The Canary Islands.

Esprit’s route through the Canary Islands.

The distance from Agadir in Morocco to the Canary Islands is about 220 nm, so if we could average about 6 knots over this distance, we should be able to do the distance in about 37 hours. We arranged with the Moroccan Border Police, to check out at 7am on Monday the 2nd December, in order to have a two day and overnight crossing and arrive in the Canaries before dark the next day. The Police did as arranged, but Customs were fast asleep, so we only left at 8am.

The first 10 hours were quite pleasant with hundreds of dolphins swimming and playing around Esprit, as we sailed away from North Africa. Then the weather turned nasty – either we had made a mistake with the GRIB files we downloaded, or the Predictwind and Windy forecasts were hopelessly wrong. Either way, we fully reefed the mainsail and furled the jib to about 10% as the wind picked up to 40 knots. For the next 20 hours, we had the worst conditions imaginable.

The Gulf of Lion in France previously rated tops in bad weather for us, but this was to put it mildly, sh1t! With swells coming at us from the North west like rows of double storey blocks of flats, combined with squalls of rain and lightning, we only managed alternating one hour watches through the night, sometimes hitting 12 knots surfing down the waves. I was worried about the solar panels and the bimini being blown off, while Annie was worried about us getting injured as we were thrown about the boat. Often a large wave would break over the boat and swamp the cockpit with water.

Daylight came at 8:15am which was a relief, as we could at least see and anticipate the breaking waves. We arrived at La Graciosa Island, north of Lanzarote Island in the Canaries after 31.5 hours, having covered the 220 nm at an average speed of nearly 7 knots/h. It was a relief to be allocated a berth in the small marina to have a hot shower, dinner and a stiff Irish coffee before hitting the bed for a good night’s sleep.

Graciosa harbour.

Graciosa is quite a special island, being a protected nature reserve with low key developments and no tarred roads – a bit of a lunar landscape. The sort of place where you could disappear for a week and enjoy the peace and quiet. The day after our arrival, Jonny and Tina on Paikea arrived, having done a long crossing from Gibraltar and missing some of our bad weather. We chilled out for four days, enjoying walks, croissants from an excellent little bakery and coffees on the quay.

Annie in front of the church.

The modest, but imaginative fishermen’s interior.

Sandy streets.

The camp site.

Arrecife and Rubicon on the on the East coast of Lanzarote provided us with sheltered anchorages before we crossed to the East coast of Fuerteventura with two further stops at Gran Tarajal and Morro Jable. The final leg was to Las Palmas on Gran Canaria Island. We managed to master the Hydrovane windvane steering on the 150 nm trip and I have to admit – it’s like having another crew member on board. Good, for when it’s just the two of us, to share watches.

Lanzarote coastline, sailing south.

Gran Tarajal – a pretty town in the middle of nowhere.

Annie and Harry the Hydrovane.

Fuerteventura – nothing growing here.

Suddenly, oasis like resorts.

Last look at Fuerteventura.

We arrived in Las Palmas on the 11th of December after a robust 58nm crossing from Fuerteventura, averaging 7.5 knots over the distance. With some 1,250 berths at the Las Palmas Marina, we thought that after the start of the ARC rally in late November, there would be plenty of berths available – no luck, we were placed on a waiting list with 40 other boats already anchored in the bay, adjoining the marina.

While calling the fuel berth in the marina on VHF 11, to tie up and fill up with diesel, Robbie and Bev Collins from the USA on Mersoleil recognised my voice and called back inviting us for dinner. What a small world – we had met in Cochin, India and later caught up in Cape Town. Whilst we opted to sail through the Red Sea, they went the long way around the Cape and then across to the Med. We will probably be sailing to the Caribbean around the same time.

Annie and Bev.

Robbie Collins.

After two days on anchor in the harbour, we were allocated a berth in the marina. This was a relief, as we had work to do on the boat as well as stocking up with groceries, gas and diesel. The marina was buzzing with crews on their boats getting ready to do their Atlantic crossings – quite exciting. There was also a constant stream of young people coming past, looking for berths to get to the Caribbean.

The marina, bursting at the seams.

Australian, South African and UK sailors doing their departure planning.

On the 15th December our daughter Michelle, arrived from London to join us for the Atlantic crossing. Fortunately for us, she was between finishing her London contracting job and starting an assignment for United Nations Women in PNG in February. Being an avid sailor, she wouldn’t miss the opportunity to do and ocean crossing and getting to know Esprit better. Karen would have joined us too if she wasn’t committed to travelling with her beau Evan, in South America and Cuba at present, .

Annie and Michelle.

Although the wind is pumping from the south at present, we are looking at setting sail around the 18th December when there appears to be a good weather window to head south to the Cape Verde islands and pick up the easterly trade winds across the Atlantic.

For those interested, you can track us on this link:

https://forecast.predictwind.com/tracking/display/Esprit3

Merry Christmas and all the best for 2020!

Cheers

Annie, Michelle & Dirk

 

Morocco

Our last sunrise in Alcaidesa Marina with the Rock in the background.

Annie decided she had enough of the cold weather, so went to Carrefour in La Linea to buy us a 1,500 W fan heater. On Tuesday 19th November, we motored out of Alcaidesa Marina in La Linea next to Gibraltar, to catch the outgoing tide, if any, to cross the Gibraltar Strait to Tangier, Morocco.

Goodbye Gibraltar.

Despite planning our crossing according to the Pilot guidelines, we encountered a substantial flood current running into the Mediterranean Sea. Evidently evaporation in the Mediterranean cannot be offset by inflows from rivers into the Med. Therefore, the Atlantic Ocean water level can be as much as two metres higher than in the Med, as well as having lower salinity than the Med.

Our track across the Gibraltar Strait.

This causes flood currents into the Med of up to 6 knots and depending on the wind direction, can sometimes be partially offset by the ebb currents. Our expectations were too high, as we had to crank up the engine up to 2,500 rpm to crawl across the Strait at 3.5 knots, dodging ships in transit in the shipping lanes.

We were met by friendly marina staff at the new Tanja Bay Marina in Tangier, who were efficient, as well as the police, who handled passport control. The Customs officials were slow to process their documentation and on inspection of our boat, were more interested in weapons and drones, than in the substantial cache of alcohol and wine we had stowed away in La Linea. Lucky for us.

The marina offices.

For more than 2,500 years people have inhabited this strategic point on the strait separating  Europe from Africa. And just about every race or power that ever had an interest in this corner of the Mediterranean has left its mark. The port has seen them all come and go: Phoenicians, Romans, Visigoths, Arabs, Portuguese, British and Spaniards among others. Tangier (Tanja to the locals) has also for some 40 years been under the dubious control of an international council, before it was reunited with Morocco, after Morocco’s independence in 1956.

Walking through the Medina’s wider streets – you can get lost in the smaller alleys.

A shrine in a small alley.

A school in an alley.

We used the overcast and rainy weather to visit the Medina (old town) and the Kasbah (Casbah). We found a tailor who were more than happy to replace a zip on one of my shorts and patch up the splitting seams in our two fold-up bicycle bags – for AUD 6! People eke out a living here and the contrast between the hip Moroccan youngsters and the older generation is striking. The other striking thing is the absence of older women on the streets – the men crowd the coffee and tea houses in this patriarchal society, seemingly with no need to work.

The tailor has a small shop above the courtyard.

Market vendors outside St. Andrews church.

On the way to the Kasbah – spice vendors.

Annie buying dried fruits and nuts for our muesli – very cheap.

I’m guarding my master’s spices.

There was a break in the rain the following day, so we took the opportunity to walk all the way to the top of the Kasbah to visit the Kasbah museum – the former Sultan’s palace. Here we found an interesting display of artefacts dating back to the Carthaginians and the Romans who occupied this palace followed by the Muslims, Portuguese, Spanish and British Governors.

At the entrance to the Sultan’s palace.

Inside the palace – a courtyard with floor mosaic.

Wall plaster carving.

The carved ceiling above.

Door detail.

On a more contemporary note there is also the Cafe Detroit on the second floor off the garden courtyard. It was set up in the 1960’s by Brion Gysin, writer and friend of the Rolling Stones. It was then called the Thousand and One nights and saw many musicians pass through, including Brian Jones founder and original leader of the Rolling Stones, before his early death in 1969.

The garden courtyard with Cafe Detroit on the second floor.

Impressive doors in the smarter Kasbah streets.

Walking out of the Kasbah alleys.

We ended up staying in Tangier for four days, enjoying the local food and waiting for the rain that came with the south-westerly wind, to abate. We departed on Saturday the 23rd November, when a favourable north westerly set in to carry us south along the coast to Rabat, the capital. Alas – we were still in the Gibraltar Strait and had to fight massive swells and current before we could turn south along the Moroccan coast. The preceding four day’s wind left a lovely 3-4m swell rolling in from the Atlantic, but the new 15 knot westerly wind allowed us to sail through the night for 70 nm.

Gibraltar to the Canaries.

The last 70 nm to Rabat had less wind, leaving us with a confused sea through which we had to motor sail. Arriving off Rabat at 11:30, we were refused entry into the harbour, as the swells were crashing over the breakwater and harbour walls, resembling a washing machine. Err on the side of caution we said, and carried on to Mohammedia, a large harbour with a small yacht club, about 12 nm north of Casablanca – which we discovered, doesn’t have a yacht basin due to funding cuts.

We had a very friendly reception by the police and customs officers who came to stamp passports and check the boat. During the night, we discovered that the 2.7 m tidal range, had Esprit standing on her 2.2 m keel, at every low tide. We were tied up well and the security at the yacht club was excellent, so the next day we took the express train to Marrakech (Marrakesh) for the 3-hour journey in second class. Not cheap at about AUD 24/person, but convenient, clean and on time. I was reminded of Crosby, Stills and Nash’s hit, the “Marrakesh Express” from 1969.

The station in Mohammedia – platforms in need of repair.

Platform in Marrakesh – in better shape.

Marrakesh has an entirely different feel to Tangier in the North. It remains more African than cosmopolitan Tangier and Casablanca. It was at one stage the capital and the king has his palace here. Located in the foothills of the Atlas Mountains, it is still regarded as the southern capital and attracts merchants and traders from the surrounding plains, High Atlas Mountains and the Sahara. Red, in all its shades, has become the colour of Marrakesh – even on the modern buildings.

Modern buildings in Marrakesh new town.

Marrakesh station interior.

Marrakesh station is a modern structure with quite an airy feel, incorporating traditional symbolism, arts and crafts. Djemaa el-Fna, is a large, irregularly shaped open area in the heart of the old city and the medina, with the landmark Koutoubia mosque across the main street. From this open area runs the traditional maze of souqs and twisting alleys, where you can easily get lost. We had lunch here, watching the passing show of tourists, hustlers, traders and snake charmers.

Koutoubia mosque

Fruit vendors in Djemaa el-Fna

Narrow alleys in the souqs.

On the advice of Karen our daughter, who travelled through Morocco a few years ago, we didn’t visit Casablanca, as it is Morocco’s largest city, industrial centre and port – nothing to remind you of the movie Casablanca with Humphrey Bogart. You can visit the Hassan II mosque, the third largest religious monument in the world, completed in 1993, with a 210 m high minaret. It is said to be big enough to house Notre Dame or St Peter’s in its vast prayer hall. It took a photo as we sailed past from a distance of about two nm.

Hassan II mosque from a distance.

Leaving Mohammedia, we went well offshore to keep out of the way of the numerous fishing boats and the ever present fishing buoys that inhabit a 12 nm distance offshore. The sea was now much calmer with a gentle 3 m high swell setting in from the West. It took us 46 hours to sail or motor on occasion, the 280 nm to Agadir in the South. The two nights en route were quite cold, but when we tied up in Agadir marina at midday on the 28th, the temperature was a pleasant 27 deg C.

Agadir marina.

Again, we were met by very friendly customs and police staff who were clearly aware of the value of tourism to this out of the way town. We took the opportunity to fill up with cheap diesel and gas cylinders for the last time before crossing to the Canary Islands. We had a pleasant evening with Eduard and Almuth Keck Otterstedt from Switzerland on their yacht “Single Malt”, who at the ages of 83 and 76 have circumnavigated the world and are still cruising. They are also glider pilots.

Almuth, Annie and Eduard.

Next stop will be in the Canary islands, so until later, Cheers!

For those interested in our progress across the Atlantic Ocean, you can follow us on our Predictwind tracking page https://forecast.predictwind.com/tracking/display/Esprit3 for updates.