Fingal expat lives the tourism fairytale in Oman
IN THE endless seas of the Persian Gulf, explored by sailors of legendary Arabian fairytales, lies Oman.
Bordered by the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and Yemen, the nation shares marine borders with Iran, and it is here that former Fingal Head resident Clara Zawawi has made a home for her family in the fishing village of Qantab.
"It never fails to take my breath away," Ms Zawawi said of the seascape.
"The water is clear green, the mountains stand ochre against the blue blue sky.. it's quite stunning.
"I always say, I have the most beautiful offices in the world."
With her fleet of ships, the 54-year-old had become the first woman to own a sea vessel tourism business in Oman, when her Omani father passed away in 2006.
"In his retirement, he opened a little shop called Water World Marine where he imported game-fishing equipment and owned a couple of fishing boats," Ms Zawawi said.
"After his death, I was trying to tidy up his business affairs and it just didn't seem right to close down the business."
Water World Marine was financially shaky so, drawing on inspiration from life on the Tweed, Ms Zawawi redirected the business from tackle sales to fishing and sailing charters.
The luxury 75-foot catamaran Azzurra was built and added to the fleet in 2008. Then the family's 85-foot Arabian dhow, My Ibra, was restored in 2013 for top-end overnight charters.
A six-vessel fleet also offers tourists fishing, diving, snorkelling, island-hopping and viewings of historical forts and palaces.
"Up in the Musandam Peninsula, when you are the only boat in your special anchorage, with a white sand beach and a ruined village in front of you and the black fjord cliffs soaring around you - it's truly spectacular," Ms Zawawi said.
In this Muslim, sultan-ruled monarchy, Zawawi cuts an interesting figure. As a woman, she has had to adjust her customs to suit but says this has not hampered her success.
It's customary for business to be conducted at late-night dinners - but Ms Zawawi is not invited. Women also typically don't get a handshake.
"Maybe initially some people have not taken me seriously but that hasn't lasted," Ms Zawawi said.
"You get used to not immediately holding out your hand for a handshake - you wait for a male colleague to do that first, just in case he's very traditional and would feel uncomfortable touching you as a woman.
"I haven't found that it gets in the way, really, or stops anything. It's not expected for me to bond in that way with male colleagues and that's fine."
Ms Zawawi was Oman's 2013 Travelex Tourism Ambassador of the year and also won the Sustainable Tourism Ambassador Award in 2014.
And she has employed illiterate Arabic women living in the village to provide visitors with an authentic tourism experience centred around Omani cuisine and the culture of village life.
Of her two sons, Cameron, now 30, and 24-year-old Qais, it was the youngest who had to adjust most to Omani life, straight from Lindisfarne Anglican College in the Tweed.
"It has been great for him to see how the Arab side of our family lives," his mother said. "All the cousins, and the celebrations of the Islamic holidays..."
Qais went to an international school and is now studying at university in The Netherlands.
"That wouldn't have happened if we were still in Australia," Ms Zawawi said.
"So (the move) has internationalised him, which I think is invaluable in this modern world."
Sail and Snorkel starts at $140, private charters at $1200, overnight charters $7000 daily.
Super-yacht Amara costs $40,000 a day.