Morocco - heading south
After three days in Tangier, moored to a greasy wall in a fishy smell harbour with two other boats rafted up to us we felt it was time for us to move on.
Walking the Medina and the Kasbah streets is an interesting experience but only lasts for so long. We felt we had seen the most important parts and a bit more.
We needed a more relaxing experience in terms of the boat situation, after all the raft up experience can have expensive consequences and it's a constant stress with unknown noises during the night that leave us unsure if we're scraping the wall or the next boat is scratching us.
So we packed up the boat for a two-day sail, informed our neighbours of our intentions and schedule and requested for customs to come and stamp our passports (the agent is not always in the office, it needs to be called in. We wanted to leave on Sunday morning at 10 so Saturday afternoon we passed by the office to have the lady called on the phone to schedule for the following day).
It was Sunday morning and the lady that checked us in on arrival and with whom we had scheduled for that morning didn't show up. A guy did and he was not in a good mood, after stamping our passports out (in Morocco when you travel by boat you need to check in and out in all ports) he communicated he was going to inspect our boat. This is not his responsibility that is for Douane (another kind of customs) so I immediately realised he wanted some baksheesh (a bribe, a present...).
He escorted us back to the boat and demanded to go in, we said no problem and opened the companionway for him to enter. Of course, Ella made her appearance and that scared the guy, he was clearly afraid of our dog.
I told him that I would hold the dog during his inspection and guided him in, Ella was super excited as usual with the visitor. The scared officer rushed his inspection and exited the boat in 1-2 minutes.
(Really need to teach Ella some new keywords: Ella, pirate, kill, kill).
We were "free" to leave.
We made our way out of the harbour with our eyes on the ferries movements, we didn't want to be caught behind one of them and roll on their massive wake.
The current was against us for the first couple of hours and the light winds right on our nose, this was the best forecast for us to leave Tangier and the best once we rounded the Cape Spartel to head to Rabat. The wind was going to pick up from the west in the straits between Cape Spartel and Gibraltar and die on the Atlantic coast of Morocco, we should still be able to pick up some of the northerly winds when heading south.
And we did, we raised both our headsail and mainsail and kept an eye for fishing nets and pots. We read on the pilot books that they were predominantly between the coast at the 100 meters contour line but as the day advanced we started to realise the guides are outdated in this regard. The fishermen seem to have better outboard engines so we can easily find them way further into the ocean.
I had asked John for some fish, maybe a Tuna. So John was all set up for the task.
And boy did he caught some fish, he caught an entire fishing boat full like a mountain!
Truth be said there was not much we could have done to avoid it, a Fishermans boat was returning to shore for the end of their day and I guess they got all excited with the idea of selling some fish to a passing boat so they adjusted their course and headed in our direction. We could see them showing us the fish they had caught and pointing at us so we immediately reacted saying no and telling them to stay away but they ignored us and eventually they crossed our stern just 20 meters away from us, I only had time to run to the other side of the cockpit to grab a knife while John got a hold on the rod and reel before it was pulled overboard, we cut the line but it had already fouled their prop.
They were not happy and we had lost our special lure and rigging.
We carried on, still sobbing for our misfortune while they cut the line from their prop and returned to shore.
We prepared for our night shifts and enjoyed the darkness, it was not a particularly starry night and there were not many lights on the coast also.
The moon was almost totally gone.
Since the wind was dying on us as a precaution we turned the engine on at low RPMs to ensure we could make for the window of opportunity to enter Rabat close to high tide at lunchtime.
The AIS was almost useless, no one seems to have it or use it around here with the exception of the occasional tanker making their way up the coast towards the Strait, but with the radar on we could have a good idea of our surroundings.
Throughout the night we adjusted our course a few times to ensure a bigger distance from the fishing boats but around 6 am when my shift started we were passing Larache, a well-known fishing city, it must have coincided with the time all fishing boats come out from port and just start dropping nets in a huge maze, some only a dozen meters from the others.
We were way out of the 100 meters contour line and they were still going past us. We were surrounded and I could see them closing up on us.
(each pink spot is a vessel or obstacle in the water)
With the Genoa out and the Steaming Lights on we would think we were pretty visible but maybe we were just a bigger target!
Quite a few of them wave us as we passed each other, finally, I spotted the last one that would pass us close by, he was doing a steady course in our direction on port side and should pass us like two cars pass each other on a road but with plenty of space between us. Still, I decided to adjust our course towards the ocean to give him more space as they seemed to have just started to lay their nets. There was another boat on our starboard but he was not dragging nets he was still heading out so there was some room to manoeuvre safely. 10 degrees, then another 20, but suddenly the boat on port side that was laying nets parallel to the coast changed direction by 90 degrees. At the speed, both of us were doing either we were going to run into them or we were going to get caught in their nets!
I start adjusting our course even more and called for John to wake up, John jumped into the main helm (on our starboard side) and pushed our engine to a higher speed while I guided him regarding the position of the fishing boat from the port side helm. We soon realise there's no one at the helm of the other boat despite their speed, all fishermen are at the back laying the nets while boat steers itself?!
It was a very rudimentary wooden boat, no way they have autopilot and seemed like they don't have a radio either.
We manage to avoid them with a dozen meters distance, we breathe of relief, they wave us happily oblivious to the near disaster.
Shortly after we got another beautiful sunrise, we enjoyed a light wind sail to our destination and prepared to enter the river and sail upstream to the marina.
We called the pilot over the radio as advised, no answer. We called and called in all their listed working channels while we tried to find the entrance that has no markers, finally, we noticed a sailing vessel on AIS coming out so with the help of the binoculars we identified the entrance and called the marina over the phone. The pilot boat came, instructed us to follow his stern accurately to avoid the sandbars both inside and outside the first set breakwaters. All seemed perfect and easy.
But wait a second, we can't arrive a marina without a racing heart! That's just not what happens to us, there's always something that makes the adrenaline rush to kick in.
Usually its crossed winds, a spot that is just too small for us and no one to pick up the lines.
This time we were in for something different.
A speedboat appeared at very good speed making their way in before us, all of a sudden the pilot boat makes 360 and comes back to our boat telling us to stop, the "king of Moroccos boat" was coming in and they had to go, they would be back in 10 minutes, they turned around and left us there in the middle of the sandbars, almost at the breakwaters and with a few little fishing boats around us once again laying nets!!
We felt so vulnerable, left there without many options besides being adrift and using our engine in reverse trying to keep away from the breakwaters and sandbars, screaming at the fishermen to keep distance whenever they got really close and by close, I'm referring to less than 10 meters. Turning around was just impossible we were trapped in between the fishing boats and the entrance.
We think with the swell our deep keel still touched the sandbar a couple of times but just lightly.
I called the marina again, the pilot boat returned and we managed to pass the bar safely.
The view up the river was a wonderful change of scenery, the kids fishing and playing out of the several breakwaters that follow, the Kasbah overlooking the river entrance, the seagulls and cormorants lift flying as we passed. The narrow channel between the small bright blue wooden fishing boats.
After all the stress we had just been through if felt almost like a dream.
A few minutes later we were arriving at the Arrival Dock to wait for customs.
We were finally in Rabat, our second port of call in Morocco.
***In the spirit of sharing our dreams and experiences we have shared this blog post in the NOFOREIGNLAND.COM website sailors community.