Mohsin Al Busaidi, the first Arab to sail around the world
Interview 24 August

Interview: Mohsin Al Busaidi, the first Arab to sail around the world

Mohsin Al Busaidi grew up in a tiny house in Old Muscat, sharing a bedroom with his 11 siblings. Now, he's the first Arab to sail around the world – here, he shares his incredible story

You were one of the first Omanis to pioneer sailing as a sport. What did everyone think of your new hobby?
I was training almost every day – I was leaving the house at 9am and not coming home until 7pm. My skin was tanned, I was tired. My mother, who is very old, said “If you go to the sea every day, where are the fish?!” In Oman if you go in a boat, you go to catch fish. Nobody really knew what sailing was all about. So I started to buy fish from the market to bring home to her every night!

How did you get into sailing?
I was working in the Navy, on the administration side, so that was how I heard about the sport. In 2008 I joined Oman Sail. For about six months, I had to get myself strong – to sail around the world you have to be physically fit. You need to be strong on the boat, to be able to look after yourself if you capsize. And also you need mental strength – I find that the hardest.

Do you have a seafaring history in your family?
I was born in Old Muscat, very close to the sea – we would go for a swim, or fishing for fun. But there were no sailors at all in my family. My family didn’t understand what I do, but after I sailed around the world I got a medal from the Sultan. So I asked my mother, “Which would you prefer, a medal from the Sultan or a lot of fish?” And she said “I would never eat fish again – I am so proud. I don’t understand what you do, but I am proud of you.”

How did you feel when you left Muscat?

I don’t wear sunglasses, but I did that day – because I was close to crying. I was going to do something that was very big, very new. There was a lot of pressure – I was taking my country’s flag around the world. My friend came to see me on the day and he said, “I will not see you again because you are going to die”. But I wanted to do it, even though I was scared.

What was the hardest bit of the journey?
We were in the Pacific Ocean, close to Antarctica – it was very very very cold! The ends of my fingers went black – I am not used to cold like that in Oman! I wore all the clothes I could wear. You are so remote in the ocean, about 6,000km from land. If anything happens to you out there, no helicopter can reach you – you are on your own.

I didn’t speak English before 2008 – I sailed with two French men and one English – and one of the French men didn’t speak English. So there were four languages on the boat: French, English, Arabic and sign language. Sign language was the one we used most.

What was your favourite bit of the journey?
Getting home, back to Muscat! I lost control, because it was the first time I had experienced anything like it. I couldn’t believe that the thousands of people had come to see us. People told me I should be proud, that I had done such great things for the country – but I said no, we did it together. It is very important to work as a team. You simply cannot do it otherwise.

Where is your favourite place to sail?
I love the Maldives. The sailing is excellent and the people are very good – they are like Omanis. It is also a beautiful place for diving – after diving in Oman, I realised it was even better in the Maldives.

I also love sailing in the Middle East, of course. The Arabian Tour, a sailing event, goes from Dubai to Abu Dhabi, Qatar, Khasab, Sohar, and ending in Muscat. You see the coast change so much – it takes around 12 days. I was sailing with a French skipper called Cederic. We sail a lot together, and he is always all about the details, the speed, concentrating on the job. When we got to Khasab, he said: “Come here, you take charge” – and I thought there was a problem, but he got his camera out and started taking pictures. I didn’t even know he had a camera!

All images courtesy Oman Sail