|Queensway Quay Marina|
Having spent many years in the Royal Navy, Gibraltar was of course familiar to me; however, on thinking back I actually spent very little time there. The five days Kurukulla was to spend in Gibraltar would help to restore my fading memories. Although we had been previously advised that Ocean Quay marina was perhaps the better marina they fortunately did not have space available when we phoned ahead. Our preference was Queensway Quay Marina which we found much more tranquil; we had no problem with surge as reported in the pilot and the surroundings were much less commercial than its competitor. The only minor disadvantage is that chandlers and supermarket are further away.
|Morocco from the top of the rock|
It is impossible to go to Gibraltar and not go to the top of the rock. As a Midshipman, in 1972, I took part in a “Top of the Rock” race. I was not an enthusiastic runner (it was not my sport) but, as one of the youngest members of the wardroom, I was expected to participate and do well. I remember it to this day ... and the walk back up, 46 years later, brought it all back! The views from the top are spectacular and the walk round the southern end, via the Mediterranean Steps, means that you do an additional 250+ metres of climbing down again and back up. This time we did it all! By the end of the day we were shattered. Gibraltar has a character of its own and although only two square miles they pack a lot in, and even more now that the process of land reclamation within the harbour is gaining pace.
On the 30th of July the next crew member, Jayson, joined and in the afternoon of the 31st we set off for Tarifa. Although the forecast was for light winds and the stream was going to be with us it was very soon obvious, as we approached Punta Carnero on the opposite side of Gibraltar Bay, that the wind was 25 kts from the west and the seas, being wind over tide, were lumpy to say the least. Rather than spend the night in Tarifa we opted to anchor in Ensa de Getares, a sandy bay just north of the point, and to make an early start the next day on another bid to reach Tarifa which we did, in much calmer seas, arriving at 1000. Initially we anchored inside Tarifa harbour in the sandy area on the western side of the entrance. Within half an hour we were informed by the pilot vessel that anchoring there was not allowed and that we would have to go alongside the wall inside the harbour. Oh joy! Although not too uncomfortable we would have been much happier at anchor!
|Sunset in Tangers|
After a few hours sleep, and lunch, we set off for Tangier, our first port in Morocco. It was a close reach to cross the shipping lanes at a right angle, which fortunately were not too busy, and then a short beat along the Moroccan coast to reach the port of Tangier. By 1800 we were packing the sails away outside the port and preparing to enter when a launch came out and gave us the usual “follow me” wave. The new marina in Tangier is “almost” finished and looks as though it has been for several years but shows no sign of opening. Construction is now centred on a new fishing harbour to the north west of the original. As a consequence of all this incomplete building we were berthed in the old fishing harbour, near what seemed to be the boat graveyard, where we were instructed not to set foot ashore until the authorities had been to attend to us. Within 20 minutes the Police had arrived; we were checked and the boat inspected before I was invited to go to the Police Station to complete the records. This took 45 minutes after which it was the Douane (customs), another 30 minutes, and at last were were free to step ashore as a crew. Our first experience of Morocco!
|Rooftop view of Tangers and new marina centre right.|
We spent 2 nights in Tangier getting to know the local customs and enjoying the experience. We discovered good restaurants, including the Tangier Club in the old Medina, and also partook of the local food from the roadside stalls, “in for a penny – in for a pound”; two weeks later not one of us has suffered any sort of stomach upset and we have tried almost everything there is to try in culinary terms! The harbour in Tangier will be much improved by the new facilities under construction but at present it is dirty and aromatic. Still very much worth visiting though!
After yet more visits to the Police station, to retrieve our documents; to the Customs, to obtain leaving clearance and to the Port Authority, to pay our dues (300Dr = €30 per night) we were ready for the off and by 1000 we were out in the bay and setting sail for Asilah our next port of call. The entry to Asilah was interesting to say the least. With the Atlantic swell hitting the coastline and the depth in the entrance being charted at 3m there isn't much room for error. Add to that the handbrake turn required after entry to avoid the beach on the far side of the entrance and you have a recipe for a challenging entry.
|The berth in Asilah|
That said, after surfing the waves on the way in, we got in safely and berthed on the northern end of the fish quay ahead of several fishing and coral boats; slightly to the chagrin of twenty or so young boys who were tomb-stoning from the harbour wall just where we intended to berth. Their displeasure at having their diving interrupted quickly turned to enthusiastic welcoming of these people on whom you could try out your few words of English!
|Asilah medina and Portuguese fort|
A quick look around the harbour confirmed this was a fishing harbour pure and simple with vast amounts of fish debris floating in the waters; from entire tuna skeletons to abundant fish entrails. None of this seemed to deter the boys from jumping in! They must be immune to everything on this earth! That said it was a real pleasure to see them enjoying themselves so much and the reception we received could not have been warmer. We were to stay there two days and thoroughly enjoyed the town and its people.
|Asilah medina and one of the murals|
The old Medina is festooned with murals which form part of an annual art festival when various artists come to create the works of art. The more modern part of the town is well kept (in Moroccan terms) and has a selection of good restaurants and the inevitable ubiquitous market stalls, all selling the same merchandise! Our visit also included a visit to a traditional hammam where we were scrubbed clean for the princely sum of 30 Dirham (£2.50). Just before departure we were able to buy 2 kg of fresh tuna for Dr80 (£6.60) a bargain and the best tuna I have had for some time!
With some sadness we brought our visit to a close, hauled off the wall and set too cleaning the side of Kurukulla and the fenders. Both were black with fish oil, grime and goodness knows what. A mere15 minutes later we set off for the entrance, motored out through the waves and set sail for Larache, our next port of call. On this coast it pays to stay well offshore to avoid the worst of the fishing nets and floats but even 5 miles offshore you still have to have your wits about you.
|Looking back at Larache entrance, after the fog cleared|
On this day we had the added constraint of visibility down to 50 to 100 m due to fog. The absence of wind and relatively dense fog was a poor combination, thank goodness for GPS! We motored all of the 20 miles from Asilah to Larache but as we turned east to head towards the entrance it was obvious that we were not going to make it in unless the visibility improved. It is another entrance reportedly with a sand bar and breaking waves. At one mile off I was just about to turn back to sea when a fishing boat loomed out of the fog; they gesticulated energetically shouting “Larache” we replied yes and we were off on a magical mystery tour with the blind leading the blind (or half blind anyway, I kept one eye very firmly on the echo sounder!). Some minutes later the waves breaking on the northern breakwater appeared, through the fog, to port and we made a sharp turn to starboard. We stuck closely to the stern of our escort for fear of losing him in the fog; however, the rest of the entry was uneventful! Once in the river he led us into the inner basin, which had been dredged and enlarged since our pilot book was written; here he signalled us to break off to the left and we lost him in the fog never to see him again. Shortly after we anchored off the fish quay, which we could just make out in the fog, breathed a sigh of relief and waited for the visibility to clear. This it did three hours later at which time we were visited by the harbour authorities launch; they informed us that we could not stay at anchor but must move alongside the fish quay and report to the authorities.
|Our berth in Larache|
Once again we were berthed alongside a black and slimy concrete wall with Kurukulla getting a new coating of black with each small wave that passed. I, of course, had to go to the Police, Harbour office and Customs yet again to clear in! Whilst berthed there the fishing boat ahead of us passed across a metal plate brimming with prawns and would accept nothing in return, this is so typical of the generosity of the Moroccan people. Even the street vendors trying to sell you cooked food will always insist you try their products whether or not you look a likely customer! Over the time we were there both Jason and Christoph went ashore to view the sights but I decided that the berth was too insecure and risky to leave Kurukulla unattended and so remained onboard. I don't think I missed much!
Next day we were to set off for Rabat, 36 hours away and so an overnight sail. We departed Larache; again loitering to clean the boat's side before exiting the safety of the harbour, at 1300, timed to coincide with high water to give us the maximum clearance in the entrance. As it was we did not register less that 6m either on the way in or out so all was well. We again headed well offshore to avoid the worst of the fishing floats which range from colourful flags on buoys to several plastic water bottles tied to a line (i.e. almost invisible).
|Looking out of the entrance from the Rabat side|
The night passage was uneventful other than the fickle wind which came and went from varying directions throughout the night; at one stage oscillating from port to starboard tack and back to port twelve times in less than an hour, whilst simultaneously varying from 4 to 30 kts, and we didn't have to alter course at all! A strange experience.
|Bouregreg Marina, Rabat|
In the event we were too early for a first light entry to Rabat and so hove to off shore for two hours before entry. The entrance here is also shallow, prone to silting and with surf breaking in the entrance. The depth in the channel was reportedly 6m and so I decided an entry on the first of the flood tide was an option and would hopefully see the waves reduced by the inflowing current. In we went! Just as we cleared inwards through the outer breakwater a small boat appeared, at speed, coming towards us, it was the marina pilot who had come out to show us the way in through the sandbanks. His presence was very reassuring with the exception that he was leaping from wave top to wave top! He turned sharply in front of us and headed in, we at full power followed him in making a safe entry but the depth was only half of the declared depth on the chart! Our minimum recorded was 3.4 m and we draw 2.1m; not a lot to spare.
|It was delicious....|
We were escorted to the waiting pier outside of the marina to clear in with the usual authorities but this time there was an extra twist, a police dog. His duty was to supposedly search the boat, for goodness knows what, but a more disinterested search dog I have never seen.
He was terrified of climbing on to the boat and his only interest was getting off again as soon as possible! This saga was again repeated on departure! The Bouregreg Marina is of a standard to compete with any in Europe. The main difference is that it is 70% empty. The price, at 180Dr (£15) per day, was marginally over half of the standard price for a place in a Moroccan fishing harbour,. In our three days in Rabat we spent the evenings in Rabat city or in Sale the town on the northern side of the river, nearer to where the marina was situated. Both are connected by a very efficient tram service crossing the new river bridge. Again Rabat was a mixture of the old and the new. The most fascinating parts were the old Medina and markets combined with spectacular architecture in the town itself. Well worthy of a visit. Before departure I persuaded the marina authorities to call ahead and book us a place in our next port of call, Mohammedia a few kilometres short of Casablanca.
|King Mohamad V mosque|
(Casablanca marina is another unfinished prestige project that is getting buried by the sands of time and the port currently does not accept yachts). We started the departure dance with the authorities at 0700 and with good fortune we were away by 0730 heading down the river, with a pilot, at half tide on the ebb; a bumpy exit but we did have more clearance!
By midday we were entering Mohammedia a very easy port to enter but again one that has almost no facilities for yachts. Our good fortune, by phoning ahead to the “Yacht Club”, it meant that we were given a berth alongside the last boat on the pontoon, accessing the pontoon via the other boat. Unusual but as it appeared that this boat had not been used for some years we did not feel too uncomfortable walking over it and it was a clean berth with no concerns over the rise and fall of the tide. Mohammedia is almost a suburb of Casablanca and as it was Jason's last night onboard we decided to make a rapid dash for the city once the afternoon temperatures had dropped. This we did catching the train into town and a taxi back (the trains stopped at 2230).
A splendid meal in town at the Al Mounia restaurant was topped off with a rapid tour on foot before returning to Kurukulla. Jason's departure was programmed for 0630 so it was never going to be a late night; well not beyond 0200 anyway! The next day, after the early departure of Jayson, was spent relaxing and catching up on routine chores. Unbeknown to us Jayson's journey turned into a nightmare when, having turned down a taxi share to the airport, he arrived at the station to find all trains cancelled due to a track fault! Taxi! He made the flight by the skin of his teeth! In the early afternoon we were joined by a French boat berthing outboard of us. From their boat handling it was obvious they were not seasoned sailors! We almost had to show them how to secure a boat! They had come direct from Portimao in Portugal and were heading back to France! I never did find out why they had gone so far out of their way but I had my suspicions. Cannabis is traded openly in Morocco; it is almost impossible to move anywhere without someone discretely (or sometimes not so discretely) offering it for sale! I may be wrong....... They seemed particularly interested in the security arrangements at the ports we had visited since leaving Tangier! In the next two days we toured Mohammedia and Casablanca doing the tourist sights before setting off, southwards, again heading for El Jadidah.
Having left Mohammedia at 1100 it was going to be an overnight sail and not a particularly pleasant one; cold, humid and windless. At 0400 we were ghosting slowly towards the shore, loitering and waiting for daybreak to provide enough light to enter the port.
|The proffered berth at El Jadidah, outboard of this!|
By 0900 were were looking to tie up alongside and being greeted by the port authority who offered us the opportunity to berth outboard of three abandoned yachts all of which were barely secured to anything and inhabited by feral cats. Absolutely unsuitable as a berth. After a brief trip ashore to meet the decidedly unhelpful Port Authority representative I chose to move off again and anchor 25m from the jetty, a much safer and less aromatic place to be; anchored under the guns of the Portuguese fort in an absolutely stunning situation! After moving it was the usual round of visits to Border Police, Port authority, Gendarmerie and Customs, all of whom were delightful (if slow) with the exception of the Port Authority who clearly had taken umbridge that I did not want to be berthed where he had suggested. Our relationship went from bad to disastrous! When it came to payment he kept me hanging around for 45 minutes whilst he “aired his authority” (I sat and clicked two coins in my palm whilst waiting) only then to insist he had no change when I offered 600 Diram for a 517 Diram bill. I then offered 2€ (=20 Diram) in lieu of the 17 Diram but he was having none of it (I suspect in the hope I would hand over the 600 and not ask for change – two can play at that game!); eventually I walked out telling him I would come back and pay tomorrow, he was unimpressed.
|The Portuguese Fort|
The following day he was on the quay at 1100 waving and intimating that I should go and pay, we waved back politely and did nothing more. After a leisurely coffee in the Cafe du Port I had accumulated 17 Diram worth of one and half Diram coins, I was therefore ready to return and pay. I placed on his desk 500 Diram in notes and then poured onto his desk the contents of my coin purse, 17 Diram exactly. His face was a picture! From here we had to go to the Port Accountancy office to get the monies accepted and a receipt issued and then it was done but not before he formally warned me that if we were not out of the port by 0900 on the day of departure we would have to pay another day. When we finally departed we sailed out through the port entrance at 0859 and 50 secs waving him a cheery goodbye; he having come down from his office to ensure that we leave on time. It was a great shame as El Jadidah was a fantastic town, with unlimited charm and joie de vivre. The harbour was teaming with children, swimming, sailing, windsurfing, canoeing and tomb-stoning off the harbour and castle walls, sometimes from a height of 20m!
|Fishing harbour, El Jadidah|
All of them were thoroughly enjoying life. The fishermen were similarly charming and not one failed to greet you and wish you a pleasant stay in their country. It is a tragedy that a single official can spoil one's initial perceptions of, what was a town I would very happily go back to and revisit. On our final night we went to the old Capitanerie in the Medusa and dined at the Restaurant Iglesia, a charming Hotel/Restaurant within the walls of the old Portuguese fortress. A splendid end to the visit and a place I would highly recommended.
After our “supervised” departure we headed south 130 miles to Essaouira, another fishing port but one with a sheltered bay suitable as an anchorage for a few days. After another cold and damp overnight passage (having been in the Med for so long I had almost forgotten what they were!), this time downwind all the way, we were ready to enter Essaouira but again we were shrouded in mist.
|Swimmers at Essaouira harbour, in the mist|
Fortunately as we approached the entrance the mist cleared enough that, at 0.5 miles off, we could see the surf breaking either side of the entrance and in we went. Ten minutes later we sailed onto the anchor and settled for a quiet recovery period, I having been up most of the night. It was not to be! Thirty minutes later a small fishing boat hailed us with onboard two very charming members of the Gendarmerie Royale. No peace for the wicked! We were requested (or required depending on your interpretation), very politely, to enter the port and complete the immigration procedures (the fact this was our sixth port in Morocco and second week in the country counted for nothing) hence we had to up anchor and go in alongside. The port, whilst still functioning as a major fishing port, is being reconstructed with floating cranes and dredgers everywhere; for which reason there is limited room for manoeuvring. Having refused to even attempt the first berth they indicated (we could have gotten in but getting out again would have been a nightmare) we finally berthed on a jetty which was, I believe, cast in concrete only last week; it was so new and clean! Two hours later I had been to most of the the usual offices but declined to go to the Port Authority as we intended to go back out and anchor for the next 48 hours. The next crew member, Matt, was due to join on Monday and hence, it being only Friday, we were in no hurry to explore the town; beautiful though the old town looked. By mid-day we were back at anchor and the rest of the day was spent relaxing and blog writing!
|Diabat, remains of Portugese Fort lost in the sand, near Essouira|
Over the following weekend we spent our time doing minor maintenance on the boat and relaxing onboard, watching the kite surfers and windsurfers whizzing past us every few minutes, very impressive. Monday morning we moved back into the harbour and this time the dredging barge that had blocked our path into the “yacht pontoon” during the previous entry was now further out and we were able to berth alongside the only other yacht in the harbour. Much easier, no worries about lines and tidal rise and fall! The other yacht seemed to be a permanent fixture, abandoned by a charter company, with a single elderly gent living aboard. He was very happy to host us alongside but for safety I put lines to the jetty as well; his lines seemed less than secure! As all people in the ports of Morocco he was tirelessly helpful and willing to assist in anything that we required. He seemed to have no other role in life than guardian of the boat on which he appeared to live and, whilst we were alongside, this seemed to extend to Kurukulla as well!
|Essaouira harbour with Kurukulla left of centre|
Mat, having successfully found his way from Marrakesh to the boat by early afternoon, came with us on a tour of the old town ending in the early evening in the fish stalls just near the end of the fish landing quay. Here you could choose the fish of your choice which was then cooked for you on the spot and served at one of the numerous tables. We chose a selection of fish which came at a very reasonable price and sat down to enjoy our feast accompanied but Coke Light or Lipton's Cold Tea; this was Morocco after all, no dry white wine served here, or not in the un-touristy places anyway! Supper over we headed for the traditional hammam where part of the Orson Wells production of Othello had been shot in 1951. Scrubbed and polished to within an inch of our lives we then retired onboard for a nightcap and a not very early night.
The following day dawned bright and clear, the first time there had not been at least a mist hanging over the town since we arrived. We completed a further tour of the town, visited the Portugese fort (almost lost in the sands) at Diabat, purchased some victuals and enjoyed a lunch ashore before returning to Kurukulla. Our plan was to go back to anchor in the late afternoon to facilitate an early departure next morning. Harbour dues paid, new crew registered with the Gendarmerie and our passports stamped out again by the Border Police we were free to go to anchor; well almost, as I paid the port dues I was told by the harbour-master that it was not permitted to anchor outside in the bay but, as he had no jurisdiction outside the harbour limits and we had successfully stayed there for three nights previously, I chose to ignore his “advice”. By 1730 we were happily back at anchor in the bay.
Next morning the alarm went off at 0530 ready for a departure at 0600. I wandered up on deck and rapidly realised that going anywhere would be foolhardy. You could barely see the bow from the stern let alone any land. I set the alarm for an hour later and went back to bed. Even an hour later it was still “pea soup” with nothing beyond our own boat in sight. So much for an early departure! It was 0830 when the fog cleared enough for us to see the harbour wall 150m away. With this I decided to get underway before it closed in again. Once we were outside the bay the rest was plain sailing, well except for the odd fisherman drifting around in the fog. After motoring for 30 minutes we set the sails and turned downwind towards Agadir which was to be our last port of call in Morocco. Agadir was 77 miles away so arriving before nightfall was now very “touch and go”. In the event light and variable winds in the last five hours of the passage meant that we arrived at Agadir at 2200, well after nightfall.
|Agadir Marina with the memorial on the hillside behind|
My fallback, if we arrived in darkness, had been to anchor outside the marina and enter the next morning but in the event we were able to distinguish easily the marina entrance, despite the green light at the entrance being out, and we chose to go in, much to the surprise of the marinaio on duty. By 2300 we were secure in the marina but even at this hour there was the paperwork to complete with the Gendarmerie and Douane (Customs), only the marina office paperwork could wait until the morning! Dinner was served at midnight!
The marina at Agadir is a smart retail development with the marina as its centrepiece. Sadly Agadir marina, like Bouregreg, is totally under-utilised. It is a full service marina but only one third of the berths were in use and, interestingly, it cost €21 a night as opposed to the standard charge of roughly €26 (it depends who calculates it) in the fishing ports where no facilities are provided. Agadir is a town of little character. Tragically, the entire town was destroyed in an earthquake in 1960. On the hillside, below the original “Old Town” is an enormous memorial to the thousands who died during this seismic event such that those that lost their lives shall never be forgotten. Agadir today is the product of a town planners drawing board and is without the character of all the other towns we visited coming down the coast. That said it is modern clean and efficient.
We finally spent two nights in Agadir departing at 0500 on the third night. The saga of paperwork could not be completed ahead of time and so it was I found myself waking up the Gendarmerie and Douane officials, at 0445, to stamp our passports and to release Kurukulla from bond (you have to officially import the boat into the country on arrival and then present the paperwork to re-export it at the end of the visit); only the marina authorities had the sense to clear us out the evening before!
|Lanzarote Marina, Arrecife|
By 0510 we were underway, motoring out of the marina and setting sail once outside and clear. The wind was light and variable and we again had fog to contend with but we were en route to the Canary Islands so life was not so bad! The mostly light and very fluky winds stayed with us until late in the afternoon, meaning that our plan for a 36 ish hour passage for the 225 miles was thrown into doubt. Eventually the wind settled to a consistent 20 or so knots from the north, just abaft the beam, resulting in us storming along at an average 7 – 8 knots and recovering the lost time such that, after one night at sea, we arrived in Lanzarote Maria, in Arrecife, at just before 2000. Within minutes we were secured and were then informed that all paperwork could wait until tomorrow; the staff went off duty at 2000!
By 1000 the next day we were officially back in Spain and all was settled for the final leg of the season, the sail from Lanzarote to Gran Canaria where Kurukulla will lay up in preparation for the Atlantic crossing. More when we depart Lanzarote ….....