‘Al Malika’ due to return home

May 29, 2015

A yacht that once belonged to the sultan of Zanzibar has been “rediscovered” in a Knysna boat yard — and is now due to return to its home turf to be restored to its former glory.

yacht+newaBoatbuilder, Dudley Isaac, said this week he had struck a deal with a prominent Omani businessman who wants the vessel back home after it spent a perilous few decades journeying around South Africa, mostly on land.

At one stage it was “lost ” at the bottom of the Vaal Dam. Isaac said he had spotted Al Malika (The Queen) on a 2001 trip to the Vaal Dam, and bought it soon afterwards.

“I saw this boat sitting on the hard ground, very run down. I thought, ‘Wow, what an awesome classic boat’. At that stage, I had no idea of its history.”  After tracking down its owner, Isaac discovered the 82-year-old teak beauty was originally a gift from King George V to the ninth sultan of Zanzibar, Sayyid Sir Khalifa II bin Harub, who ruled the then-British protectorate from 1911 to 1960.  The Zanzibar sultanate was part of the Omani royal family, at a time when Oman was a major maritime nation.

In 1958, the sultan sold the yacht to a British sailor, Terry Griffiths. In 1969, it was sold to Dave Sutherland, a former pilot who flew Ugandan dictator Idi Amin on state visits. He had it transported to Durban strapped to the side of a tanker.  Al Malika featured in the Sunday Times of August 24 1975, when it was again put up for sale, but then disappeared for many years. A subsequent owner moved it to the Vaal Dam, where it sank and remained submerged for several weeks.  It then languished at a Vaal Dam yacht club.

After a layover of several years in Johannesburg, Isaac moved to Knysna, where the yacht was transported in 2008.  “I’ve always liked classic boats, especially from that era. It has a very long bow and a long stern,” Isaac said.  Not everyone shared his enthusiasm.

“When I bought the boat , a lot of my friends said I’m crazy. But classic boat people could see the huge significance.” Word of Al Malika eventually surfaced in the yachting press. An article in July 2012’s Yachting World described it as “an example of craftsmanship with a connection to a Scottish shipyard whose pedigree dates back nearly seven centuries”.

Omani businessman Mohammed Al Rahbi has finally struck a deal to buy the yacht.  Isaac remains tight-lipped about the purchase price, but says his main motivation is to restore the boat to its original condition.

“I’m not making big money out of this. For me it’s about getting the boat back to its former glory,” he said.

Fellow Knysna boatbuilder James Turner said restoring the boat to its original condition would probably cost millions.

“A lot of fresh water sat in the boat for a long time — and that’s a killer. But she is a beautiful boat, one of a kind, with a fantastic history,” Turner said.

Click here to read further on the Al Malika

Sunday Times / Bobby Jordan /19-04-2015