Al Maqta Fort

We are on a tear!  3 posts in a week!!

As promised, this next entry is about two of my favorite old buildings in Abu Dhabi – the Al Maqta Fort and watchtower.

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They sit prominently at the water’s edge overlooking the Khor al Maqta (Maqta channel). With it’s crenulated (called tarbushes in Arabic) fort and tower, mangrove wood beams, and plaster structure, it is one of the few important buildings left from when Abu Dhabi was a small fishing village.  This next shot was taken by Wilfred Thesiger, a British explorer who crossed the Empty Quarter two times.  This was taken when he came to Abu Dhabi in the early 1950’s.

taken by Wilfred Thesiger

taken by Wilfred Thesiger

The 200 plus year old fort and watchtower guarded the shallow ford across the water and protected the village from bandits and raiders. It is a beautiful reminder of the indigenous architecture from the gulf region that is largely neglected.

The design elements of the buildings are typical for an important fort at that time. Overall, the fort consists of a low rectangular block with windows and square niches in the wall above the windows. A highly ornamented gateway door leads into this block of rooms. At the corner overlooking the water, an attached tower finishes the composition and is topped with a small dome.

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An open balcony is on the north side of the tower, providing shade and cooler temperatures to the inhabitants of the fort.DSC_9140

The walls are most likely made from clay bricks and hand covered with a layer of plaster. Little or no wall ornamentation is common for a fort from this era.   The tower and entry doorway are the most elaborate elements within the fort complex. The tarbushes around the top of the fort’s tower are decorative yet also hide a lowered floor for a man to stand on. The rows of rectangular openings were most likely used by the guards to shoot approaching raiders from protected positions. (from Qasr al Husn by Reem Tariq el Muwalli)

To me, the exterior gateway door is the most beautiful piece of work at the fort.

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It has 4 intricately carved panels per door with 4 rows of nail heads. The nail heads are called “…finjan, which resembles the shape of an inverted Arabic coffee cup.” (from Qasr al Husn by Reem Tariq el Muwalli) It calls to mind the beautiful Omani doors so popular among expats.

 

Sadly, the fort is now engulfed by roads, bridges and construction sites. It is never open to the public and seems to be viewed as an after thought along the highway. Maybe one day it will be open and we can all get out on the balcony and appreciate the view.DSC_9138DSC_9118

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Random photos – catching up!

As you all know, we hadn’t posted in quite some time before we wrote about the Sheikh Zayed bridge.  I am finally going through photos we have taken over this past year and there are some fun ones we would like to share.

We continue to love our apartment and it’s location.  We never tire of sitting on our balcony, watching the birds, the sunsets and parade of interesting people.

misty buildings in the early morning

misty buildings in the early morning

sunset along our corniche

sunset along our corniche

my friend Lisa with George

my friend Lisa with George

 

flowers on the balcony

flowers on the balcony

Along the road beside our apartment complex, we saw this house beautifully decorated for days.  When we asked, we were told that when an Emirati woman is to be married, her house is decorated in lights for 4 days before the wedding and 3 days afterwards.  It is such a happy, celebratory sight for all!

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We still have been able to do a huge variety of things we wouldn’t normally do at home.  Such as going to the Formula 1, which is a HUGE deal here.  We are able to sit in seats given to Tim by one of the sponsor’s of the event – Mubadala.  The seats were great!  And the food inside was even better.

The starting line for Formula 1

The starting line for Formula 1

The scene at the Viceroy Hotel for Formula 1

The scene at the Viceroy Hotel for Formula 1

 

the LOUD cars whizzing by..We did get free and very good champagne though

the LOUD cars whizzing by..We did get free and very good champagne though

I went to an art exhibition at the Saadiyat al Manarat gallery called, “Seeing with Light”.  My favorite part of the show was a room which was made from glass panels and a glass walkway over water.  The lights inside the room changed colors and reflected the changing colors on the water and glass.

one stage of color

one stage of color

as the colors changed

as the colors changed

and then again

and then again

I continue to be amazed by the wide variety of people and things for sale here.

a cobbler who fixed Tim's hiking boots.  Could be in Pakistan!

a cobbler who fixed Tim’s hiking boots. Could be in Pakistan!

A shoe store of course

A shoe store of course

They do love their blingy shoes

They do love their blingy shoes

 

Who said a shayla had to be black?

Who said a shayla had to be black?

Global village is huge shopping/carnival event that is in Dubai and is open from October – March.  It features big pavilions of goods from countries all over the world.  You can buy honey in the Oman building; woven baskets from the African building, plastic junk from the China building, cotton pj’s from the Egyptian building – you get the idea.  At night, the scene takes on a summer carnival feel with balloons for sale, groups performing on the stage…it is quite fun.

Global Village at night

Global Village at night

no real comment here...

no real comment here..

clothes anyone?  Where would you wear this?

clothes anyone? Where would you wear this?

And finally, Liz and Noble came to visit us in October and we had a great time with them.  A highlight was our visit out to Qasr al Sarab for a weekend.  We can never tire of the views from the rooms and general peacefulness of being in the desert.  While there, we went on a jeep ride into the desert out to the border with Saudi Arabia.  We learned that water is found between two sets of sand dunes.  The downward pressure from weight of the sand creates these pockets of brackish water.  The green is from minerals in the salt.  It was quite an amazing thing to see out in the vastness of the sand.

Noble in the salt flats

Noble in the salt flats

water anyone?

water anyone?

It was very salty but if you were desperate, it might due

It was very salty but if you were desperate, it might d0

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Sheikh Zayed Bridge

Sheikh Zayed bridge

Hello again, after a long break for this blog.   We’re going to share with you our thoughts about buildings and places we enjoy here in Abu Dhabi. Most people that haven’t come to Abu Dhabi think of it as a place with big, splashy buildings like Dubai – and there are some of those — but there are also more subtle gems that stand out.

Today we will highlight the Sheikh Zayad bridge, designed by Iraqi born and Pritzker prize winning architect, Zaha Hadid, and completed in 2010.

Zaha Hadid

The name Abu Dhabi applies to several things: Abu Dhabi is one of the seven Emirates; it is the capital city of the Emirate and the UAE; and it is the name of the island on which most of the city sits.   The eastern edge of Abu Dhabi island is currently linked to the mainland by 3 bridges… the Maqta bridge, the Mussafah bridge and most recently the Sheikh Zayed bridge.

AloftMap3 When Abu Dhabi was first settled in the mid- to late 1800’s, the center of the city was at the western (bottom left) edge of the island. Historically, the oasis town of Al Ain to the east on the UAE/Oman border was the center of the Emirate since it had natural fresh water and was the home to the founder and ruler of the UAE. Therefore in the beginning of the UAE, traffic primarily moved between Abu Dhabi and Al Ain. The first bridge was built near the site of a ford in the middle of the island.shangri-la-hotel-qaryat-al-beri-abu-dhabi-map

As Dubai rose in prominence, the connections between Dubai and Abu Dhabi became more important and the road between the two became heavily traveled. Getting on to the island of Abu Dhabi from Dubai was difficult and very time consuming with only the Maqta and Mussafah bridges. So, the idea of a third bridge on the direct route to and from Dubai was conceived. This new bridge was named for Sheikh Zayed, the founder of the UAE, and work began in 1997.

Unlike the first two bridges, which are traditional, functional spans, the Sheikh Zayed Bridge is a work of art.

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Three arches of varying lengths and heights support the roadway, which spans the Maqta channel. Hadid said she drew inspiration from the dunes and wind patterns found in the desert, and this is clearly reflected in the undulating, ribbon-like forms.

While the bridge waves across the water in the daytime, it becomes truly alive and dances at night as a result of ever-changing lighting projected on all facets of the bridge. The play of reds, blues, greens and purples accenting the curves and counter-curves highlights the design and emphasizes its motion. The beauty of the asymmetrically proportioned arches is brought into focus.

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It’s play of color also calls to mind the changing of color on the nearby Grand Mosque, where the lighting color changes daily to reflect the current phase of the moon.

The very modernity of the bridge’s structure stands in strong contrast to the two hundred year old watch tower for the Maqta fort at the site of the Maqta ford, which we will discuss next.

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A Taste of Turkey

Turkey is our new favorite country. A few weeks ago Tim had two staff meetings scheduled in Istanbul and spouses were invited to come.  With my term completed at NYIT, I was free to join him.   And with the Prophet’s Ascension holiday at the end of the week, we took advantage of being in Turkey after the meetings and chartered a 39-foot sailboat for a 3-day sail along the coast.

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Two highlights in Istanbul for me were a day-long photographic class and a visit to Orhan Pamuk’s Museum of Innocence.

 

I hired a former National Geographic photographer from Istanbul for my photography class. Prior to our session, I emailed him my thoughts about what I wanted to learn and some of my photographs to show him the kinds of things I was interested in. It was a day filled with looking at reflections, finding repeating patterns in walls and shadows, chatting and drinking tea with herb and vegetable vendors, exploring back streets and narrow alleys, and becoming more comfortable with the settings and adjustments I can make with my camera.   Here are a some of my favorite shots from the day…sorry there are so many!  It was hard to choose, so please indulge me. :)

bay windows

bay windows

 

reflections

reflections

more reflections

more reflections

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vegetable sellers

tea with some vegetable vendors

on the streets of Istanbul

on the streets of Istanbul

at a bronze foundry

at a bronze foundry

molten bronze being poured into molds

molten bronze being poured into molds

Exploring the Museum of Innocence was like entering a world of miniature paintings embued with love, regret, memory and the passage of time. You become enveloped in this alternate world.   Each display case in the museum highlights salient features of a chapter in Pamuk’s book “The Museum of Innocence.”  I went based on a recommendation from some friends and can’t wait to read the book.

 

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A particularly poignant display contains 4 years of Sibel’s (the lost lover) cigarette stubs taken by Kemal (the protagonist) and then meticulously arranged with a description of the date and circumstances in which the cigarette was smoked.

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In an excerpt from the book, Kemal describes bringing the stubs to his lips and feeling the connection to Sibel’s mouth.

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By mid-day on Friday, Tim was finished with his meetings and we flew to Gocek to pick up our boat.  As chance would have it, we had friends from the Abu Dhabi sailing club who were having work done on their boat in Gocek, so we had dinner aboard their yacht Lily when we arrived.

with Ron and Ineke on Lily

with Ron and Ineke on Lily

The Mediterranean coast of Turkey reminds us of the Caribbean but with fewer people, bluer water and many archeological ruins.   It is similar to the BVI in that you have good winds and can see any obstructions and therefore have straightforward and relaxed sailing.

aboard I Feel Good!

aboard I Feel Good!

the harbor where we picked up our boat

the harbor where we picked up our boat

our first anchorage in Salasara

“I Feel Good” in our first anchorage in Sarasala

our boat at mooring - stern to land...a first for us

our boat in the anchoarge – stern to land…a first for us

We were lucky enough to see a school of dolphins playing the second morning as we sailed over to the island of Gemiler. Gemiler is an isolated, tiny island, yet has ruins from four Christian churches from the 5th -7th centuries AD. One wonders about the people living and worshiping on the island so far from other communities. I loved seeing the contrast of the rock arches and vaults against the clear blue waters.

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Later that day, we sailed on to Cold Water Bay and saw the ruins of a Greek village abandoned in the 1920’s. After WWI, the Greeks who were living on Turkish soil were forced to move to Greece. None of the local Turks wanted to move into the homes of their neighbors, so the buildings were left to fall into ruins.

an overview of the abandoned village

an overview of the abandoned village

 

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wall in ruins

wall in ruins

We loved the coast, the small rocky harbors, the lovely water to swim in and the delicious fresh fish dinners. We can’t wait to return.

 

Cold Water Harbor

Cold Water Harbor

On an Abu Dhabi note, I was struck by a painting I saw recently at an exhibition at the Emirates Palace. The painting (below) is of 12 women in very colorful hijabs (head scarf) and niqabs (the cloth covering their mouths and noses).   Only their eyes are showing.

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My friend and I realized that despite having so few clues as to indicate who these women were and what they looked like, we could tell if they were confident by the tilt of their head and the directness of their gaze. We could determine that they were shy by their location standing behind another woman with only one eye showing. We could see who was happy by the shape and glint of their eyes. We even thought one woman looked as though she could be quite fashionable underneath all that fabric due to the shape and lift of her eyebrows. We both had similar opinions about the personalities behind the coverings and realized how much we had learned.

 

9 DAYS UNTIL I RETURN TO THE US!!!

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The 5-Dive Trip

The Maldives have beckoned us ever since we completed our PADI dive course earlier this year. The lure of colorful fish and warm waters drew us to plan a spring break vacation to the coral atolls. From Abu Dhabi, it was a short 4- hour trip and we knew that from the US, it was a place we might never have visited.

 

At about 3 degrees north of the equator, the water and air were a wonderful 29 C/ 84 F.  It also meant that the sun set fast around 6:30pm followed by brilliant stars lighting up the night sky.

Map of Maldives - our hotel was on South Male Atoll

Map of Maldives – our hotel was on South Male Atoll

 

The diving was everything we hoped for. The dive boat was equipped with many people to help prep our equipment, serve us fruit snacks between dives, provide cold fragrant towels after the diving was finished and even be our personal photographer. We are forever spoiled.

getting briefed

getting briefed

my new facebook picture!

my new facebook picture!

here I go!

here I go!

Tim too

Tim too

Our PADI dive instructor, Giorgia, was knowledgable about the fish and gave us the right amount of help and information.  Since we had her to ourselves, we could swim and watch fish at our own, very slow pace.  We got NITROX certified while there, which means we can use air with a higher concentration of oxygen and less nitrogen resulting in more potential diving time.

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And then the fish and the coral! The coral looked like pillars of crayon shavings with every color in the 128-Crayola crayon box. We don’t have an underwater camera, so we downloaded images of a few of our favorite fish and experiences.

 

The clown fish swimming in the sea anemones were endlessly fascinating.  Sea anemones come in all colors – purple (no wonder I liked them!), blue, or pink bases that attach to the rock or coral and finger-like tentacles coming from the body with bulbs or bubbles at the end.

Sea-anemone with clown fish

Sea-anemone with clown fish

The clown fish and anemones have a symbiotic relationship. The clown fish is an active and defensive fish which keeps predators from coming too close to the sea anemone and its’ stinging tentacles. Because the clown fish has mucus on its body, it is protected from the stings. The clown fish is able to eat smaller fish and other organisms that are caught within the body of the sea anemone and therefore helps to keep the anemone clean.   At one point one anemone was closed and about 5 clown fish were rubbing and swimming against the opening, trying to get it to open.

 

Another great experience was seeing 11 eagle rays swim in formation over our heads at the surface.

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We were holding on to rocks at the bottom at about 45 feet keeping ourselves in place against a very strong current. Our location was a depression in the ocean floor where the currents were less strong and a good place for big fish like the rays and sharks to come rest.   We watched as these huge rays glided in the currents, and then all of a sudden, they started to dive underwater and play together. They rolled and bumped into each other and then pulsed back into their places above.  A bit later we saw several five foot white tipped sharks hover in the area and I wished I were an invisible tiny fish.

 

The resort was beautiful. Each ”villa” sat on pilings over the water. From the rear porches, you could jump immediately into the water and swim to adjacent islands and spits of land.   The clear water over white sand and coral produced every hue of blue imaginable.  The complex was really 4 islands linked by pontoon boats which made it easy to go to one of the other  islands to play tennis, meet the dive boat or eat at a different restaurant.

The boat landing and entry to the resort

The boat landing and entry to the resort

The welcome dummer

The welcome drummer

 

view from our rear porch

view from our rear porch

shower - often you could see fish swimming by as you showered!  Talk about an inside/outside shower

shower – often you could see fish swimming by as you showered! Talk about an inside/outside shower

view from our front door overlooking the boat landing

view from our front door overlooking the boat landing

outside for breakfast!

outside for breakfast!

room decorations from the "house boy"

room decorations from the “house boy”

is this paradise or what?

is this paradise or what?

We feel lucky to have experienced such a place.

 

our arrival at the speed boat taking us out to Veli

our arrival at the speed boat taking us out to Veli

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Camping on Dalma Island

Since the time we first came to Abu Dhabi for our househunting trip over a year ago, we have wanted to go camping in the desert. Carine, who helped us find our apartment, told us of the many nights she and her family had spent out in the desert enjoying star-filled skies and campfires.  With those images in our heads, we made sure to pack our tent and sleeping bags.

Once here, we realized that with the heat and vagaries of the desert landscape, we first wanted to go on an organized trip to learn the lay of the land.  The Emirates Natural History Group, of which we are members, advertised a trip that worked with our schedule.  It was to Dalma Island….not quite the desert, but an island  of historical importance.  We jumped at the chance.   Map of Dalma Island

Our camping experience has been limited to either backpacking, where every ounce counts, or having our main bags driven for us from B&B to B&B, so we were novices to “car camping”.  In planning for the trip, we realized that we could bring things like chairs and coffee pots, and would not have to sit in the sand drinking instant coffee.  We borrowed gear from friends and, in observing others on the trip, were introduced to a range of items that can make car camping an almost luxurious experience. While we slept on 20 year old hiking pads, other couples had cots or full-sized air mattresses!

our tent on the beach

our tent on the beach

 

our camp spot

our camp spot

We drove three hours to the ferry landing for Dalma Island and then discovered that the normal ferry was broken. After negotiations from the leaders of our group and several hours of waiting, our group secured spots on a private ferry.

Delma 2 - our ride

Delma 2 – our ride

Of course George was the source of many conversations and many curious stares.  He gave us the chance to talk with people working at the ferry landing and waiting to get out to island.

George, the source of endless conversations

George

While the ferry itself was an old landing craft, seemingly from WWII, the food was terrific.  Instead of chips and candy bars, chicken birani was the main menu item.

Chicken birani, ie  chicken and rice with good spices

Chicken birani, ie chicken and rice with good spices

I asked for hot tea and the guy looked quizzically at me.  So, I scoured my brain for the one sentence I knew in Arabic and asked for chai har ma halib …translation – hot tea with milk.  I had learned how to ask bedun sucar (without sugar) and forgot to say that, so of course my tea came with sugar.

cars in rows on the ferry

cars in rows on the ferry

Dalma Island was quite a surprise to us.   It is about 45 kilometers off the mainland and was once an important stop off point for ships. With its supply of fresh water and iron ore and proximity to large pearl beds, in it’s heyday, it had a population of over 15,000 people.  Now with the jobs that come from Abu Dhabi’s oil on the mainland, the depletion of the water supply, and the advent of cultured pearls, the population is down to about 6,000 residents.

 

There still are farms with goats, camels and sheep.

farms

farms

Mommy and baby

Mommy and baby

The land was rocky and dry with volcanic outcroppings.

a barren landscape

a barren landscape

 

 

 

 

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a close up of the roiling rock

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In dry “wadis” or creek beds, the last rains had left a river of dark minerals full of sparkling mica chips.

a mica river

a mica river

We climbed to the highest point around and got a text message from the phone service in Qatar, welcoming us there.

at the top!

at the top!

On the day of our arrival, our group visited the 100 year old Al Murayhki house, which once served as the pearl trading and negotiation center and is now a museum about the island.

the entrance to the pearl trading house

the entrance to the pearl trading house

our group

our group

We also saw the mosque which was the center of the old village. Inside the mosque were two wells with leather buckets.  We learned that Dalma Island is named for the well buckets – “Dal” means bucket and “Ma” means water.   We enjoyed the trip and appreciate the added cultural experiences that are part of a trip with the Emirates Natural History Group.

 

And in a digression, we have another chapter of the “small world Abu Dhabi” story.  Tim recently solved a dinner theater murder mystery at the Club and won the “One Heck of a Detective” award.

trophy and certificate

trophy and certificate

He feels somewhat badly that he competed against amateurs without revealing his professional experience at the Custer Detective Agency.  We were told to come dressed in funeral attire and Anne, the woman in the middle of the picture, made the women’s hats which are called Fascinators.  The base of our delights was a plastic top used to close a margarine or yoghurt container.  They were the talk of the room.

Detectives at table #5

Detectives at table #5

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One Year!

Our year anniversary here in Abu Dhabi has come and gone and we have slowly adapted to the rhythms of the Middle East.  The evening call to prayer, Isha, now sounds hauntingly beautiful to me.  Seeing men and women in traditional dress no longer shocks and prompts me to stare.  I am now seeing faces and expressions rather than something unknowable.  The green light highlighting the mosques and minarets in the evening still seems eerie, but learning that Muslims equate the color green with paradise makes me think a bit differently about the evening color.

Mosque at night

Mosque at night

Trying new things and getting better at existing activities continue to be our mantra.

Teaching at the university level is still new and challenging – now at the New York Institute of Technology.

Notice how Emirates park - if you don't want to walk, just back on the curb or sidewalk!

Notice how Emirati students park – if you don’t want to walk, just park on the curb or sidewalk!

This semester I teach two courses – the Philosophy of Design and Working Drawings.  I spend hours looking at buildings, reading architectural theory, absorbing the connections among cubist paintings, Picasso and Le Corbusier.  I love the learning that goes into teaching and then transferring those ideas to the students.  I have become better at teaching, now that I am in my 3rd semester.  I ask more questions, get the students to actually look at the buildings and plans and have them express opinions.  It is fun.

final presentations at school

final presentations at school

Tim and I took and completed a PADI diving course and now are certified to dive!  We went on our training dives in February and though it is a warm country, the water was quite cold.  Even with 2 wet suits on of 3 millimeters each, I was frozen and exhausted at the end of our training.  We have a vacation planned during my spring vacation to the Maldives to do some diving and relaxing.  I certainly hope I won’t need two wetsuits for that!  We will send lots of pictures.

recognize the two on the right??

recognize the two on the right??

It's kind of scarey!

It’s kind of scarey!

Tennis continues to be something I love to play.  I am now on a team that has matches against other local teams.  Last night I played a doubles match against the Sheika team at Sheikh Mohammed bin Khalid Al Nahyan’s palace, the crown prince of Abu Dhabi.  The palace complex is on the water with  pavilions overlooking the water; rows of urns filled with fragrant petunias; and parrots chirping in the date palm trees.  You can’t take pictures inside but I took some pictures of the front gate to give a taste of what is inside.

front gate

front gate

fencing like none you have seen before!

fencing like none you have seen before!

My partner and I played against two women, one of whom is named Sheika Shaika.  Shaika can be the name for woman in addition to a title.  Sheika Shaika had an entourage of Sarah, a German/British scheduler in stilettos and very blond, full hair; a Filipina nanny dressed in white; and 3 Filipina women who served as our ball girls.  To be on their personal court in this amazing setting made it hard for us to concentrate, but we managed to win 6-2; 6-3.

Another photo I have is from earlier in the year at the horse races.

at the races

at the races

Racing is a huge deal here and there are weekly races during the season.  You don’t bet (or at least we have no idea how to bet).  This is me with some guys on the in-field figuring out the winners.

Also, Tim crewed in a Farr 30 one design race around Lulu Island, which his boat won.  The boat was surrounded by media as they came down the last leg of the race with Tim flying the spinnaker.

the winners of the Lulu Island race!

the winners of the Lulu Island race!

We continue to marvel at one is able to do here.

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