Last month, the Mediterranean threw its last at us with a mixture of frequent sail-changes & motoring through calms. We left Mallorca close to our friends Ian & Jen on Que II, and reached the south coast of Spain as fresh NW picked up. The draw became irresistible when we heard a call on the radio net to say what a picturesque, friendly port Cartagena was, and our bow was drawn to the natural harbour formed by a break in the high hills. The stay was prolonged when we discovered dripping diesel from the fuel pump. After 4 days of "Manana" from the diesel mechanic, 1/2 a day installing new O rings, and 1/2 a day welding back the bracket that was broken accessing the O rings, the westerlie winds had stopped. Then after a 1.5 day motor-boat trip we saw the Rock of Gibraltar through the dawn mist.
In Gibraltar we refueled, restocked with some hardware from Shephards, and collected our mainsail, which our friend John had shipped back from England (with some undeclared Rowntrees Fruit Gums hidden inside). It was comforting to have a full inventory of sails again. A final visit to the large Safeways to stock up on goodies that we had not seen for many a day....ginger beer, Branston pickle, Patak curry, papadums etc.
The current in the Strait of Gibraltar flows towards the east most of the time due to evaporation in the Mediterranean, but there are detailed diagrams which show how to pick up currents and inshore eddies to get west at the correct stage of the tide on normal days. Harmonica obviously left on an abnormal day & had to motor out of the Strait against the current. We then picked up a fresh easterlie and shot through the night to the mediaeval City of Cadiz at 8 or 9 knots for a last 2 days in Europe. We treated ourselves to a good meal in a restaurant in the intriguing, narrow streets, but were so unused to the rich food that neither of us could finish!
So many changes of port and short passages in ever-changing conditions are not restful. We left Cadiz with its youth celebrating All Saints Day by drinking all night on the end of the dock & playing music at full volume from their car stereos. The spinnaker set in light northerlies. These, and a SW current, carried us down the Moroccan Coast for 2 or 3 days with hardly a sail change, and with Sally the wind vane steering. How nice to be back in the Atlantic with steady winds!
We stopped in Morocco at Essaouira (Jan learnt to pronounce this but David still gets tongue-tied). The stop was not because we needed a break but because we might not see Morocco again and the Canadian boat Delphis had emailed to say how much they enjoyed it.
Africa was certainly a contrast. We stood off before sunrise and entered the port after dawn with Atlantic rollers breaking on the rocks on either side. The little port was crammed with 9 sailing boats rafted 4 deep against a small dock, sardine boats were all around and more returning all morning. Silhouetted on the skyline were the Moorish ramparts which we later heard had been used as location for the Orson Wells film of Othello. The skeleton ribs of half-built wooden fishing boat lined the quay, which was packed with fishermen, nets, careened boats, & refrigerated lorries. Men walked around in long woollen robes. Some had cowls pulled over their heads for warmth in the thin morning sun, which hid their faces completely fitting our impression of mediaeval monks.
A friendly young officer from the "Royal Gendarmerie" came aboard and wrote down every last detail including boat details & the full names of us & our parents. Like all the other officials we met, he was very helpful and courteous. There was just one man who was a nuisance around the port: a non-uniformed, self appointed organizer who helped each boat in turn to moor in slightly the wrong place while shouting & jumping on and off everybody else's boat, and then asking for a bottle of wine for his unrequested efforts.
As the fish were unloaded, men worked in chains throwing baskets of sardines from one to another at about one every 2 seconds. By mid-morning we estimated about 50 heavy wooden coastal fishing boats (maybe 40 ton each) and more open boats in the tiny harbour. They were rafting 8 or 10 boats deep and rowing lines across the port. With about 15 fishermen on each boat plus buyers, shippers, & port officials you can imagine the ordered hubbub of activity.
The inevitable happened as we were both catching up on sleep around midday: One big bump then another and we were up on deck to find our fortress anchor hooked over the bulwark of a 25 metre sardine boat as it tried to maneuver. 8 or 10 strong fishermen lifting together were what it took to tear out the screws from our bow roller and release the anchor. We reported the incident and were given every sympathy and offer to repair the damage but we decided to do the work ourselves. Next day, Dave had just mixed some thickened epoxy putty (which must be used immediately) when the Port Captain arrived on board to take more details. A quiet delightful man, he put his head in is hands then proceeded to take the information from Janet. Before he left the dock we received our second bump and it was maybe good that we did not understand what he was yelling at the captain of the offending fishing boat.
The Moroccan Arabs are as much Berber as Arabic. They speak Berber, Arabic, and French. A chance encounter on the dock with a father and son, looking with interest at Harmonica, resulted in an invitation to celebrate the start of Ramadan in their home. Their 5 year old son read to us alternately from French and Arabic reading books casting further doubt in our minds on the popular theory that 5 is too young to start school. These people are generally peaceful & patient. We always felt safe and felt less worried about theft & vandalism than we might in western cities. The towns were crowded, but Essaouira was neither as busy nor as dirty as we thought it might be.
We both made a visit to one of the local Hamamms (public bath house) open for women in the day and men in the evening. We chose the basic which did not include the massage. This involved a very thorough scrub by the bath attendant with a rough glove....not a crack or crevice was missed. Layers of dead skin fell away (Jan says). After a hair wash, buckets of hot water were doused over the bodies. This took place in a steamy, tiled, dimly lit room. It was hard to get off the table and leave.
There is lovely ornamental carving from thuya wood. This tree grows locally and is only 2 metres high. The root gives a grainless wood which looks like walnut and has a strong wood scent. There were many other woods which we did not know, and the ship-building on the quay used some beautiful planks of some local hard wood.
We joined a couple from an English boat one day & took a bus from Essaouira to Marrakech (or rather would have taken the bus if we had got the times right - in fact we went in an ancient Mercedes taxi and returned by bus). 200 km inland, Marrakech lies between the ends of the Middle & High Atlas mountain ranges. The road leaves the coast between low trees which gradually thin into plantations of olives, goat pasture, and scrub (a clump of grass every 100 ft. or so).
Marrakech is the fourth of the Moroccan imperial cities founded in 1062 which gave its name to the country. Today Marrakech is the commercial centre for the High Atlas and Moroccan Sahara. A bigger city with more tourists. This was during Ramadan and immediately after the broadcast prayer for sundown the central square was filled with food stalls which served everything from pancakes to sheeps' heads. These stalls were surrounded by old men telling stories to Berber listeners, sellers selling everything to tourists, doctors with vials of evil looking liquids and snake charmers playing pipes to live cobras while sitting on blankets on the ground.
It is now the favourite season to cross the Atlantic in the "Trade Wind Route" to the West Indies, and here in the Canary Islands, the marinas are full. The ARC or "Atlantic Race for Cruisers" is a rally which has been making this crossing at this time of year for several years. It has now grown to about 150 boats and split so that over 400 sailing boats have been organized to leave in 3 starts next week. After that, we shall look for space to leave Harmonica while we fly back for Christmas.
2003?? Who knows. We have been planning to visit Brazil.
We keep hearing that Senegal & Gambia are 2 countries in West Africa
which just should not be missed.
David, Janet & Harmonica