Traditional dhow, Baghlah, Further reading

Baghlah - the traditional deep-sea dhow Baghlah dhow- Baghlah a traditional deep-sea dhow was an ocean going vessel sister to the Ghanjah and Boom with a long and sometimes romantic history, still in use well into the 20C

This particular picture was painted for His Majesty Sultan Qaboos Bin Said, the Sultan of Oman’s private yacht.

Given these dhows operated for many centuries over a wide region there are many variations of name pronounciation, a few are  Bagala, Baghalah, Baghela, Bagla, & the simple sailor like, bag.

The image was licenced to Bloomsbury Books for a book cover in Arabic and in English.

The Corsair, book cover
The Corsair, book cover

The Corsair” became a best seller.

The Corsair, book cover (rear)
The Corsair, book cover (rear)
The Corsair, book cover (ISBN detail)
The Corsair, book cover (ISBN detail)

Baghala dhows were well adapted to Gulf waters because of their shallow draft, flat bottoms and maneuverability.
Their lateen sails, long stems, and sharp bows equipped them equally well for running before the monsoon winds of the Indian Ocean, while they could also easily take the ground up beaches and creeks to handle cargo.

As my painting shows, the baghlah type of dhow was much influenced by the designed of Portuguese Carracks and Caravels  which by the 16 th century were busy exploring the African coast, the Indian Ocean and horizons beyond.

Many Baglaha were built in Sur Oman although more were built in the Persian Gulf.
The Baglah’s usual dimensions were: Length 70 – 130 feet Weight 150 – 400 tons.

Dhow, by the way, is a term, thought by some to be of Swahili (African) origin.

Dhow is a general term, rather as the English might say ‘ship’ or ‘boat’

Dhow refers to several types of sailing vessels (now outfitted with motors) common to the Gulf Arab states.
Arabs refer to dhows by names specific for each type, just as the English distinguish between ship, schooner, brig, snow, brigantines etc

In the case of dhows the types are determined principally by size and hull design rather than as the English do, by rig.
Four kinds of dhows account for most of these vessels of which the Baglah despite its many variations of name, is but one.

The Baglah was a lateen-rigged sailing vessel with the mainsail considerably bigger than the mizzen and occasionally carrying a third mast, typically having a raised poop, transom stern with notably 5 stern windows on an arched carved transom reminiscent of European caravels and galleons, a raked stem, and one or two masts, used along the coasts of the Indian Ocean.


You could commission a similar painting.


Now bordering on extinct the Baglah was formerly an important deep-sea vessel.
Sometimes over 300 tons (272 metric tons) and with a crew of 15, it was built with a high, squared stern and poop deck influenced by the first European ships into the area, sixteenth- and seventeenth-century Portuguese vessels and carried 2 masts both Lateen rigged as shown in our painting.

Some western scholars have dismissed the people of Arabia as reluctant mariners.
This ignores the significant role played by the fleets of Kuwait, Bahrain, Oman and Yemen and Basrah which carried the trade and often the faith of Islam to Africa, India, the Far East, even to China for over a 1000 years.

Indigenous to the coasts of the Arabian Peninsula, India, and East Africa, the earliest dhows were almost certainly simple dugouts with teak planks sewn to their sides to form a hull.
Gradually larger vessels would have evolved.
A keel was introduced, to which planking was sewn, later tree nailed.
Shell-built construction differed from the European frame-first method, in which planking was attached to ribbing however large ships were built by this method in Europe (see Zeven Provinciën“, Royal Netherlands Navy).
Shell-building allows shipwrights to create a vessel one plank at a time.

Almost since time immemorial, for sure as far back as King Solomon of Israel, large wooden ships have sailed the Indian Ocean and Arab seas.
Without archaeological evidence, so far Gordon Frickers doesn’t know of any ancient wreck of a vessel indigenous to the Persian Gulf or Indian Ocean that has ever been found.
Oman has been a seafaring nation at least as far back as the 8th century when an Omani vessel was reported to have reached Canton in China.
The traditional large dhow, also popularly known as Al Boum, Al Ghanjah, Shu’i, Al Badan, etc. were used in trading and warfare, being strong enough to  weather storms and reach ports in Iran, India, South-East Asia and way down the African coast
By the eighth century Arab fleets of such ships were part of a commercial maritime network unequaled in the east or superseded until the Europeans entered these waters.

Copyright 2017:

Copyright fees and our Terms are among the most generous on the Internet, don’t hesitate to ask for details by email, whatsapp, or phone+ 44 (0)1865 52 2435 M: + 33 (0)6 10 66 19 26

Gordon Frickers ©  02.03.2012 updated 14,01,16, 18.04.2017