On passage from from the Canaries to the Caribbean
04 December 2018 | In the middle of the ocean
It's day 4 of our anticipated 20 day passage to St. Lucia in the Caribbean -- thus we figure, we're one fifth of the way - Hurray! However, since this blog is being posted by a radio link to email to Sailblogs, it doesn't have a photo. Maybe when we reach St. Lucia I'll be able to add one.
The last couple of days before our departure from Santa Cruz de Tenerife were primarily occupied with acquisition of food for the passage. In theory, what you buy in a farmer's market has never been refrigerated, and thus works better for long term storage in a crate (with no refrigeration). When we had visited the week before, we learned that Tuesday was the day they received their deliveries, "unrefrigerated." So Tom (our friend/crew) and I went to the Santa Cruz market this Tuesday with two big crates and bought everything on my list. Maybe too much. Now, on day 4, an awful lot of it is turning ripe. That's partly because the "never refrigerated" thing proved not to be true in some cases. And partl;y because as the weather gets hotter (we ARE heading for the tropics), things ripen faster. This morning I discovered that the second of our two "green" papayas was getting moldy. I quickly diced it up into moldy hunks (to throw overboard) and good-looking hunks (to refrigerate). I passed the bowl of not-so-good papaya out to Craig to throw overboard, and he and Tom thought some of it looked perfectly good. "pass us up a couple of spoons". They did find some good bits, but had to admit that some of it did taste moldy.
I'm the main cook, and it's been long enough since our last ocean crossing that I had forgotten the difficulties. So many ingredients are round, and you can't simply set them down on the counter. Better to cut them in half first, and there's still no guarrantee they're not going to go shooting off into the sink or onto the floor. When you open a cupboard, it's almost guaranteed all the contents have shifted since you last had it open. Moreover,you'll be lucky if something doesn't coming flying out because it's been leaning up against the cupboard door. I did cook 5 dinners in advance, and put them in the freezer, so when things (or I) get really crazy, there's a defrost-heat-serve option.
For the first three days we headed south toward the Cape Verde Islands. The first day there was hardly any wind, so we motored. We realized that if we continued to motor, we'd have to stop in the Cape Verdes for fuel, as we certainly don't carry enough to cross an ocean. Fortunately, the wind came up the next day, and we've been sailing since and don't plan to stop at the Cape Verdes. We hired a weather router to advise us before and during our voyage. The advice was to sail from Tenerife (28 degrees latitude) nearly south to 19 degrees latitude, and then make a turn west toward the Caribbean. Craig describes this as a banana shaped route. You sail south until you hit the trade winds, then you turn west. Another reason for not making a more direct route is that there is predicted to be an area of dead air (no wind), and this route would skirt around that. We're hoping to get an update from the weather router tonight, because we've just turned right, toward the Caribbean.
All is well aboard the boat. Craig, Tom and I are getting along well, swapping stories and talking about (and occasionally listening to) music. We used "Otto" (the autopilot steering) for awhile and now we've switched to "Jeeves" (the Monitor wind vane steering). The advantage of Jeeves is that he takes no electricity, operating solely off the power of the wind and the ocean. We have solar panels and a wind generator, so theoretically we can generate most of our necessary power. But not if we're using Otto.
So that's all from here. Greetings to all, and hope you're enjoying the holiday season!
Craig, Barbara & Tom S/V Sequoia
27 November 2018 | Santa Cruz de Tenerife
We are about to depart on our 17-20 day passage across the Atlantic Ocean. Food has been acquired and stowed, last onshore showers taken, and we’ve checked out with the police. Everyone is happy, the boat is happy, although perhaps a little bit down on her lines (weighing somewhat more than usual).
Here in Santa Cruz de Tenerife we’ve enjoyed some lovely weather, met interesting people and seen some incredible sights. Probably the most amazing was the snow-covered mountain called El Teide – tallest peak in Tenerife and in fact in all of Spain. Unfortunately there were hordes of tourists also enjoying the trip and jockeying for position on the narrow, winding roads. (There were 4 monster cruise ships in the harbor that day.) Another day we visited an archaeological site that turned out to be a passionate homage to Thor Heyerdahl and his theories of prehistoric ocean passages on reed boats, and the spread of civilization from the Middle East to Central America, long before Christopher Columbus.
Together with our friend (now crew member) Tom Foor, we plan to head to sea tomorrow. We’ll go south until we find the trade winds, probably around the Cape Verde Islands. Then we’ll head west toward the Caribbean, hoping to find landfall at St. Lucia about a week before Christmas.
It’s possible I’ll be able to do a blog from mid-ocean, that remains to be seen. Otherwise, see you on the other side!
Best wishes and happy holidays to all our friends and family!
Craig and Barbara
A short trip home, then back to the Canary Islands
11 November 2018 | Pasito Blanco, Gran Canaria, Spain
Barbara/Mostly sunny and warm
Here we are in the Canaries, enjoying the beautiful days full of sunshine and interesting people – every day a new adventure in preparation for our crossing of the Atlantic, set to begin in the next 2-3 weeks. We did take a short trip home, where we fulfilled lots of little and big goals. We told everyone that the most important reason for our trip home was to vote – and we did that! In fact when we got back to the boat, we fed our jet lag by following the news from home altogether too closely, just to find out the election results. Now that the results are mostly in, we are back to the main things – preparing the boat for our trip across the Atlantic.
Two days ago, Craig took out the head (toilet) and made some necessary repairs (something that requires attention – so it seems – every year or so). He’s a hero in my book! Today he finally found a water system leak that has been plaguing us for the last few months. He managed to fix it despite the unavailability of American replacement plumbing parts. Yay!
The biggest job was the watermaker. Craig had started the maintenance procedures before our trip home, and discovered, with some dismay but no great surprise, that the seals leaked and the filter membrane was at end-of-life. The seal kit costs about $500, which gives you an idea of the number and quality of the necessary seals. He found out, though, that all the watermaker parts are cheaper (about half price) in the US, and that for “only” about $700 we could get a replacement Clark pump (the guts of the thing), factory rebuilt, with only a short side trip to Seattle.
The down side of that operation is that we had to bring the old Clark pump with us from the Canaries, as trade-in on the factory-rebuilt one. Craig decided to bring it on the plane as a carry-on. The weight limit for carry-ons was 10 kilos, and the danged thing weighs about 9.8 kilos. Not only that, it’s a very weird-looking thing, and as far as the airport security people are concerned, it might be a pipe bomb. The airport security people in the Canaries and in Barcelona asked a lot of questions but let it through. Frankfurt was a completely different question. “Oh, we can’t let you take that as a carry on. We can’t tell what it is. You’ll have to go back to the check-in counter and check it as baggage.” “Oh, no, we can’t check baggage at the gate.” “I’m not sure we can even let it on the plane as checked baggage.” The gate people brought in a couple of twenty-something police officers. Higher and higher levels of officials came to look at the thing, and all refused to make a decision allowing it on the plane. Finally, as they were loading the last people onto the plane, the highest official of all came, and blessed it as checked baggage and told the underlings to check it in at the gate. We were amazed when we got to Portland and the pump was actually there in its original box. Whew!
For the trip back to the Canaries, we were a bit smarter and Craig found a suitcase online, big enough to hold the Clark pump in its original box plus his clothes. We checked the new filter membrane as an extra bag, for “only” an extra $125. When we got to the Canaries, it was apparent the boxes had been cut open and resealed, twice, by the TSA. But it all made it! The watermaker components were reinstalled and now work well.
While home, we acquired some items of clothing, sprouting seeds, and various other boat parts and supplies we didn’t think we’d be able to find easily in the Canaries. We also got a chance to see a few close friends and family (although there were others we would like to have seen as well, and just simply couldn’t fit in). I found several opportunities to play chamber music, getting my “fix” that will have to last 7 or 8 more months. We did some necessary maintenance at the house and checked in with our housesitter. We’re happy to have made the trip home, but also happy to be back in the Canaries.
The second day after our return, we had to move the boat from the Las Palmas marina down the coast to Pasito Blanco, where we are now. The night our flight arrived from Portland, I had unfortunately dislocated my little toe (ouch, ouch, ouch!) and we were uncertain whether I would be a competent crew for our sail down the coast. We contacted Agustin Martin, the Port Officer of the Ocean Cruising Club (which we had joined last year) hoping he could connect us with someone who could crew for the afternoon sail. Instead he offered to make the trip himself! What a treat – we got a good dose of local culture and history as we sailed south past the airport, many wind generators, beaches (nude and not), mountains, hills and tourist resorts. Pasito Blanco is Agustin’s home port, which meant we weren’t arriving blind (as we so often must).
The reason we had to move from Las Palmas is that it is the central gathering place for the ARC – Atlantic Rally for Cruisers. This is a collection of perhaps 1000 cruising sailboats who rely on the ARC organization for two weeks of pre-departure educational seminars, weather information, routing, customs clearance in the Caribbean and lots of parties. The ARC cruisers pay quite a lot of money for these services, and many of them are first-time passage makers. The marina at Las Palmas provides docking for many if not most of the ARC participants, hence their need to kick us out. (It’s OK, we were expecting it). Many people have asked us if we are participating in the ARC, and no, we have not considered it. We have crossed oceans before, and we’re not very interested in massive social events.
But smaller social events, yes! Yesterday, Agustin hosted a midday pot-luck get-together for OCC members at his house in Pasito Blanco. We met cruisers from 8 or 10 other boats –delightful people from many different countries. (See photo accompanying this blog post). We shared food and compared notes about our destinations, hopes and concerns. We hope to communicate with some of these folks by radio as we cross the ocean, and then perhaps see some of them at some lovely island in the Caribbean when we happen to arrive at the same time.
We’ve taken a couple of days off to explore Gran Canaria – yesterday was a trip up into the mountains, along scary winding narrow cliff-edge roads, but with spectacular scenery. We were reminded at times of the Grand Canyon, of Waimea Canyon on Kauai, and of the foothills of the Sierras in California. We stopped for lunch in one spot surrounded with palm trees and orange trees. Nearby there was an old (16th century) mill involving a hike through the palms and down a steep hillside. It was in such good condition, it must have been in use until recently. As we continued to drive up in elevation, we started to see pine trees and eucalyptus, making it look very much like some of the higher elevation parts of Southern California.
Through shopping, restaurants, haircuts and a brief encounter with the medical system, we’ve learned a lot about what life is like in the Canaries. Some things are just like home, and others are quite different. Most of the people we encounter are tourists – especially British, German and Scandinavian. The people who live here are often from somewhere else. Agustin’s partner is from Belgium; the two doctors I met are both from Latin America – one from El Salvador and the other from Venezuela. People appear happy to be living here, and the economy seems to be quite healthy. I’m enjoying the chance to speak Spanish again, and I like listening for things about the Spanish language that are different here.
Sometime in the next week or so I will check on whether Sailblogs really can post an entry from me, when I send it by email. So if you look at the blog site next week, maybe you’ll see my test blog. Otherwise, it’s likely the next blog will indeed be from the middle of the ocean. Wish us luck as we prepare to depart!
Craig & Barbara
Rabat and Lanzarote
28 September 2018 | Arrecife, Lanzarote, Canary Islands
Barbara/hot and windy
We will have had more than a year for this trip – bringing Sequoia home from Europe – and yet it seems like we’re rushing from place to place, with little time to see the sights in each place. Folks who are truly full-time cruisers – who have no deadline for getting somewhere – can theoretically stay as long as they wish wherever they are. Of course that isn’t really true – Countries have deadlines for how long you can stay, and weather conditions often dictate that you shouldn’t be where you are. Health concerns can send you home to get the medical care you need.
We spent a week in Rabat, the capital of Morocco. As noted in our previous blog post, part of the stay was designated for convalescence from our mutual episode of travelers’ diarrhea, likely caused by some food we shouldn’t have eaten, or water we shouldn’t have drunk. Once we were back to full health, there were a number of boat chores that prevented us from getting out and sightseeing much. But to be honest, just doing business in such an unfamiliar place is an opportunity to learn a lot about it, and to see interesting things.
We ran out of the Spanish water in our tanks, so we had to take on water in each of our two ports in Morocco. (The watermaker is not working at the moment; that’s another story). Each of the marinas assured us that the water piped to the docks is fine to drink, but some of the cruisers were not so sanguine about it. The best advice seemed to be to add a bit of chlorine bleach to kill any possible bugs.
In Rabat we went off in search of a) bleach, and b) paper test strips to test the concentration of bleach in the tanks. The bleach bottle was easy to find in the nearby medina. You’d think figuring out the dose for the tanks would be a simple question of mathematics, but hang on a second – the bleach bottle was entirely in Arabic, and the only thing we could read in the midst of that was 12°. Hang on, twelve degrees? Is that the same thing as twelve percent? We went up to the harbormaster’s office, and although the English-speaking guy there could read and speak Arabic, he had no idea what twelve degrees meant. I guess dealing with bleach, mostly used for laundry, is women’s work. I looked it up on the internet, and it turns out that the degree system is in use in Belgium and France, and there’s a complex mathematical formula for converting that to grams per 100. Then there’s the uncertainty of how fresh the bleach is, which affects the concentration…. You get the idea. So we determined that we needed test strips.
We located the nearest swimming pool supply store on google maps, but it was the weekend. Repeated calls just rang and rang. Google in Morocco is notoriously out of date and under-supplied with information. We located another store, and this guy actually answered the phone, although our only language in common was French, and we have little enough of that. We decided it had a positive enough sound that we’d give it a try.
The shop was in a distant part of the city, so we took the modern tram part of the way, and then found a rickety taxi for the remainder. The guy in the marina wrote down the name of the street in Arabic. That was a help, because the cab driver didn’t speak any language we did. The trip took us through newer parts of the city, including beautifully landscaped parks and grounds in the area near the royal palace. When we arrived, it was on a wide boulevard cut through an older part of the city. We located the store by its crudely hand-painted sign on the wall: “Aqua Cristal”. It was a narrow, cramped shop, maybe 100 square feet in size, with an elderly guy ensconced at one end, talking with his buddies. There were modern pool supplies, including filters, fittings, pumps, chemicals and pool toys stacked high up the walls on each side, many beyond reach without a stepstool. The buddies moved aside quickly and offered me the only chair to sit on.
Turned out the guy had no paper test strips, and he gave us a long story in French about how he’d been trying to get them. Then Craig asked about a test kit – yes he had that, but Craig would need to climb up and get it. 50 dirham (about $5), just the thing! Whew – we concluded our business, exchanged pleasantries as best we could, and made our way back out onto the street.
We stopped at a café then, despite my initial reluctance. The people sitting in the café (there must have been 50 or 75 of them) were 100% men. No women whatsoever. No women servers. Was it even proper for me to sit there? We did, and had fine cups of café au lait. All the men – mostly alone – sat at their little tables and stared at their phones. Groups of women walked by on the street with nary a glance at the occupants of the café.
On the way back to the boat, we had the taxi driver drop us at the Hassan Tower, which we’d been seeing from the marina across the river. At night it’s lighted beautifully, although it becomes more ordinary in sunlight. It’s not a tower you can climb, but it’s adjacent to a vast, carefully maintained ruin of a mosque. To gain entry to the area, you go through a gate, between two uniformed guards mounted on horses. The matched horses apparently have to stand there for hours in their little sandboxes. The guards are talkative (unlike the palace guards in many other countries) and are glad to have their pictures taken with visitors. Beyond the gate, acres of stone pavement are interrupted by periodic columns and pieces of columns. Next to the tower is a gorgeous decorative pool and fountain. Other decorative work around the edges of the area is astonishingly intricate and beautiful.
On the opposite end of the stone-paved area is the mausoleum of King Mohammed V, grandfather of the present King. It is a relatively simple rectangular building, with the marble tomb on the bottom floor, and a walkway around the next floor up. There are guards in each corner, but you are welcome to stop and look as long as you want. The tile work is simply magnificent. Intricate designs are formed not in large tiles, but in tiny pieces which are mortared into place. There is a magnificent rug next to the tomb, and a smaller rug equipped with a microphone and open book (presumably the Quran).
I want to tell you more about Adnane, the fellow who lives on the tiny cabin cruiser next to our slip in Rabat. He was persistent in his offers of help and information, and his inquiries into our well-being. But he was seemingly unconscious about the effect of his radio listening until 3 or 4 in the morning, and we didn’t know how to bring it up to him. One day he offered to bring couscous and some other food his mother had prepared for a special Muslim holiday that involved fasting. (I never did quite work out how the fasting and the couscous would work together…) Apparently, the holiday involved sacrificing a ram, which they did on the rooftop of their apartment building, which he pointed out to me, “right over there.” The next thing we knew, Adnane was insisting on showing us video on his phone of the whole sacrifice ceremony, including spurting blood and cleaning up pools of blood afterwards. The flat roof of the apartment building was painted orange-red, so maybe the whole purpose of the rooftop was to host such things???
Adnane brought around two different women he called “my girlfriend.” One was only about 18 and still lived with her parents. (Adnane is perhaps 40 years old). She was quite beautiful, going through some crisis, and Adnane appeared to be providing emotional support. We think in this case the girlfriend was a young person he was attempting to mentor, rather than having any sort of sexual attraction. The second girlfriend was perhaps 35, and Adnane confided that this was the woman he wanted to spend the rest of his life with. She lives in France with her three children, and only occasionally comes back to visit. It’s not clear how that could work out.
One evening we invited Adnane and one of the girlfriends to join us for dinner. He was a most gracious guest, glad to be welcomed aboard our boat, and full of curiosity.
We learned that Adnane, who clearly has a lot of problems, is on a disability pension. His former job was as a waiter to the King. For 18 years he prepared the beverages for the King, a highly prestigious job. He told us all about what sorts of smoothies the King liked to have for breakfast. Then one day, Adnane fainted, fell backwards and cracked open his skull, apparently due to untreated high blood pressure. He was in a coma for 5 days, was rehabilitated and came back to work, but was unable to continue. His personality changed, his wife divorced him and he has lost touch with his kids. The King provided him with a pension, so he is able to support himself by occasionally taking visitors or families for outings on his boat. Wow, what a life history!
After a week in Rabat we were finally ready to go. At high tide there were “personal watercraft” races on the river. Machines went by at a high speed, wending their way around a course along the river. The marina’s pilot boat led us out across the course, between the racers and then toward the ocean. We went past the fishing boats, the modern condominiums and the forts and palaces where the Barbary Pirates once held sway.
It was a three day/three night passage to our next destination, the island of Lanzarote, part of the Canary Islands. We never had much wind, and at times we were navigating through thick fog. On the plus side, the middle night was full moon, so we had plenty of light all three nights to help the nighttime visibility. I was able to make most of the passage food ahead of time, so we had a pretty easy time in the galley department. We read our Kindles and listened to podcasts while keeping an eye out for ships and fishing boats. The ships generally have AIS transmitters so that their information shows up on our electronic charts. The fishing boats generally don’t, and sometimes they don’t even generate a radar reflection. That makes for some tense moments.
After three days of motorsailing (we get pretty sick of the motor noise) we finally arrived in Arrecife, the capitol of Lanzarote. It appears to be a volcanic desert island, with low groupings of buildings and not much green except for city parks. We were greeted by our friends Kris and David of S/V Taipan, who had preceded our arrival by three days. I was glad to be back in a country where I could actually sort of speak the local language. (The Canaries are part of Spain). Things became easier to understand. The strict Muslim dress rules for women no longer applied. Big sigh of relief!
The first day involved a lot of sleeping, and then we made our way into the City for our first excursion: checking in with the police and getting our passports stamped. We got directions from the marina office (“yes of course you can go there by bicycle”). The directions were fine as far as they went, and then the bike path ended at a locked gate. The other choice was a gravel/sand road into a nautical garbage dump. We could see the likely buildings where the police station would be, but there appeared to be no direct way to get there. We chose the dirt road, which proved to be a challenge for our Brompton bikes with their tiny tires (two bike falls). The road headed past old boat hulks and skeletons of windmills, all surrounded by fields of lava and lava gravel. When the pavement finally started up, it took us past garbage transfer stations, recycling and various other industrial operations, and finally to the edge of a highway. We stopped to ask directions and finally made it to the police station.
Of course no one was there, despite it being during their marked open hours. There was a number to call, and two fellows finally did show up. They were very nice, even though we probably interrupted their lunch hour. They ceremoniously stamped us in to the Canaries, saying it was important to know that we were still in Europe, and that we would need to get an exit stamp when we left “Europe” (the Canaries for us, but also possibly – for others – in the Azores or Madiera).
Getting back to the marina involved reversing the previous route, although we did make a couple of stops – once for lunch, and another time to wade in the water at a nice little beach along the way. When we returned, of course, we were completely exhausted and spent the rest of the hot afternoon napping.
Today we invited Kris and David to join us for a trip to the Fundacion Manrique, a museum celebrating the art and architecture of César Manrique, a man who is perhaps the spiritual father of the island. He was a friend and contemporary of Picasso, Miró and other early twentieth-century artists, and their work was featured in one of the rooms. Prior to becoming a museum, the building was Manrique’s home. The lower level is built in room-sized lava bubbles, some of which are entirely enclosed, and some open to the sky at the top. Manrique connected them together with tunnels which are now painted white (like much of the building above). The bubbles house pools, exotic plants, big seating areas and art displays. It reminds one of the luxurious underground rooms seen in the James Bond movie, Dr. Who. The upper level consists of big rooms with views over the surrounding lava flow landscape. Surrounding the building are amazing desert gardens featuring Manrique’s sculptures and mosaics, along with native and exotic plants. There are quiet cool corners everywhere, and it makes you want to stop, sit, and think profound or not-so-profound but relaxing thoughts.
Tomorrow we’ll move on to Gran Canaria, where we’ll leave the boat for a few weeks while we head home and take care of some important things (like voting!). So I will leave you here, dear reader, and I wish you all the best.
Craig & Barbara Johnston
Impressions of Morocco
19 September 2018 | Rabat, Morocco
Barbara/hot and humid
In Chefchaouen, the incredible Blue City, we evidently had something bad to eat or drink. Our goal of leaving Tangier on Saturday went by the wayside, and we spent the day instead dealing with – well, you know, no need to describe it. Feeling a bit better on Sunday morning, we decided to make the 120-mile overnight passage to Rabat, the capitol of Morocco. The passage would take us briefly out into the Straits of Gibraltar, and then, turning the corner, another 100 miles down the coast of Africa.
You may recall in my last blog post I described the crossing of the Straits as something that should not be done without careful examination of tide and current forecasts, because of the Levanter phenomenon which can build to 30-35 knots and can become dangerous in adverse currents. When we crossed before we had none of that. I’ll describe it a bit, since I had written about the dangers, but said nothing about our actual crossing. (Thank you to one of my dear readers for pointing that out!)
In fact, the crossing of the Straits of Gibraltar between Cádiz and Tangier was a complete non-event. So much so that I didn’t even think about it when writing the blog. It took about 7 hours motoring; although it was hazy, you could see both Spain and Africa all the way across. We had 0-7 knots of wind, mostly from behind. We tried to put the jib out, but mostly it fluttered. The most exciting part was dodging the multiple freighters in both directions. The AIS says (for example) the closest point of approach will be .3 miles in 8 minutes and it looks like the danged ship is coming right at you, and you have no idea whether the closest point of approach will cross your bow, or cross behind you. Heart in mouth, you stay on course (that’s what the freighter is counting on, after all), and they DO cross behind you. (Craig has since pointed out to me that the AIS can be set so that it shows the projected course of the scary freighter. We’ll be changing that setting!)
Returning to our Sunday trip down the coast to Rabat: After clearing the police and immigration inspection at the marina, we headed out into the Straits of Gibraltar, where a Levanter wind was building. The wind curved around the point at Cape Spartel, lessened a bit and gave us a lovely broad reach for several hours as we headed south. Blowing off the land at 18-28 knots, there was almost no wave action and the sailing was terrific. Eventually though, the wind became light and varied, and by sundown we were motoring.
As visibility became worse, the fishing boats came out. We had heard that they fish in groups, stretching huge nets between them. So spotting the groups was critical. The radar sometimes helped, but I swear, some of those boats are wearing radar invisibility cloaks. Throughout the night we continued to see pinpricks of light that would grow into brilliantly lit fishing boats, but never registered a dot on our radar.
The fascinating show of the night was lightning ashore over the High Atlas Mountains. For 5-6 hours, we were seeing more than one strike per second off in the distance. Craig said it reminded him of a Star Wars space battle. Interestingly, the sky was completely clear over the ocean; the disturbances appear to have been created by the mountains themselves.
We needed to arrive at Rabat at high tide (8 am), so that there would be enough depth to get into the Bouregreg River. The marina sent out a pilot boat to guide us in past an old fort/castle, scary rocks sticking out of the water, hundreds of open fishing boats, docks teeming with people and ominous floaters of bubbly brown sludge. (New rule: wash hands after every instance of touching a dock line!)
After going through a one-hour customs/police sequence, we were taken to our slip by the same pilot boat. Unfortunately, we are out on the end of a dock of small boats. All the other cruising boats are two docks away. We usually enjoy socializing with other cruisers, but this gives us an opportunity to get to know the owners of some of the smaller boats around us. Adnan, from the 15 foot sport fishing boat next to us, says he spends all day every day on his little boat here, and in fact he appears to live on the boat. He is anxious to practice his English and tell us the practicalities of getting around in Rabat, and where to buy the supplies we might need.
I want to take this opportunity to pass along some of my impressions of Morocco. The same faithful reader who noticed the lack of any description of crossing the Straits of Gibraltar asked me for more of my impressions, particularly what it’s like being in a Muslim country.
The clothing rules are a bit difficult to figure out. Shorts are definitely not the thing for women, but seemingly OK for men. The stylishly dressed Muslim women are wearing headscarves, but sometimes with form fitting clothing, so you do sort of wonder what’s the point. Some young women are not wearing headscarves, although otherwise conservatively dressed. Older women (and by that I mean 40 or more) are wearing robes with built-in hoods/scarves, with a complete second layer of clothing underneath. I’ve been wearing long pants (difficult in this heat) or a longish skirt and a light (sometimes sleeveless) top, and it seems OK. No one has yelled at me.
Some men won’t talk to me, and some women won’t talk to Craig. At the Tangier marina we were sort of “on display”. The onshore buildings have an open-to-the-public upper level where it seems to be a fashionable family outing to come and stare at the boats and the foreigners. The docks are so closely guarded that no locals are allowed unless they work there. We didn’t see any local boat owners at all in Tangier.
There are calls for prayer at prescribed intervals during the day (first one at 5:30 am). They start with a river of wailing, coming from multiple minarets at the same time. I thought at first that they were recordings, but Adnan assures us that each one is a live person. No one seems to pay any attention. No one stops what they’re doing to run off to pray. However one day I was up at 5:30 am and did notice that there was a big gathering of men onshore, chanting and waving hand-held fireworks around. (looked like marine distress flares to me, but what do I know?)
In Tangier we visited the medina, with its narrow winding streets and tiny shops, all cascading down a steep hillside. We walked up to the top, where we found a restaurant called “Detroit Café”. There was no formal sign, just a handwritten whiteboard which offered “Panoramic Views” and couscous, up two flights of stairs. Then you enter into an airy room, looking down on lush gardens, elaborate carvings on the ceiling and some of the walls, and caged canaries and parakeets on the window sills. We ordered a nice lunch and enjoyed the relaxed atmosphere. We talked to a gentleman who turned out to be the owner, and he said that this was a former sultan’s palace, built in the 1600’s. The floor above us had the panoramic view, but the wind was really blowing so we didn’t go up.
We walked downhill into the medina after lunch and found a tiny hole-in-the-wall barber shop where Craig got a very nice haircut for about $5. We were accosted frequently by young men and older men who wanted to show us around, which inevitably involved inviting us into shops. They were all very persistent, although we got pretty good at saying “no”. One said, “What are you looking for?” We told him we were looking for a Moroccan courtesy flag for the boat. He assured us that his shop would have such flags. We allowed him to lead us to his shop. It turned out his shop was a carpet shop – five floors, including two vast spaces where young women make carpets. He took us up to the top floor where there was a gorgeous view of the city. (See the photo at the top of this post), He and his colleagues offered us tea and wanted us to look at this carpet and that carpet. We kept asking about the flag. What’s the price – “Oh we have that for you, just the thing, such a reasonable price, you will be happy.” But what’s the price? “We’ll make you a good price.”
As it turns out, the bag of flags was the last thing we saw, after we turned down (as politely as we could) all the carpets and assorted other souvenirs. Most of the flags were the standard plain red with a green star, but the size we wanted was only available with a yellow crown in addition. We hadn’t seen one like that anywhere. We asked whether that was going to be acceptable for us to fly on the boat, and these guys assured us, no problem, this is a monarchy, etc. etc.
The quoted price when we finally learned it was 150 dh (about $15). We ended up paying 135 dh for the flag (our dock attendant/concierge Halim said we should not have paid more than 20 dh). We walked out of the shop with a huge sigh of relief at just escaping the intense guilt-inducing sales pressure. Halim later told us the flag is a flag of the Royal Marines, but he didn’t think we’d get in trouble for flying it. We’ll see! (Here in Rabat we are two docks away from the Royal Dock. No boats in residence now, but there are armed guards...)
In Rabat we have no dock attendant, but there are plenty of security guards. The marina was built by the king, who is an enthusiastic boater. It is a fine marina, with good facilities onshore, and lovely landscaping up against the river banks. Along two sides of the marina there are shops and restaurants, and it appears to be a major destination for the Rabat residents able to afford it. At night there are families with small children and grandparents, walking back and forth or visiting restaurants. Some of the women are dressed in their finest robes and headscarves, decorated with a bit of bling.
Last night we went to one of the more modest restaurants and spent some time chatting with the owner, who told us a bit about his restaurants and his career. He started life as a fisheries inspector for the government, apparently focusing on foreign ships who fish off Morocco shores. (We asked him about the big groups of boats apparently fishing with one net between them; he told us they are for catching tuna, and showed us illustrations of such nets on his phone.) After he left his job as a fisheries inspector, he went to Quebec for 10 years to get a degree in some aspect of fisheries. When he returned to Morocco, though, he decided to go into the restaurant business, and now owns three restaurants in Rabat, two of them at this marina.
The marina is in the city of Salé, which is across the river from Rabat proper. There is a modern tram which makes frequent stops right outside the marina. Yesterday we made our first outing into Rabat, crossing the river on the tram, continuing to some provisioning errands and another foray into cell phone connectivity (with only partial success).
We plan to stay in Rabat for at least several more days. Then our next passage will likely be all the way to the Canaries – a major milestone in our voyage back to Oregon.
Best wishes to all
Craig & Barbara Johnston
From Europe to Africa
14 September 2018 | Tangier, Morocco
Barbara/cloudy but humid
The last time I wrote a blog entry, we were about to arrive in the southern Spanish city of Cádiz. That was about three weeks ago, and the magnitude of everything we’ve seen, and everything that has happened without my writing about it, is starting to weigh on me. We’re now about to leave Tangier, Morocco, which is only a day’s sail away from Cádiz, but there’s much more distance to it than that. It’s a crossing from Europe to Africa. It’s an entry into a Muslim country, and very different cultural expectations and norms. Plus, it’s a day of sailing that is often not advisable. It is a passage across the Straits of Gibraltar, and there is often a strong east wind, called the “Levanter” that is pouring through the straits, often with resulting heavy seas.
Craig has read about the vagaries of the weather in this area, through nautical fiction based on 18th century maritime history. Both he and Mark Downing, who was then with us, were looking forward to sailing into Gibraltar, seeing the gigantic rock against the sky, and imagining themselves the successors to those 18th century British mariners. Alas, it was not to be. Mark and Fern had a scheduled trip in Morocco, and it didn’t leave time for the wind to calm down sufficiently for us to arrive in Gibraltar before their scheduled departure. So instead, they said goodbye in Cádiz, taking the bus to Gibraltar and a ferry on to Morocco. (Above, exploring Cádiz with Mark & Fern).
We decided to leave the boat in Cádiz for a planned 10 day trip to central Europe. We had train tickets from La Linea (Gibraltar) to Madrid, so we took the same bus there a couple of days after Mark and Fern left us. We took the tram up to the top of the rock, saw the famous macaque monkeys, marveled at the view into the Mediterranean and into the Atlantic from the same spot, and then walked all the way down (our knees did not forgive us for several days). It was fascinating to tour the siege tunnels which had originally been created to defend against the Spanish siege of 1789-1792 and were expanded during both World Wars. The openings in the siege tunnels look down on what is now Gibraltar’s airport, marking the boundary of the Territory.
We took the train to Madrid and spent a nice 18 hours seeing art museums (Reina Sofia and Prado). Probably the most striking for me was seeing Picasso’s Guernica in the Reina Sofia museum. They have it very handsomely displayed with a vast supporting exhibition about the Spanish Civil War. Afterwards we sat down at a table in a sort of carnival for a drink, and struck up a conversation with a young man who grew up in Venezuela and was working as an economist there. Unfortunately he was working for the opposition party, and finally fled the country when things got too bad. Fortunately his grandfather was Spanish, so he was able to claim a Spanish citizenship. Unfortunately his credentials didn’t transfer (he’s waiting for a certification from the current Venezuelan government – that’s not going to happen!) and he finds himself working for this carnival, presumably at minimum wage. It was a fascinating look into a refugee problem from an entirely different perspective than we’re used to.
With some difficulty we made it to the Madrid airport on time, and caught our flight to Prague, where Cori and Jens Kosyna and their two kids, Finn and Simon were waiting for us. We spent an interesting two days with them, sharing a couple of different restaurant experiences, walking around Prague, picking heirloom apples growing on the hill above their house, and finally attending an excellent performance of The Marriage of Figaro in the VERY THEATER WHERE MOZART HIMSELF CONDUCTED THE WORLD PREMIERE OF DON GIOVANNI! For you non-musicians who might not otherwise be able to tell, this was a very big deal for us.
The next morning, we flew to Zurich and then took the train to Altstätten, where Jürg Buschor met us (exactly on time; this is Switzerland, after all…) Jürg and his wife Susanne and children Jonas, Flurin and Lena entertained us for the next couple of days. We started with a dinner of rösti (Swiss potato dish) and cheese. I mean, 20 different cheeses spread out on a couple of big boards, all but one Swiss, in a variety of different flavors. Wow, what a spread! Jürg took us the next day to see the St. Gallen library which was founded in the 8th century by an Irish monk (St. Gall). The building – not nearly so old, merely 400 or 500 years old – was incredible, but the exhibits included some manuscripts from the 8th century, with a recognizably Irish type of script. St. Gall was one of those lights of learning who saved and passed on some of the Roman and Greek knowledge and writings which would otherwise have been lost. (Read: Cahill: How the Irish Saved Civilization).
It got better. The next day the Buschor family took us to Ebenalp at the top of a mountain tramway in the Appenzell region. From the top of the tram we walked down through a cave and across a ledge to a Swiss Inn where we enjoyed a snack. We watched dozens of hang gliders take off from a mountain slope and circle in the sky above us. The scenery was beyond spectacular. The day finished with a barbecue put on by Jürg and Susanne where they invited all the young men (now somewhat older) who had visited us in Forest Grove while Jürg was living with us in 1991. What an experience!
These past paragraphs have not been about sailing (the supposed topic of this blog), but they have certainly given us an interesting perspective on what our lives are like when we are sailing, and how they might be different if we made different choices.
We made our way back to Cádiz, and found the boat was still there, in good condition. One of the boats which had arrived in the meantime was Taipan of Australia, with Kris Adams and David Frost aboard. I’ve been corresponding with Kris, through several Facebook groups, for about a year and a half. They were in Vlissingen, Netherlands when we were considering it as an overnight stay back in May, 2017 (we didn’t end up going there because the tide wasn’t high enough for us to get across their cill.) A quick exchange of information with Kris helped in resolving our decision. Later that year we came near to meeting in Gothenburg, Sweden. Then in winter, 2017, when we left Sequoia in Suffolk Yacht Harbour near Ipswich, England, it turned out that Taipan spent several months just up the river in Ipswich proper. We nearly met in Falmouth last June, and then again at several ports in France, Spain and Portugal as the summer progressed. Pretty soon our messages were about “when will we meet?” and now, in Cádiz, we were finally seeing each other.
We spent several days together in Cádiz, and then crossed together to Tangier, where we now are. Taipan left yesterday for Gibraltar, but we certainly had a good time together while they were here. We hit it off great, as it turns out, but it will take a concerted effort to meet up again. They are heading back to Australia by plane in the next few weeks, and by the time they return to Europe we’ll likely be in the Caribbean. It may need to be a land trip by them to Oregon or by us to Western Australia. (We have other people we’d like to visit in Australia, and we’re unlikely to get there again by boat).
Marina Tanja Bay, where we are staying in Tangier, is brand new; it has been open only two months. They plan for 1400 berths with the first half of the docks now installed, and I’d say there are only about 8 cruising boats here, plus a smattering of local pleasure boats. The facilities have a way to go. The office people have a tendency to say “I only work here; I have no ability to change things.” (We’ve heard that a lot in Morocco). No hot water in the shower, no laundry facilities, a card access system that only sometimes works, etc. etc. On the plus side, they have numerous security guards who tightly control access to the docks. In addition, we have what can only be described as a “concierge” who keeps an eye on boat lines during periods of high wind, and who will help out with any problem or request we might have. Our “concierge” has gone to bat for us in finding taxis at reasonable prices, giving us good advice about where to find things in the city, and telling us how much something is worth (a help in this bargaining-centered economy). There is a seagull poop crew – Two guys who travel up and down the docks in foul weather gear and boots, cleaning off the messy leavings of the gulls with a pressure washer. They do a very thorough job when they come, but there is so much sparsely occupied dock space to take care of that they can’t come as frequently as you’d like. The seagulls are happy to spend their nights and part of their days on any unoccupied section of the docks.
Much of what we’d like to have is simply not available, or at least we haven’t been able to find it. An example: We have a power cord with a 16 amp connector standard in European marinas. They put us on a dock with 32 amp outlets only. Other marinas have provided adapters, but they have none here. We’ve gone out searching for the parts for Craig to make an adapter, but they simply can’t be found. We borrowed an adapter for a few days from another boat but gave it back when they were ready to move on. At the moment we’re relying on solar and wind power, which unfortunately doesn’t make hot water (back to the issue about no hot water in the shore showers…) So this is a marina with a very promising future, but a number of problems to solve.
After exploring Tangier’s very interesting Medina and Ville Nouvelle, we decided to travel by land to the “Blue City” of Chefchaouen. It’s visually spectacular; I must have taken 1000 photos. The narrow winding streets of the city are painted varying shades of blue, and small stalls sell interesting handicrafts in a less persistent way than what we encountered in Tangier. I bought some hand-woven cloth from a shop where the owner, blind, operates the loom. His son sets up the colors, and the old man does beautiful work. In the back of the shop they have started an institute for other blind people, and several came in while we were there. I felt good supporting that enterprise.
One of the interesting things for sale in the small streets are bags of powdered paint. A person buys a scoop of the powder and mixes it with water. There are 18 or 20 colors, so presumably you can mix or match. They were selling a lot of blues.
We walked up to a waterfall which was historically used as a water source for a mill to grind wheat and extract oil from olives. Now the walkway along the creek and channels is lined with tourist shops, but it is still a beautiful area with an amazing amount of water for such dry countryside.
Chefchaouen is also interesting because of the strong Spanish influence that can be seen, particularly in the architecture. When the Moors and Jews were kicked out of Spain in 1492, a number of them came to Chefchaouen. The Jews particularly lived a very isolated life, and when Spanish soldiers came to claim the area as a Spanish colony in 1920, they were astonished to find a population speaking 15th century Castilian. Today much of the architectural research and restoration that’s taking place is being funded by the Spanish government. You can see plaques memorializing the Spanish financial contributions all over the city. The mill and channels of the waterfall are one of the Spanish restoration projects.
Last night we returned from Chefchaouen, and now we begin the process of getting ready for our next jump, down the coast to Rabat, the capitol of Morocco. We have laundry to do (probably just some hand wash – no laundry service at the marina) food to buy, and other supplies to check.
So I will leave you here, dear reader, and I hope not to leave such a gap before I write next time!
Best wishes to all!
Craig & Barbara Johnston