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We made it to Morocco – Part 1 Tangier

by SV Red Roo 10 Jan 13:34 UTC
Looking towards Africa as we cross the Gibraltar Strait © SV Red Roo

Our last sail of the year (2018) was a little jaunt across to Africa, just a mere 25 nautical miles from Barbate, Spain to Tangier, Morocco. There was fog and no wind early but it cleared and by 9:30 we were on our way.

Despite it only being 25 nautical miles and being able to see the shores of Africa from our anchorage in Spain the crossing did require some attention to tides and shipping as we were crossing the western part of the Strait of Gibraltar, the narrow channel where water flows in and out of the huge Mediterranean Sea twice a day, a small area with a lot going on.

Anyway we had a good sail, uneventful and very slow to begin with but as the wind increased gradually through the day we picked up speed and at the end entered Tangier Bay at seven knots, lovely. So good that we sailed right into the Bay and didn't drop the sails until right outside the Marina fuel dock. We originally thought we were going to have to tack the sails to get into the bay, but the tidal current assisted us getting across on the one heading.

We had left Europe and the European Union and had arrived in Africa, a new Continent.

Approaching Marina reception dock we were greeted by four very friendly smiles from the Marina crew who took our lines and tied us in a spiders web of lines to the dock. we weren't going anywhere.

Check in was relatively easy, just a lot of paperwork the same 3 forms done 6 times, one set for immigration, the next for the customs, then the maritime police, then for tourism board (so they could collect tax $ for each night we stay), as well as a set for the marina office and then another just for good luck. The forms being a mixture of Arabic and French it was a blessing to have assistance from Amal, the lovely multi lingual marina administrator who escorted us and helped throughout the process.

We were eventually assigned a berth and this triggered another flurry of activity as two guys helped us untie from the reception dock, two others escorted us in the marina dinghy to our berth where two others were ready to take our lines and tie us up what service!

The marina is new, having only been opened three months prior and the many staff are very keen to help (and get good reviews). The facilities are new and whilst they certainly have a few teething issues and are lacking experience if enthusiasm is anything to go by give them another 6 months and they will be very good. For the first week it was a little off putting as you couldn't walk down the dock without one of the men rushing to meet you and ask if everything was alright and could they do anything to help. The marina holds over 250 boats and the most that have been here at any one time would be around 15, and only about 6 with people living on them.

It is a strange set up with the pontoons coming off perpendicular to a road with the marina services on the other side of the road and a promenade with restaurants on the top of these service buildings. At the present time, no public are allowed to walk along the road or footpath beside the docks but public cars can drive along this road turn at the end (it is a dead end) and go back. The public are allowed to walk along the top promenade and look down but can't take pictures. To police all this (the road is probably just under a kilometre long) there are security guards at the start of the road leading in and three more along the road and four up along the top promenade and they are all armed... with a whistle. Trust us when we say they are not scared to use them. It has become quite easy for us to recognise the the different whistles, there is the causal short half hearted blow to tell someone to get off the grass, the more sharp blow to tell someone they can't enter the footpath to walk along the road, and then the short hard multiple frantic blows if a car stops or slows when driving along the road.

During our first week we were moved again due to dredging in the marina to the opposite side of the marina basin where there are two solitary pontoons. It is quite a long way away from everything which was ok, very private, very quiet with tight security at the long road entrance (no cars or persons admitted to that road at all it is an isolated spit of land) and another full time security guard at the pontoon. We asked the reason for this and were told very secretly that we were on the Kings personal pontoon! Why thank you Mohammad VI. It doesn't seem to matter that the King doesn't have a boat, it is still important that he has his own pontoon. After another week we were moved back to the main area where we were amongst a couple of other live-aboards sitting out winter months counting Schengen Visa days before entering the Mediterranean Sea. It is nice to have others around to talk and socialise with. We have shared many drinks, meals and laughs with new friends from Australian, American and Canadian flagged boats.

My only real disappointment with the marina is that there is no laundry and furthermore in town they only offer dry cleaning services and charge per item of clothing for services, meaning its been two months of hand washing in a bucket the joys of this cruising life!

Tangier the city has been a delight to explore. We spent a few days exploring the old Kasbah and the Medina (market) with its many streets with vendors selling wares of all types like carpets, fabric, leather goods, shoes, clothes, souvenirs, natural remedies (herbalist) stores, spices, meat (feathers and fur on or off as you please), fruit, vegetables, flowers, plastics, silverware, china, small groceries and much much more.

After a number of days we are almost shopping like locals and have our favourite fruit and vegetable man in the market who looks after us (each shop is getting cheaper as the friendship has developed and he has realised we are living here for a while). Without prices on anything I am sure we have been overcharged at various places but are now learning the tricks and people are recognising us.

Our fruit and veg man for example speaks Arabic and French and a little English and is loving learning the English fruit and veg names from us and in turn teaching us the Arabic names (you never know when you will need to know the Arabic word for artichoke which is pronounced kharshuf). We have been buying fish and meat at the markets too, and although we are ensuring we are paying less that the prices in the supermarkets I am sure we are paying a tourist tax and the store holders are taking a little extra profit home, overall however the prices are very cheap.

We are finding communications pretty easy as French is the second language here and we can get by with our French and there seems to be someone who will help with language at most times. We have also learnt the Arabic basics much to the delight of the marina staff, security staff and our regular shopkeepers they are all very impressed. We thanked a local policeman in Arabic recently who waved us across the road with his white gloved hand signals and whistle, he was so delighted he kept all the cars stopped while he spoke to us about it for a couple of minutes in the middle of the road! Of course all the touts annoying tourists along the Medina streets can all speak english thats when we pretend we can't!

On one of our first excursions into the Medina we were lured into a carpet shop, this is a trap, unless you want to buy a carpet, and we have avoided it ever since. The very friendly person on the street was convinced we had to see his friends shop and Phil being as friendly as he is was happy to chat with him and we ended up at the shop. Whilst unlike many of his kind we have met since who ask for a gift (of money) for showing you the way to somewhere he didn't ask but he waited outside for his commission from the shop owner after we purchased. Sorry mate, no purchase for us so no commission for you.

We told the first assistant in the carpet shop we just wanted to look and not buy and he of course was very happy to show us his carpets, and we wanted to be polite so we complimented him on his beautiful carpets which meant he invited to see the better carpets on the second level. We eventually made it to level three of this huge and very rich carpet shop where we met the "grandfather" who took over the sell. We were shown carpet after carpet after carpet with his assistant scurrying off to get them in different colours and styles all to be laid out in front of us.

Eventually we finally made it clear we were ready to leave and the grandfather started to get quite insistent that we purchase a carpet, we explained we didn't want one and lived on a small boat and then more carpets came out in the small sizes suitable for the boat. We still said no thanks and he then started saying "I give you crazy special price" but we didn't enter into the negotiation much to his disgust.

We have not been hassled too much here in Tangier, although we have had many offers from people to show us around the Medinas or how to get somewhere but we thank them and decline and if they still follow us we simply stop walking and wait them out, or go into a nearby shop in an attempt to loose them. We have also learnt how to say "no thank you" in Arabic which helps and surprises many.

It has been a little distressing however at the amount of young boys and men begging on the street for money for food whilst sniffing from a bag or tissue in the other hand, glue or paint. Many of them displaying brain damage from the affects. At times the filth on the streets can also be off putting, but you learn to become a little immune to the less desirable side of it all, in general it is a friendly place, people very willing to help (some request a small tip) and we feel safe.

From the boat we can hear the "call to prayer" ring out over of the city from the many Mosque minarets five times each day. The sound is very special and hard to describe. It almost sounds like a song and we originally thought maybe it was recorded and automatically played.

We have since learnt from generous staff here in the marina who answer all our questions, that each mosque has a dedicated person (with the title of Muezzin) who does each and every call to prayer live which is projected through a microphone and speakers out of the tall minarets of their mosque. He recites the words from the Koran by memory (not reading it). He recites it for a good 3-5 minutes each time calling people to prayer, and where he ends he picks up again from that exact point at the next calling. Going from the start to end of the Koran over and over in order from memory amazing!

But it's not all holidays in Morocco, it's also winter maintenance time for Red Roo and beside immersing ourselves into local life we have a long list of boat maintenance and improvement jobs to complete whilst here. Just a few are listed below:-

  • Service Engine.
  • Repair wiring to 2 x mains power outlets.
  • Install new 12 volt USB charge points hard wired into boat
  • Cut sail stack pack battons to size.
  • Empty and clean the two fresh water tanks.
  • Dinghy hull leak repair
  • Serviced toilet (twice)
  • Descale hot water service
  • Descale fridge cooling water circuit
  • Descale engine sea water cooling circuit
  • Replace silicone sealant around galley worktops
  • Replace silicone sealant in fridge
  • Replace hot water service heating element
  • Sand back and re-varnish the tiller, flag pole & companion way hatch timber
  • Make a mozzie net to cover companion way entrance
  • Make new pull tabs for all snap shackles on deck (x20)
  • Sew new tiller cover
  • Clean and lubricate windows and hatches
  • Sew a new bag for the storm sail
  • Repair bilge pump lines in bow locker
  • Reseal dingy drain outlet to prevent water entering floatation tank
  • Service and repair windlass (mechanical anchor lift) which has only worked hauling the anchor up for the last couple of months
  • Make (sew) dinghy chaps (covers to protect the dinghy from the sun and chaffing which will prolong the life of the hypalon/pvc inflatable sides to keep it airtight)
This post is long enough without going into the detail of the maintenance but it is fair to say that sometimes when doing one job you actually create more jobs or come across something else that needs attention, so the list continues to grow.

Phil did however have a hell of a time repairing the hot water service which has been out of service since May (it only works when plugged into shore power anyway so not that big a deal) but a nice to have when you know you can have it. We have had the new part, the heater element since leaving the UK last May but only now have had the time to get stuck into the repair. The first part of that being removing the old part. Easier said than done when you have to be a contortionist to reach the hot water cylinder behind the engine and around the corner.

Phil has set up some softening pads around the gear he leans on to get it to in an attempt to reduce his ribs continually being bruised. The old element was stuck fast and not coming out. After trying every tool we had on board to get it out, we borrowed other tools from different boats without success. We then got some industrial de-scaler to run through the tank thinking the part was crusted up with limescale, hence not coming out. There was only millimetres of clearance on each side to get it out, and this helped get it out a little further but not enough. We descaled again, still couldn't get it out.

Eventually Phil managed to cut it up inside the tank whilst securing the pieces so they wouldn't fall into the tank and be un-retrievable. When he eventually got it all out, it was obvious that when the element failed it burst open which in turn increased its size meaning he couldn't get it out the hole. Many days frustration and a worthy celebration once complete. Please folks, never take hot water on tap for granted.

Tune in next week for Morocco Part II where we leave the boat for a week and explore inland Morocco including the amazing Sahara Desert.

This article has been provided by the courtesy of SV Red Roo.

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