilst we start to relax, Captain Mohamed and his crew are working hard! Sailing a dahabeeya is no mean feat: the sails are not adjacent but apart, one at the bow and one at the stern. Since we are sailing upstream, he needs to take advantage of every bit of wind, and know every little eddy and sandbank in our mighty river. It is not an easy task, but one he loves with all his heart – just ask him.
Real dahabeeyas are old boats. They became popular when Victorian travelers like Lady Lucie started to explore the Nile – but in style, obviously. They converted these beautiful ships into their living quarters for their long voyages, with a salon with a grand piano, luxurious furnishings and a top deck with all the trappings where all meals were served and many hours of tranquil Nile-gazing took place. It is very easy to imagine ourselves in those days long past when we sail as lords and ladies ourselves on this vessel of luxurious abundance, in the highly capable and caring hands of Captain Mohamed and his crew.