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Roaring Girl
The adventures of the yacht Roaring Girl wandering the seas.
Leaving Melilla
16/07/2007, Melilla

We're off the market, fill up both diesel and water tanks, have a bite to eat and then head north. The weather forecast shows nice westerlies and south westerlies in the Alboran Sea for the next 24 hours. We'd lke to make Cartegena but we might stop at a nice anchorage on the south-east coast if we feel like it.
So it'll be at least a day or so before the next entry.

Life on Roaring Girl
Coming out on the web!
Pip & Sarah
15/07/2007, Melilla

There really aren't many dykes sailing around out here, and we always like to meet other sailing lesbians. So when Pip found that the Euro Gay Games will be held in Barcelona next July, and that it includes big boat racing for the first time ever... Well! Roaring Girl and her lesbian crew just has to go and strut her stuff.
We will investigate the best marinas for sailing lesbian women, when we pass through Sitges this August. The Spanish lesbian and gay sailing club is based in Port Olympic, and that'll probably be the regatta base. But it's very dear, so we might look around elsewhere. We've already asked various sailing lesbian friends to stay, so the boat will probably be full, but we hope to see others there too.
We also want this blog to come up when people surf for lesbian sailors, so we will start looking for links we like. Suggestions (of an appropriate kind) will be very welcome! We're only just getting the hang of this anyway.
The picture is our all-lesbian crew celebrating our safe arrival in La Coruna a year ago tomorrow.

So what did we think of Morocco? 120707
Cloudy, hot, clammy
15/07/2007, Written in Melilla

This is quite a hard question, and we've spent some time thinking about it. Of course, we have not even scratched the surface of a large and complex country. In all, we've spent about three weeks there, visited two major cities, two 'resorts' and one tiny fishing village. The short answer: we enjoyed it, we'd say it's good go there, but don't expect it to be comfortable.
One of the big barriers, and a reason why it's so hard to say much, is the difficulties of communicating with women. All the officials we have dealt with are men, and really only Khadija who ran our riad in Fes, spoke a language which we share (French). Many, many women here only speak Arabic and/or their local language. So, finding situations were there were women who wanted to talk with us and where that was possible, proved really difficult.
Not that talking with (some of) the men wasn't useful and informative. Of course it was. But it was largely on official matters - our ship's papers, our next destination and so on. Most of the men we met fell into three categories. Either they were official (generally police), or they wanted to sell us something. A few, a very few wanted to hassle us for sex, but in fact that was not a problem. (Age and gravity, maybe, but we think probably the genuine politeness of Moroccan men in sexual matters.) By far the most irritating of course were those men trying to sell us stuff (goods or services).
The second barrier is that in Morocco, outside Tanger, we found that women simply don't go into cafes. They are full of men watching the world go by over a thé menthé (delicious by the way), but women don't do that. You do see women, great flocks of them, outside during the evening paseo, but they are sitting on coamings, leaning on walls, ambling very slowly. They are out to get the air and see a bit of their locality, but they are, by custom, prohibited from sitting in a café to have their chat.
And of course, in visiting places, sitting in a café to people-watch and sample local delicacies is a big part of the fun.
So - those are the major downsides, and limitations on anything we might say we 'know' about Morocco. The upsides? It's a beautiful, fascinating and very friendly place. The scenery of the Rif mountains, the souks and palaces of Fes, the smiles as people say Bienvenue à Maroc, the taste of tagine or pastilla, the wonderful cleanliness after a visit to the hammam.
Morocco has a long history. It's everywhere around you. The one word Pip would choose to sum the country up is 'old'. It's also a very young country; some enormous percentage of the people are under 15. It is working hard to be more prosperous, and the king is committed to various liberalisations. They want closer ties with Europe (so they don't pursue their claims to Spanish enclaves very hard). But there is a lot of poverty, and intense rural isolation, even in the wealthier northern areas. And there's a long way to go before two women find it an easy place to travel alone.
We couldn't say Morocco was comfortable. It is probably easier as a teenage backpacker, when you are a phone-call away from the comforts of home, have less to lose, and are generally more tolerant of the problems. We felt most relaxed in Fes, where we had the lovely riad to go back to, and Khadija to advise on local mores.
Anywhere in Morocco, two women, white women, attract a lot of attention. This is particularly true for Pip given both her size and her auburn hair. And physically, life isn't always simple; squat toilets are a pain (especially if you are Pip's shape), it is very hot and so on. Mind you, we only encountered one squat toilet the whole time. If you travel with guides in a planned, westernised trip, of course it can be the height of opulence.
We are glad we went, glad to have explored a tiny bit of this fascinating country and culture. It was interesting and important to debunk some of the myths. Women are very safe travelling here. The images of everyone stopping for prayer are misleading; in this moderate country, when the muezzin calls, few people respond. Even in Fez, on a Friday, people retire to the mosques for prayer. The food and the architecture are stunning, as the picture of one room in a Fes palace shows. We would say to other travellers, other cruisers, do go and enjoy it.

Pilotage into Melilla
15/07/2007, Melilla

This is straightforward in daylight but a little alarming in the dark. If coming from the north, go round the starboard mole and go west. (The pilot book says this but it is very counter-intuitive!) You will see the second green light flashing ((2)G7s); head towards it. As you do, you will open up two red lights to port. One is Fl.R5s, and the other Fl(2+1)R12s. Go between these lights to enter the marina. You go down the aisle, leaving the flash new capitanerie building with its wing-shaped concrete roof to starboard, and at the end, do a u-turn round the building and the fuel dock. The quay where most visiting yachts are moored is then to starboard.
It is important to keep well up to the north (Spanish) side of the port as there is a man-made reef of rocks dumped into the harbour on the Moroccan side. This is marked (most of the time) by an east cardinal buoy. A boat did go aground on it the other night, but got off eventually with no serious harm done.
Finally got a picture sorted out to try and give an idea of the harbour.

Life on Roaring Girl
Melilla: medieval and modernist
Hot, with easterlies, though westerlies forecast soon
15/07/2007, North Africa in the EU

The high crag at the heart of old Melilla has been fought over for millennia, as the Phoenician remains make clear. It was taken by the Spanish shortly after the fall of Grenada and they have held on to it ever since, building a massive fort around and within the rock.
This old town is called Medina Sidonia (a familiar name as the duchy was and is very powerful all around Cadiz), after the duke who conquered it. It was fortified in a series of five redoubts, which still bristle with cannon old and new. You can wander around it, looking at the tri-lingual information boards. It is still dominated by Church and Army, so in that respect it's a typical European medieval town.
The rest of Melilla was largely settled in the first half of the twentieth century, because of a very large open cast iron mine nearby, and it now claims to house more modernist buildings than any other Spanish town save Barcelona. The streets are indeed littered with them, their flat and monumental facades creating a harmonious and spacious air.
The caves offer a strange mixture. Originally started in the fifteenth century, they were gradually hollowed out over the years, serving as stores, redoubts, and for a very long time the church and convent. By the end of the 1950's, the whole fortress had fallen into disrepair, but a large archaeological and conservation project began in 1959. (Three years after Moroccan independence; just a coincidence, but we don't think so.) This resulted in some stunning modernist brickwork and building under ground and along the cliffs. The picture is a detail of the arches built into some of the tunnels with complex bends and curves needing these jigsaw keystones.

Places and people
Melilla 120707
Hot, with easterlies
12/07/2007, Melilla

This is the splendid lighthouse on the headland north of the town. It's Moroccan and wonderfully ornate.

Melilla is another of the peculiar Spanish enclaves on this coast. Like Ceuta it is an autonomous municipality, fully integrated into the provincial and regional governance of Spain. (There are also several Spanish islets dotted along the coast, at least one of which is a prison.) Independence here, in 1956, was a fairly untidy affair, with significant divisions between different factions and tribes which claimed the attention of revolutionary leaders. The Spanish held on to this confetti of possessions. Now, strange to say, the Moroccans argue that they should be handed back, but like the British in Gibraltar, the Spaniards are hanging on to their strategic valuables.

The town is very sweet. It's much less military and imposing than Ceuta, a laid back sort of place. It's about 50% Riffian and 50% Spanish, about 60,000 in all. Until recently, the Arab half lived in neglected slums. There have been big efforts to clean this up, but you can still see the difference. The tourist info makes a big play of the happy co-existence of Christians, Muslims, Hindus and Jews. There are certainly several temples and synagogues besides the mosques and churches. The crowds in the streets seem pretty laid back and friendly, but of course we can't really tell on a superficial acquaintance.

'Riffian' is the guidebook's term for the peoples of the Rif. They are mostly Berber, rather than Arab, and often do not speak Arabic as a first language. They are Muslim, and the Islamic conquest of Portugal was essentially Berber. Nador, the Moroccan port next to Melilla is a major centre of emerging Berber pride.

This is being written on the boat at the dock in the very comfortable marina. Eventually, Spanish bureaucracy and technical glitches permitting, we should get wifi on board here. The Spanish have a very complicated system for local networks like the one here, which requires essentially registering your laptop on their server. So much for web freedom in Spain!

Places and people
Passage to Melilla 100707
Hot, with easterlies
12/07/2007, Melilla

On the dock at Al Hoceïma we had a nice westerly. Alas, this was only a down draft off the headland; as we motored out of the breakwaters the wind began to shift round to its familiar position.

For a while though, we could sail on a close reach, and even got the cruising chute up. The picture is proof. Once past Cap Ras-Tarf, though, about 11 nM from the port, the wind drew even further forward. For while we got the genoa up and romped along in good style. But by midday, the wind was dead on the nose and blowing the top of F4. We could either beat, a long slow process which would take us deep into the bay, or motor sail. We did the latter, getting maybe half a knot out of our long suffering mainsail. We needed all the help we could get as the wind kicked up a short sea which slowed us down a lot. Plus a current against us, which got strong on the headlands.

Eventually we rounded the Cap des Trois Fourches, a fearsome triple headland with some nasty outlying rocks, leaving a magnificent sunset behind us. We then chugged the remaining eight miles (still against a current) south into Melilla.

Here of course, the time is two hours ahead of Morocco, so it was just midnight as we arrived. Usually, the Guardia Civile are at pains to search any yacht arriving from Morocco. Fortunately, they decided not to both with us, just giving a cursory glance at our papers and driving away with a cheery wave.

Life on Roaring Girl
Al Hoceïma 090707
Hot, with easterlies
12/07/2007, Written in Al Hoceïma, posted in Melilla

We are tied up to the filthiest dock we have ever seen. It is the inside of the southern breakwater and was obviously designed to be or maybe even is used as a ferry terminal, for the ro-ro boats. But where we are is covered in very smelly gull guano. And what gulls! These are the biggest b---rs either of us has seen anywhere - including the back of Preston Street in Brighton. Not particularly aggressive, fortunately, but everywhere.

Al Hoceïma has a reputation of being the least welcoming port to yachts in Morocco. We haven't been to them all (this is our fourth), but it certainly sustains that record. Sharp whistles (a favoured tactic for guiding yachts in this country) finally made it clear that, yes, we were to come over to this quay. The only things to tie to here are a ladder and very large yellow ships bollards. They are a long way apart, and spaced around the very solid permanent rubber fenders that the ferries use. Which are much too solid for us, and too small for us to use as a dock substitute. So we are fitted in between two of them, with two lines trailing alongside this disgusting wharf.

Even before we'd tied up, two sets of policemen turned up. They came aboard and worked their way through the usual questions. (Why are they so interested in what our professions are?) One of them did a cursory search, checking the fore and aft cabins. Clearly, it is only people they are worried about, rather than anything smaller.

We both had to go ashore and wait while they stamped our passports. This was a bit of trial as this is not an easy quay for those of us with short legs. But we got there eventually.

We climbed up into the town, and it is a long way. Al Hoceïma is a resort town, beloved apparently of ex-pats coming back from the Netherlands and Belgium. Many have built property here and the town sprawls over the hills. The headland itself, pictured above, is magnificent, and we did see kayakers exploring it. The town itself was packed, with a big stage up in the main square, complete with at least four pictures of the king. People everywhere, including a substantial proportion of women in western dress. We even found several cyber cafés, but hadn't put this blog onto a stick or anything, so posting will wait to we get to Mellila.

We will leave tomorrow. The forecast is again easterlies (there's a surprise, with no mention of anything else till Sunday. But the smell of the dock would drive us away unless we faced a gale!

Places and people
Passage to Al Hoceïma 090707
Hot, with easterlies
12/07/2007, Written in Al Hoceïma, posted in Melilla

Another motor sail sadly, as the promised westerlies did not materialise. The scenery along this coast is magnificent. The picture is of the Massif de Bokkoyas. This northern tip of the Rif mountains is very empty. We barely saw a building all the way along; there are two in the photo which are extremely remote. And there was only one fishing boat in over 20 miles, which suggests very little human activity. The slopes are very steep and there are some tenacious bushes, but not much else.

We saw dolphins again, two or three schools of them. Sarah tried fishing, but caught absolutely nothing. Otherwise we chugged and sweated the 45 miles to get here.

Life on Roaring Girl
El Jebha 070707
Hot, with easterlies
12/07/2007, Written in El Jebha, posted in Melilla

We are still here, though we'll probably leave tomorrow, as there are no signs of a westerly in the foreseeable future. Another very hot chug to Al Hoceima. We found a sweet tea shop yesterday where no-one spoke English but served us a sweet tea and a coke nonetheless. The picture shows the headland east of the port, with its tiny islet. A completely flat sea at the moment.

The mainsail is now working smoothly after a lot of cleaning. We've also removed the worn wire/rope inner forestay halyard which will need replacing, checked the blocks at the mast head, and started fitting the cord to try and stop the main halyard wrapping around the mast steps. Although we bless the steps every time we do need to do work aloft, we curse them when pulling the main sail up. The plan is to run cord down the outside of the steps. This means dangling in the bosuns chair and at each step fastening the cord with twine and then tape. It takes a while (everything on a boat takes longer), and the harness cuts into your thighs, so only the seven steps on the port side above the spreaders got done. Fortunately (from Sarah's point of view) Pip didn't think to take pictures of her up there.

Places and people
Passage to El Jebha 040707
Hot, with easterlies
12/07/2007, Written in El Jebha, posted in Melilla

We spent a day chugging 40 nM south east from Smir. The forecast was two to four westerly, ideal really. Instead we got a brief bit of north easterly, which saw us close reached under the main and cruising chute (an interesting combination). Fairly soon it died enough that we handed the mizzen, putting the motoring cone in its place. Then the remaining whisper of a breeze shifted just enough that not even the cruising chute could fill. We left the main up to give us some shade on the side decks, and relied on our faithful engine for the rest of the way!

The wildlife helped to console us. Loads of dolphins, (now known as 'fin!') which Pip caught on camera this time. Here in the Med, at least on the North African coast, they seem much more noisy. You can hear them breathe as they surface, and often their tails and bellies hit the water as they jump around. You don't hear those slaps in the Atlantic; maybe it's the swell.

Pip also saw a turtle (exotic fin)! She (the turtle) had an orange, russet shell, and was swimming westward with great determination. Sadly, neither the camera nor Sarah saw her, so we are keeping a sharp eye out for another.

Life on Roaring Girl
Marina Smir 030607
Hot, with easterlies
12/07/2007, Written in El Jebha, posted in Melilla

It's only about 12 miles from Ceuta to Smir, and over a third of that is spent getting round the headland to the east of the Spanish enclave. There was quite a strong westerly breeze as we left the harbour, and a choppy sea, but once around the cape, there was very little. We managed to sail quite a bit of the way. Around four miles from Smir, the wind died completely and we turned the engine on.

We went to Smir because you must complete entry formalities for Morocco. The books say that El Jebha is not a port of entry, and so the next place after Smir is Al Hoceima, an 80 mile trip, missing most of this coast. So Smir it was.

This is a very new development, built by Spaniards, focussed on the marina and the splendid beach, as a holiday resort. It's used by a lot of (wealthy, probably ex-pat Moroccans) and is very western. The marina (bows/stern to against a quay with a lazy line) is very secure and has good facilities. It is exorbitantly expensive; it cost us ?'?36 for the night - without power or water!

The beach is lovely, and has a tourist dromedary as you can see. Our first really Mediterranean sand!

There is a narrow channel into the marina, marked by red buoys. We missed it and had an embarrassing half hour aground before the rescue boat got us off. Ah well; it happens to us all!

Life on Roaring Girl

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Who: Pip Harris and Sarah Tanburn
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