The Sultan’s Visitors’ Book

Inside of the Muscat military harbor the sailors of visiting ships have taken to writing the name of their ship on the hillsides – in my guidebook I read that this tradition dates back decades and each year subsequent ships’ names are carved or painted into the sides of the hill.  As this harbor is the entrance to the Sultan’s palace the nickname for these ships’ paintings is the Sultan’s Visitors’ Book.   Some descriptions of the painted rocks date back several hundred years and are described in some some old texts.

I could tell that some of the sailors either had more time than other ships crews or else they just wanted to make a bigger statement as some of the letters were big enough to be read without magnification even from a mile away.  In the photo below you can clearly make out the marking left by the crew of the British ship Resume; this ship’s name was above and below a 16th Century Portuguese fort & I couldn’t help but wonder if the Omanis didn’t mind the tradition or if these sailors snuck in under the cover of darkness and painted this huge placard.

Further inside the harbor I could see a road or trail that leads up from the ocean to the top of the hill where yet another Portuguese fort rests.  The HMS Falmouth has the largest ship name on this hill and as it is painted above the crisscrossing trail I can only imagine that the sailors had easy access to paint this name.  All along the side of the hill I saw hundreds of ship’s names as each subsequent crew adds to this interesting tradition.  I read in my Lonely Planet guidebook that one of the names on the wall, the HMS Sheffield was painted on that ship’s last visit to Muscat.

The Sheffield steamed towards the Falklands War that England was battling with Argentina and was subsequently hit by a French Made Excocet Missile fired from an Argentine Mirage fighter jet (also made in France).  The Excocet hit just above the water line and destroyed the ship completely.  In a lapse of good judgment, the British Navy decided to save a few bucks and made their new class of destroyers out of aluminum rather than steel and the high heat generated by the missile melted the ship as it burned.  The entire ship burned down to the water line leaving nothing left above the surfcae of the ocean.  The British tried to tow the ill-fated destroyer back to England but it never made the journey.  In retaliation, a British submarine torpedoed an Argentine heavy cruiser sinking it in the cold Pacific Ocean killing over a thousand Argentine sailors.

Using the zoom on my camera I could see that the crew of the British ship Perseus actually created a huge copy of the King’s Cross next to the name of their ship.  The Persius was a British submarine that was sunk during World War II in 1941, its wreck was discovered in 1996.  It seems that this “graffiti” is as much a memorial to some of these ships as it is a naval tradition.  I asked if I could go over to the other side to see some of the ship names up close but I was told that it was a closed military area.


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