Our Diary News from Morocco
Our Morocco adventure is now over, leaving lots of mixed memories behind!!!

Our wait in Gibraltar was five days longer than it should have been; our parcel was waiting for us at the PO but some kind person (Gibraltarian) had misspelt our name in their pigeon hole, hence the delay. It was very pleasant at Queensway Marina, close to the town and lots of new friends to meet like Chris and Fiona from Threeships. They have crossed the Atlantic a number of times and had spent a couple of seasons in the Caribbean so their encouragement and tips were great. Even in such quiet and pleasant surroundings strange things can happen. Three o'clock one Saturday morning we were awoken with an almighty bang and the boat lurching around. We quickly got dressed and leapt on deck. It was a warm still night with stars all around, however there appeared to be a large swell coming from somewhere. The bang we heard was one of our mooring springs giving way. We re-secured our lines and pulled ourselves further away from the pontoon (we were moored stern-to to two large mooring ropes. It looked as if this sudden surge woke others as many of the other boats were also re-securing lines. The night was a long one with surges getting stronger. When daylight broke everyone checked and adjusted;we finally settled on four sternlines, (two crossed), two spring shore lines from the centre of the boat to the shore, two main bow mooring lines keeping us at least 1 metre from the pontoon, luckily there was a space free next to us so we also used their mooring line to our bow. Even so the force on these were huge as each swell came in; by midmorning it reached its peak at around 3m in the marina and crashing waves appeared over the sea wall, flooding the restaurants and apartments. Boats were continually breaking free, some large motor yachts suffering considerable damage as their ropes chaffed through or just through sheer pressure. Collisions with the water and powerpoints were frequent with sparks and fountains erupting, until they shut down the power. Poor Threeships tore off a meter length of toe rail which was holding an anti-chafe guard. We were pleased with our oversized warps and anti-chafe arrangements, which included a loop of chain over the cleats to which we tied the shore lines. Our main problem was that we were effectively trapped on the boat as it was too difficult to bridge the gap between the stern and the pontoon. By mid afternoon it was a bit quieter and the report came through that there had been an underwater earthquake 400 miles west and a tidal wave had travelled at 90 mph and hit Gibraltar. The port was closed for most of the day, but surprisingly the news did not acknowledge these fun and games..... censorship???
A day or so later we left Queensway to refuel and anchored for the night off the end of the runway, ready for an early start to Tangiers. The weather was good with very little wind, so we motored the 30 odd miles. The straits are very busy with a small traffic separation zone so being under engine was useful. The crossing was easy and I even caught two fish!! The entry into Tangiers was easy, finding somewhere to tie up was not!!! (We soon discovered the meaning of the phrase "Morocco has little or no facilities for yachts".) After motoring around a bit and being waved off one likely spot by some military gentlemen we saw a few sailing boats tucked in the corner and a local waving us forward. What was presented to us were 6 boats squashed together tied fore and aft to a rocky breakwater and a couple of buoys. He made a space about 1m wide between two boats and indicated for us to motor forward and to squeeze ourselves in (we're 4m wide!). After much heaving and pushing we had found somewhere to stop. This was the local yacht club!! The harbour had a 1mm film of diesel on it plus all the rubbish of Tangiers, ahead of us was the container marshalling yard where customs inspect for drugs, stowaways, etc. (so lots of barking dogs), behind us the fishing fleet of Tangiers. The officials were good and entry was easy. We decided to stay for a day and move on, however that night the weather closed in and it blew and rained for 4 days and nights, trapped again!!!! Our first visit to the town was held in trepidation, we had read so much about rogues, pickpockets, con-men etc. that we were very wary. Initially, everyone seemed friendly, apart from one persistent fellow, we tried to avoid him but he became very abusive and in our manoeuvrings we became very lost and another seemingly friendly guy helped us back to the main "street". He then demanded huge amounts of money for the privilege. We gave him a small amount, although grumbling he went away happy. These couple of incidents spoiled our enjoyment of the city and we headed back to the security of the boat. Undaunted we tried again next day, this time making ourselves look disreputable ourselves unshaven, unkempt clothes and carrying carrier bags. (a bit like normal really). This seemed to work and we were able to visit the Kasbahs and souks without trouble. I even got my sailing shoes resoled for a modest sum.

Eventually we got our weather window and set off for Casablanca. The pilots had said there was a new marina being built (in 1998) and that until then Casablanca was closed to yachts. We'd asked at Tangiers and they said the port was open, so off we set. Unfortunately the wind hadn't turned as it was forecast and we had a long 36 hours tacking into a force 5 wind with a 3-4m swell, breaking over the bow, Keith got completely soaked, while putting extra lashings on the anchors - by which stage we were still some way off Casablanca, the wind moderated so we motored the rest of the way to give us some respite. Finally arrived at about 6.30am after a long hard couple of days - at the entrance to this large commercial harbour there was a 4m cross swell! When we entered the port we set off to look for the yacht haven, inched past the container port, the naval port, the fishing fleet and near the end saw some masts, but got a call on the VHF from the harbour control to say no space for yachts and we should go back 11miles to Mohammedia! (While in El Jadida the other boats had called into Mohammedia and found that they were also moored at the container birth and had much trouble getting clearance!) This was not an inviting prospect!! They agreed we could anchor in one of the disused container births - but at least we got some rest and sleep! We couldn't go ashore as we hadn't cleared customs or immigration there, although a man and his boat came out offering to give us a hand; we were very short on gas so got him to get a gas bottle filled for us (although we paid over the odds the service was worth it). At about 3.30am the next morning we set off for El Jadida - a small fishing port with a good reputation for welcome and secure berthing. The area around El Jadida was notorious for its wrecks and reefs, so we approached with caution. One particular wreck of a freighter sticks out as a dire warning. Apparently the master of the vessel, unable to face the dishonour of running aground, shot himself rather than face an enquiry. Our entry was uneventful and soon we found ourselves rafted up alongside another yacht and the lifeboat. There were also three other yachts in the harbour, one of which had come to our beach barbecue at Portosin (northern Spain)!! The port officials, customs, immigration, harbourmaster all paid us a visit and eventually we were allowed to go ashore. The area for yachts is attached to a restaurant and sailing school. It is looked after by Ahmed a lovely old Berber, who had been there for 40 years. He has become so well known in the cruising community that Eric Taberly had presented him his 40 year award (and he gets a mention in the pilot for the region!). Facilities were very basic but one had the feeling of security there, so with Ahmed's help, we planned to leave the boat for a week and travel inland. (Ahmed actually sleeps in the cockpit each night to guard the boat while you are away - for a small fee, of course!) Unfortunately the wet weather in Tangiers and the soaking off Casa led to Keith getting a bad case of bronchitis. We prescribed our first medicine from the onboard supplies - and the course of antibiotics cleared it up - but left a very debilitating cough. We delayed our departure until Keith felt he was fit enough to travel. In the meantime we visited El Jadida, which has a wonderful Portuguese walled city, completely intact after 400 years. Everyone was friendly and it was easy to tour around the town.

Eventually Keith was fit enough to travel so we took the early morning train to Marrakech, (Along with Katmandu, Marrakech was one of THE hip destinations of the sixties!!!!). The train trip was very comfortable and cheap and we arrived mid afternoon. Now streetwise we avoided all the touts - it was interesting to note they only assailed the "foreigners" with help. When I suggested to one of these touts that a Moroccan woman carrying heavy bags was more worthy of his help I was given such a look. We picked up a petit taxi outside the station and had selected a hotel from our rough guide close to the central square. The hotel was very nice and laid out Moroccan style with courtyards and "sitting" rooms. It rained for the first couple of days but it was so nice just to lay in a real bed with a more-or-less unlimited supply of hot water and central heating!!! While we were at breakfast we overheard another couple arranging a trip into the desert. This sounded very interesting so we opted for the same trip! The trip included hire of a Fiat Punto with local (French speaking) driver for two days, crossing the Atlas Mountains and going to the northern edge of the Sahara. The northern foothills of the Atlas Mountains are spectacular - they really reminded Christine of Western Australia - red soil, barren landscape and low scrub. And then the mountains - because it is so late in the year, the mountains are snowcapped! The southern slopes are more reminiscent of the Grand Canyon - great valleys obviously carved out by the wind with rivers running at the bottom. The area was surprisingly fertile, with lots of oases growing date palms as well as the usual fruit and vegetable plots. Life seemed good with no real signs of poverty. The main difference being that they used donkeys rather than tractors - although we did see some of those too. The fruit and veg in Morocco were really good - and, of course, totally organic! The bread and cakes were also lovely - a totally unexpected bonus! At about 5pm (after a 400km journey south from Marrakech) we arrived at Zagora - a small town on the edge of the Sahara. Here Keith was kitted out in a Berber headdress and we were introduced to our next mode of transport - camels! It turned out that our trip included an overnight stay in a Bedouin tent in the desert - and we had to travel for 2 hours by camel to get there! Christine was a bit nervous about this - but figured that, if all else failed, she would walk on her own two feet. However we both survived the journey and were duly installed in our own Bedouin tent - woollen blankets for walls and rugs on the sand for a floor. Low mattresses were laid out for both sitting and sleeping. The camp was serviced by 4 Berber men - 1 watched the camels and the others cooked chicken tagine for dinner (a delicious casserole of chicken/vegetables) and later provided the entertainment. The only other "guests" were a group of about 8 American students on a long weekend break from Granada where they were studying Spanish language and culture. And one other American girl who was studying "Resolution of conflicts in Africa" !!!! and was living in Morocco for 6 months to study Arabic and then go back to Washington. (An obvious candidate for the CIA if ever I saw one!) The Berbers served hot mint tea (in glasses) which they call "Berber whisky" - and sang Berber songs. They accompanied themselves by playing on bongo-style drums. Very impressive! And so to bed - we froze! Despite being fully clothed and with about 4-5 blankets on the bed, it was cold! I think we only managed to get a couple of hours sleep. We've now come to the reluctant conclusion that we're getting too old for that type of lark! But the trip was a fantastic experience and it was great to get a taste of Morocco.

When we eventually got back to El Jadida, it was with considerable relief that we found Poco still there and safely intact! We collapsed into bed, exhausted after our holiday - only to be roused about 1 hour later by the life boat. They had been called out to help a local fishing vessel and we were rafted outside them! We hastily got dressed and motored forward to another berth for the night! (The fishing vessel was safely recovered and no one was injured - engine problems, apparently.) Anyway, after a couple of days to recover and do some laundry and provisioning, we were ready for the 360 mile trip to the Canary Islands. We decided not to go into Essaouira, the next port down the Moroccan coast - just to do the trip direct. I think we were ready to move on...

In general our visit to Morocco was very enlightening. We came to the conclusion that their main problem was that they put great store in personal wealth and are largely a cash society. (Standing in the queue at the bank was very enlightening when one saw the huge amounts of cash moving back and forth.) They have no notion of "projects" for the common good so the roads, footpaths and public buildings were in disrepair and facilities for visitors were very limited - facilities for yachts included. (In Spain most of the marina projects were sponsored by the local council!) There was no real poverty in Morocco - in the countryside the GDP was obviously low, although it was interesting to see that most of the "mud houses" had satellite dishes!

When we decided to depart the weather was forecasting NE winds Force 2-4 - which was perfect for this next trip, so we duly cast off and carefully made our way out of harbour and past the dangerous reefs before setting the main and poled-out gennaker. Had a lovely sail all that day and night - but the next morning the wind dropped to about 4.5knots - and we were wallowing around not getting anywhere fast. After several hours of this we decided to motor a bit to see if the wind would pick up a bit later in the day. No such luck - but eventually it did and we were sailing again. We were joined by a really large pod of dolphins - about 20-30 - and they were really playful - nudging our hydrovane rudder and jumping around the bows. We took heaps of pictures - but they just don't do it justice. Then, later in the day, we saw a turtle swimming north! It was about 2' across and just pootling along. We can't quite figure out where it was going?!!! Anyway, after 3 days it was "Land Ahoy" and we duly arrived at a little island NW of Lanzarote called Isla de Graciosa. We're in the marina here while we decide where to go next!