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Thu 15 May 2008 04:00 AM

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House to home

The silence that washes over you at the Umm Al Quwain Beach Club is deeply cleansing.

Buying a house is a moving experience; so is trying out an Al Manzel houseboat!

After just three months of the incessant motorised soundtrack provided by Dubai, the silence that washes over you on stepping out of the car at Umm Al Quwain Beach Club is deeply cleansing.

A moment taken to appreciate the solitude is well rewarded; an all-enveloping calm soaks into your soul. With fantastic cruising, fishing, snorkelling, watersports and wildlife watching opportunities however, Umm Al Quwain (UAQ) has much more to offer a boating enthusiast than a moment of peace and quiet.

I'm surprised when a flamingo plucks a fish from the shallows on a tidal islet – it's so picture perfect.

As impressed as we were with our surroundings, the reason for rocking up in Umm Al Quwain at 7am on a Friday morning was sitting at the pontoons at the creek - the Al Manzel QP10.

Manufactured in a local yard, the Al Manzel houseboat was one of my favourite craft at the recent Dubai International Boat Show; it blew away any preconceptions I'd had of the houseboat genre. With a few friends along for the ride we went to test the craft in its natural habitat.

Stepping through the sturdy silver guardrails that contrast with the sapphire blue hull, the owner of the Al Manzel, Saeed Rashid Al Shaali stood on the vast carpeted foredeck to greet us. Bags of gear were dropped on the patio table and a glance around showed that the uncluttered foredeck is well equipped.

A hand basin on the port side is well placed for washing hands after fishing or before dining, and next to it is an air point for the onboard compressor which is useful for inflating fenders, ringos and tenders.

Dimmer switches offer mood lighting from the concealed spotlights in the roof, making the foredeck perfect for al fresco dining in the evening. On the floor at the bow are two deck winch switches, used to raise and lower the swim platform which also houses lights and a full colour video camera.

Casting the mooring lines off gleaming stainless steel deck cleats, the houseboat moved through the shoals of small fish and away from the dock with surprising agility - thanks to the retractable bow thruster that hangs in the centre of the vessel.

As the boat hummed into the main channel I made my way up the ten steps of the starboard staircase, lit with LED lights during hours of darkness, to the upper deck.

Somewhat taken aback I found Saeed sitting at the table directing the serving of breakfast and the helm position empty!

Given that the QP10 cruises at a leisurely eight to ten knots, Al Manzel have included a remote steering system which controls the twin Yamaha 225hp 4-Strokes, from almost anywhere on the craft. Freeing the pilot from the helm console allows him (or her) to continue socialising with others aboard.

The upper deck makes the QP10 an entertainers' dreamboat. Stretching the full length and breadth of the craft it provides a full 86 square meters of useable space.

Whilst the standard spec includes benches and a sizeable BBQ, the potential uses for the area under the blank canvas canopy are endless. There's space for hammocks, a wet bar, pool/dining table, five-a-side football or even the National Twister Championships!

Umm Al Quwain Beach ClubAn hour's drive north from downtown Dubai, UAQ is one of the region's best kept boating secrets. Behind a ten kilometer long island, created by long-shore drift, a labyrinth of mango-lined channels and islets lie in a shallow lagoon.

A glance at the aquamarine satellite images of the area on Google Earth will indicate just how idyllic this spot really is. Umm Al Quwain Beach Club itself has recently been given a make-over and sports a double width slipway; 25m swimming pool; showering facilities; café; children's play area; volleyball court and beach frontage. It has all the ingredients for the success it deserves.

As we gently cruised past the sleepy old town of UAQ, Saeed explained how human and physical geography has shaped the region. The old town, in common with most coastal settlements in the UAE, was built on the western bank of the creek.

The eastern shores were shunned as the prevailing westerly current eroded the banks and threatened flooding. Conversely, the western banks are sheltered and the silt deposits have provide the instantly recognisable 'hooked' sandbank that forms a natural creek harbour.

As the towns grew they expanded on to this naturally 'reclaimed land' - so there is nothing new under the sun!

As we slid up to a secluded mooring in the morning sun I ducked inside the heavy patio doors into the refreshingly cool interior of the boat. Again it is the acres of space available that overwhelms the senses.

By floating on a catamaran pontoon, and therefore negating the need for a V-shaped hull, the open plan lounge, galley and diner offers the size of accommodation traditionally found on vessels many times the QP10's length.

A C-shape sofa runs down the port side, facing the huge LCD TV housed in fitted cabinets. Flicking on the TV I was astounded to find the screen filled with the bulging eyes of Jan Stoop.

Donning a snorkel Jan was happily providing live entertainment via the forward underwater video camera - though others may prefer the prospect of using the screen as a 'live aquarium' for the fish attracted to the underwater lights during the evening.

Where a dark cherry finish to woodwork can feel 'heavy' on some boats, the trim works well on the QP10 as it is offset by the light earthy tones of the leatherette ceiling and fabric on the walls.

Huge gallery windows, floor to ceiling in the galley and dining area, not only allow light to flood the interior, but also frame the breathtaking landscape outside. I'm almost surprised when a flamingo moves to pluck a fish from the shallows on a tidal islet - so picture perfect was the scene.

Those for whom swinging a cat is a necessary precursor to meal preparation, will be delighted by the roomy galley which is separated from the lounge area by a marble topped breakfast bar.

As the galley is equipped with a full size sink/drainer, fridge/freezer, four ring hob, cooker, microwave and washer/dryer (a real luxury on a boat!) and ample storage space, staying on the QP10 for extended periods of time would not only be possible, but imminently enjoyable.

The deep carpet of the lounge area finishes at the galley and dining area, with wood flooring continuing through the rest of the craft. Walking along the central corridor one discovers a guest washroom and separate head to port , with a double guest room to starboard.

The stylish interior design continues through the accommodation area, as does the high quality of fixtures and fittings. From the modern designer vanity unit to the concealed lighting and stylish door handles, the attention to detail is stunning.

In future models the marine toilets will also be replaced with home sanitary-ware as the builders have found 150mm extra space for each bathroom.

Further along the passageway is another twin cabin to starboard; a bathroom to port, this time equipped with a full size rainforest shower; and the master cabin running almost the full beam aft.

The owner's suite is tastefully decorated, houses a full size double bed, flanked by occasional tables, and provides access to the rear deck via stainless steel patio doors.

VerdictTraditionally houseboats are uninspiring tubs with all the appeal of a waterborne caravans; the QP10 however is the embodiment of stylish practicality with a surfeit of space and luxury fittings that would make a superyacht builder turn green with envy.

Representing a new generation of waterborne family entertainment platforms, the QP10 is roomy, exciting, comfortable and versatile; its high performance figures aren't measured in miles per hour but smiles per mile!

Again an appreciation of interior design is demonstrated in the concentric cherrywood detail on the ceiling that matches the circular mirror set into the headrest. The stateroom of course offers en-suite bathroom facilities with an oversized rainforest shower cubicle.

Stepping out of the owner's suite, through the glass doors, I headed to the aft deck to investigate a low rumble I could just make out from inside the soundproofed cabin. Outside on the aft deck I found a sight that would bring a smile to any boy's face - two gleaming Yamaha Waverunners sitting side by side.

Throwing me a buoyancy aid and a lanyard Saeed motioned for me to climb aboard. No longer had my seat hit the saddle than he depressed a button on a hand-held remote control unit.

The platform slowly lowered, and the watercraft slid off gently into the warm azure waters. All this could be observed on the lounge TV via an additional video camera.

Jan hopped into the pillion seat and we skimmed through the narrow channels, hopping off the wake created by the houseboat. My only lament was that I had forgotten to pack a wakeboard to play on the perfect glassy waters.

Cruising through the mangroves the abundance of wildlife we observed made for a memorable experience. Flamingos and birdlife populated the shores of tiny islands and from the water flying 'Garf' fish tailwalked across the surface.

After docking the ski back onto its bunked platform, it was time to assist in controlling the surfeit of local sea life - so Luke Chang dropped a fishing line overboard. Within minutes the line was running like a ginger stepchild's nose as he hooked into a small flathead.

With a glut of barracuda, mullet, and garfish patrolling the waters ,UAQ really does offer some terrific fishing. Not satisfied with depopulating the scaled denizens of the deep however, a multi-pronged spear was brought forth and a successful hunt for delicious blue crabs and squid followed.

Fortunately, all primeval 'hunter gatherer' instincts were sated before the trip back as we settled down to watch turtles glide through the crystal waters at impressive speeds.

The day was all over too soon and with a late lunch calling at the Beach Club, the QP10 was soon easing itself into its berth on the pontoons. With a collective sigh we stepped back ashore and headed off for a swim in the beach club's 25 meter pool.

After a refreshing swim it was time to dine. Inevitably conversation around the table was dominated by the question of: If we all worked a bit harder back in the madness of the city, could we collectively pool our resources to buy ourselves one of these incredible leisure platforms?

The lure of the silence is still calling to us and we're still working on it.

SpecificationsLOA: 23.60 metres

Beam: 7.00 metres

Draft: 0.65 metres

Displacement: 24 tons

Fuel capacity: 1,200 litres

Water capacity: 4,800 litres

Engines: Twin 225hp Yamaha 4-Stroke outboards

Interior design: Al Manzel Houseboats and Interiors

Top Speed: 12 knots

Cruising speed: 10 knots

Range at 9 knots: 150 nautical miles

Web: www.almanzel.com

Email: welcome@almanzel.com

Tel: +971 6766 6734