Swimming Al Maryah Island / by Crispin Thorold

Spot the swimmer - in front of the Galleria Mall (Photo: Noukhada Adventure Company)

Spot the swimmer - in front of the Galleria Mall (Photo: Noukhada Adventure Company)

The manmade Al Maryah Island is part of the changing face of Abu Dhabi - created in the last couple of decades, the island has been transformed in the past five years as it is developed into the city’s central business district. 

Construction continues but Maryah is already home to some distinctive landmarks including the Cleveland Clinic, a world-class hospital with a breathtaking, modern building, and the Galleria Mall, which in a city of chichi shopping sets a new standard for luxury and excess.

Maryah is also the first inner-city island of Abu Dhabi that I wanted to swim.  I chose to kick off with this island because it is one of the smallest and also since it has relatively quiet waterways.

The plan

Once again the good folk at the Noukhada Adventure Company, supported the swim. Our research started with a recce by kayak last week - when we concluded that the best starting point would be just before a construction bridge on the Abu Dhabi side of Maryah (the northernmost bridge on the west of the island).  

Al Maryah Island, Abu Dhabi (Photo: Google Maps)

Al Maryah Island, Abu Dhabi (Photo: Google Maps)

From there we would swim anticlockwise past the Galleria and the Cleveland Clinic to the southern tip of the island, turning for the long haul along the channel between Maryah and Reem islands.  This would leave a short swim around the top before turning for the final stretch of around a kilometre.  The theory was that this would mean a tough start against the tide, but a ripping swim down the eastern channel (with a 3-4 knots assist).

The reality

Like so many well-made plans it didn’t quite work out as intended.  We had carried out our recce a couple of hours after high tide, exactly the same time in the tidal cycle when we intended to swim.  However, strong winds last week meant it was too rough for the kayaks and we had to reschedule by a week.

So in the end we left 3.5 hours after low tide and as a result much of the swim was pretty hard going.  It started well enough and the initial kilometre or two was fun - the water was reasonably clean and I was lifted by the sunshine, as well as the architecture of the Galleria Mall and the Cleveland Clinic.  There was also a gentle tidal current that helped me along.  

The channel from hell - between Maryah and Reem islands (Photo: Noukhada Adventure Company)

The channel from hell - between Maryah and Reem islands (Photo: Noukhada Adventure Company)

However, once we turned the corner the swim became much tougher.  For the whole of the channel between Reem and Maryah islands I swam into a current - at times this was 0.5-1 knot strong, but by time we reached the north of the island it was anywhere from 1.5-2.5 knots (depending on which crew member you asked).  Once I had rounded the northern tip of the island I found the short swim back to the construction bridge straight-forward, with the slack water a welcome change. 

A hard slog

Team Maryah

Team Maryah

After the pleasure of swimming in the mangroves off Yas Island a few weeks ago I found this swim pretty tough.  Unsurprisingly the water was not as clean and the long swim into the tide meant a slow time for this distance, despite pretty strong swimming (albeit by my relatively poor standards).

A final word of thanks to a great crew - Mark kayaked the whole way around with me, with Cliff and Andy on a powerboat nearby.  Mark had thought it all through carefully and I appreciated the addition of the boat to assist in spotting other traffic, and also to act as a rescue boat if I got into trouble.  

A top team!

 

Al-Maryah Island circumnavigation vital stats

  • 6.1KM
  • 2 hours 11 minutes
  • 19-20°C
  • 6 February 2016, 07:45
  • Off Abu Dhabi Island, Abu Dhabi, U.A.E.