Abu Dhabi

Two fun-seeking boaters use their Sea Ray to explore a glittering Middle Eastern playground.

The city is the ultimate Cinderella story. In the late 1950s, the massive discovery of offshore oil reserves transformed the capital of the United Arab Emirates into a luxury boomtown. Today, the prosperity brought by rising oil prices is most obvious along Abu Dhabi’s turquoise coast, where the harbors gleam with boats before five-star hotels and modern skyscrapers.

Yet, despite the new glass slippers, this charmer’s storied history still lingers. On nearby Sir Bani Yas Island—once a royal hunting preserve—Arabian Oryx and cheetahs prowl. Valleys that grew crops for centuries abut the Rub al Khali, a vast desert quarter with dunes hundreds of feet high. This sand stretches near what was once the cradle of civilization into Saudi Arabia, Yemen and beyond. While some cities battle their roots, Abu Dhabi seems to have found its equilibrium—at ease with both its agrarian, tribal past and bespoke-suit present.

“Abu Dhabi is perfect for watersports, which I basically live for.”

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A confident waterside city embracing modern marvels seems to be the perfect fit for a Sea Ray. British-born Sara Douglas has been enjoying her 2014 190 Sport here for the last two years, exploring the islands of the UAE and boating with friends. Sara is a music teacher and just renewed her contract for a third year in this little slice of Middle Eastern paradise. “I love the country,” she says. “It has so much to offer, and there are always lots of things going on. Abu Dhabi is perfect for watersports, which I basically live for.”

When we caught up with Sara, her good friend James Lissiman, a private superyacht chef and avid boater, was in town to join her for a day on the water. The two jetsetters became close on a kitesurfing trip to Mui Ne in Vietnam a while back and enjoy sports together whenever they can.

“I have been around boats all my life, and I’m very impressed with Sara’s Sea Ray,” James says. “The design is very intelligent and user-friendly. The storage is great, too, and it’s clear the build quality is to a very high level.” Despite a recent sandstorm that made for an overcast day, the two set off to cruise by Emirates Palace, a landmark hotel showcasing Arabian architecture along the coast. Rumor has it that the top-most floor has six suites outfitted in marble and gold reserved only for royalty. With luck, perhaps a future kitesurfing run will afford them an airborne glimpse of the legendary rooms.

Sara has always loved the water, and her 190 gives her an opportunity to practice the many sports she enjoys. “I have always wakeboarded, monoskied and surfed,” she says. “And recently I took up kitesurfing. I spend all my free time in the water and travel around the world chasing the wind during school holidays.” While none of her family currently lives in Abu Dhabi, Sara has formed many new friendships with work colleagues and beyond, whom she calls her “family” here. “We all do everything together and support one another,” she says.

And going out on Sara’s Sea Ray in the waters surrounding Abu Dhabi is the icing on the cake. “My friends love to wakeboard, kite and hang out on the boat, especially as the water is generally nice and warm year-round.” The sea around Abu Dhabi is very calm with tons of flat-water channels perfect for wakeboarding, and the high temperatures mean the water is always warm if a boater wants to go for a dip.

After seeing other boaters enjoying their Sea Rays around the city’s many harbors, Sara decided she needed to get a piece of the action. She visited her local dealer, Delma Marine, which steered her towards the 190 for its awesome sports capability. “The boat has been the best purchase I’ve made since moving to Abu Dhabi,” Sara says. “My friends and I always meet up with other boaters on the weekend to have barbecues and parties.”

And Sara’s Sea Ray isn’t afraid of big water. “There are lots of islands to travel around,” she says. “I use the boat to get to different spots in the middle of the ocean where the water is flat and the wind is consistent, perfect for wakeboarding and kitesurfing.”

A typical weekend takes her to secret places where no other kiters are present—apart from the lucky few aboard her 190—where she can practice her freestyle tricks for the local dolphins. One of her favorite memories was when a big pod of dolphins played under the boat and in its wake. “It’s lovely to see them in the wild,” she smiles. She’s even spotted the sheikh’s ostrich farm from her Sea Ray, which wouldn’t be possible from land.

Abu Dhabi’s modern industry has grown it as a flourishing business center. In fact, Sara’s job provides free accommodation, medical insurance and flights home to her native England. Plus, the gas for her boat is enviably cheap. With fuel at her fingertips, she’s looking to expand her sporting horizons to include fishing. “I have met other boat users who do this, and they catch some amazing fish to eat,” she says. As for new adventures, she and her Abu Dhabi family have been looking into new kite spots and places to camp out on the weekends.

Though Sara initially had wanted to move to Dubai when she relocated to the UAE, Abu Dhabi has changed her tune. “Since working here, I definitely wouldn’t move to Dubai now,” she says. “Abu Dhabi is less touristic and has a more relaxed lifestyle.” Sara recommends her new home as a great boating spot for its beautiful islands, flat water that’s perfect for sports and the friendly people she now holds as an inner circle. “I have met tons of different people with the boat. It has also enhanced my lifestyle, as now I can wakeboard and kite whenever I want.”

On his recent visit, James was equally impressed with Abu Dhabi and how the 190 fits so perfectly into Sara’s life there. “Having a boat like this is a great way to enjoy the vast waterways and cityscapes Abu Dhabi has to offer,” he says. “It is also a great toy to have in such a hot climate, as during the summer all you want to do is get in the water.”

Sara is pretty smitten with the boat herself. “The Sea Ray has been a good purchase for me. It is a perfect all-around boat for cruising and wakeboarding.” And with a whole year ahead of her, she’s bound to pick up another sport or two before it’s time to renew her contract in this golden city once again.

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