Circumnavigating 'Noukhada' island, Abu Dhabi / by Crispin Thorold

"Man or whale?", asks Spencer the dog. (Photo Noukhada Adventure Company)

"Man or whale?", asks Spencer the dog. (Photo Noukhada Adventure Company)

Abu Dhabi, which is home for my family and I, is not known as a hub for channel swimmers.  The exception that proves the rule is the accomplished Indian channel swimmer, Rohan More, who is currently making light work of the Oceans Seven (5 channels in two years).  Rohan was previously based here in the capital of the UAE but did most of his training in a pool, spending several weeks ahead of his English Channel solo acclimatising in Dover harbour.   

Now, as I prepare for my solo attempts on the Rottnest Channel next month and the English Channel in July, I have been on the hunt for promising locations to get some time in the open water.  Happily Abu Dhabi, which is an island, is surrounded by all sorts of interesting places to enjoy open water swimming - including mangroves, many of which have pristine water, as well as tens of islands.  At this time of year the water is a clement 20ºC (68ºF).     

It is not though the safest of places to swim with jet skis and other motorised craft a real threat to swimmers.  So, I have teamed up with the fantastic people at the Noukhada Adventure Company, an eco-tourism and adventure business, to ensure that I can incorporate some longer open water swims into my training.  Over the coming weeks we are scheduled to circumnavigate several of the islands off Abu Dhabi, as we continue to plan a more ambitious swim in 2017.

'Noukhada' island 

'Noukhada' Island, off Yas Island, Abu Dhabi (Photo: Google Maps)

'Noukhada' Island, off Yas Island, Abu Dhabi (Photo: Google Maps)

This island is just off the shore of Yas Island, home to the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix circuit and a major tourist destination that is continually being developed.  

We set off in the early morning from Yas Beach as the sun began to rise.  Mark Freeman was at the helm multiskilling as kayaker, navigator, feeder and photographer (the last one, an unexpected bonus).  Keeping watch was Spencer his dog, who seemed bemused by the whale in the water that looked strangely like a man.  

The early stage of the swim was the long straight stretch up the far side of the island.  For me this was dominated by trying to find my stride in my first open water swim for more than six months.  My stroke was choppy and I found it tough to get a rhythm, but the surroundings more than made up for this.  I got a glimpse of some flamingos and the mangroves were blissfully peaceful.  After a feed and a bit, we turned the top corner of the island and started swimming down the shore of Yas Island.  

The swim home was far more comfortable and enjoyable, as I developed a good rhythm and pace. The scenery also changed more with Yas Links the first highlight on the left hand side, followed by the grandstands of the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix Circuit.  Towards the end of the swim the wind picked up a little and I was swimming into a very slight current.  All in all though it was a straight forward swim, which was a good return to the open water.  

Our next adventure outside the pool will be very different - a circumnavigation of Al Maryah Island, which is home to Abu Dhabi's financial district, as well as one of the city's glitziest malls.

'Noukhada' Island circumnavigation vital stats

  • 6.4KM
  • 1 hour 53 minutes
  • 15 January 2016, 07:30
  • Off Yas Island, Abu Dhabi, U.A.E.