Friday, 26 February 2016

Old Muscat Harbour and naval ships names

Muscat Harbour Entrance
Hi It's been a long time again .
The Inner Harbour at Night
Left side of Harbour Entrance

A bit over a week ago I took a trainer from the WCO on a tour of Muscat, just so he could see a little bit of the place. This is a regular tour that I do with guests and new arrivals, one of the stops is old Muscat Harbour, which I generally try to get to around dusk, as that is when the harbour is at its most picturesque. This time however we went in late afternoon, which led to me commissioning myself to go and do a photo shoot of the harbour, in particular the ship names painted on the rocky cliffs surrounding the harbour.

Right side of harbour entrance, showing Relume and others

Now Muscat is an old harbour, and in fact no longer functions as such, not even as an anchorage. The entrance of the harbour and the inner harbour are protected by well maintained forts dating back to the Portuguese occupation of 1507 to 1650's. At the base of the inner harbour is the Ceremonial Palace - Al Alam Palace which was built by the current Sultan in 1972. Mind you there had apparently been a palace at the site for at least 200 years. But I suspect in reality for much longer than that.

The outer harbour entrance is protected by a series of small forts and gun emplacements. Sufficient I would think to deter all but the most persistent intruders. The inner harbour and palace site are protected by the twin forts of Al Mirani and Al Jalali. These were built during the Portuguese occupation,remain in good repair and are garrisoned by the Royal Guard. The nearby Muscat Gate museum has some interesting dioramas showing the development of Muscat over the centuries (Perhaps even millenia) and the Portuguese invasion and dispossession. Unfortunately the Muscat Gate Museum is only open during Ministry hours.

That's enough history.

The Inner Harbour from the outer harbour
AL Alam (The Flag) Palace
It was a thing for visiting naval ships crew to paint their ship names on the harbour cliffs. There are ship names dating back to the late 1800's, through to the 1970's, "strangely enough" just after the building of Al Alam palace, which is now surrounded by various court and Government buildings, there is no sign now of what would have been a bustling port. When I first went to Muscat Harbour (4 years ago) I seem to recall the paint marks were much bolder, but with the passage of time and the fact that more rain is falling on Muscat these days the names are somewhat more faded and it is quite difficult now to make out many of the ship names. Brought on by climate changing methinks.

One of my work colleagues once told me that when he was a child, growing up in Oman rain would come once every ten or so years. However the rains are coming more and more often, which I can support in my brief time here, it seems that there is more rain each year and more greenery seems to be surviving summers. Which is pretty remarkable as for half the year temperatures are around 45, peaking around or even above 50.

Anyway back to the ship names. Today I made the trek to Muscat Harbour - something around 45 K's or so with my camera in tow.... out came the big lens and many photo's followed. I tried to get all the markings on record, but even with the big lens and cropping in on the photo's many are just too degraded to read. I have a recollection of taking a similar series just after we arrived, but can't find them.

Can you see patrickstewart?
HMS Teazer, note the years
Anyway the from the markings and a little digging, where I could identify the ship name against a date things seemed to plausibly match up, including, where stated, deployments that would have conceivably seen the ships visiting Muscat. Most of the ships I could identify were from the British Royal Navy, but there are also American, New Zealand and Dutch vessels. Some of the inscriptions seem to be latter inclusions of names. An interesting one is the inscription "patrickstewart irl", couldn't find out if that was a reference to a vessel or a famous Irishman - and no sorry to disappoint you trekkies out there I think the last of the inscriptions pre-date Captain Picard!

Amongst the early ships named are the Relume, Falmouth, Teazer and Perseus. The sole American ship I could identify is the USS Isla De Luzon. This was a Spanish ship launched in 1887, that fought in the 1898 Battle of Manila Bay, during the Spanish American war. It was damaged, scuttled and burnt during the battle and later refloated, refitted and commissioned by the Americans. It visited Muscat harbour in 1902, when in transit from the Asiatic station to the United States. This was when her name was painted on the cliffs, since then American sailors have periodically refreshed the paint.

Isla De Luzon and others

Of course if I actually spent some time on this............
And then why doesn't Blogger display posts they way they're laid out in drafting mode?

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