Swahili racing teams from the villages and islands of the Lamu Archipelago come together several times yearly to compete in traditional hand-crafted arabic-styled Mashua dhows off Kenya's northern Indian Ocean coast.
These four magnificent hand-crafted racing dhows are in rare perfect formation as they lead the race. They are preparing to tack around the buoy (top left) and change course again back to the starting point at Shela village on the island of Lamu. Several dhows capsized at this challenging point in the race. The winning dhow was from the island of Pate at the northern end of the archipelego close to the border with Somali.
The art of dhow sailing requires considerable team skill as the dhows tack and manoeuvre back and forth through the Manda channel and ultimately out to the edge of the open sea. The finest dhows are usually selected from each village to compete and race under sail through a complicated series of buoys, combining speed and balance with elaborate tacking and maneuvering competence.
About sixteen young men are crowded into each of these dhows to give the necessary weight, balance and stability against a stiff coastal tradewind, a wind pattern that has historically characterized this region since Lamu was first established as a major Swahili trading outpost and settlement on the coastal run between Zanzibar and the Arabic world to the north in the 14th Century.
The winners will return with team bragging rights and a certain village swagger that may last several months untill the next race. Intense team and village rivalries build over the years, often reaching pitch fever on race day.
The races are usually organized in conjunction with a cultural festival or an Islamic religious holiday celebrating the birth of Abraham or the prophet Mohammed, including the Maulidi Festival in early June, the cultural heritage festival in November and Peponi's classic Shela-based race on New Year's Day.