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Memories of a Circumnavigation: Morocco to the Canary Islands

by Hugh & Heather Bacon 23 Dec 2020 11:52 UTC
Moroccan Tour © Hugh & Heather Bacon

In their last article, Hugh and Heather returned to ARGONAUTA I at Port Napoleon, France. With the yacht prepared for sea, they departed France and cruised the Spanish Coast to Gibraltar. Following a brief stop in Spanish Morocco on continental Africa, they continued to Mohammedia, Morocco on the African Atlantic Coast. Their objective for this season was to cross the Atlantic to the Caribbean arriving late January 2006 thus completing a circumnavigation.

We now continue with the passages of ARGONAUTA I from the beginning of their journey in 1997 in the Caribbean, until the completion of a circumnavigation in 2006, when they crossed their 1997 outbound track. Later they continued to Victoria, Canada bringing their odyssey to a close.

In this episode we tour Morocco and then set off into the Atlantic Ocean for the Madeira Islands Later, we continue to the Canary Islands where we await the season suitable for an Atlantic crossing. There we do much needed maintenance before continuing to the Cape Verde Islands.

We left our boat at the Mohammedia Marina and took a train to Marrakesh. The train, based upon the French system was excellent. We hired an official guide who navigated us through the narrow streets of the souk. There was the inevitable visit to the carpet shop and for the first time we succumbed. Heather bought frankincense, myrrh, and ambergris. Our guide took us to a herbal drugstore and Heather had a massage with rosewater cream and exotic oil. A highlight of our time in Marrakesh was a drink at the Mammoudia Hotel, frequented in the past by Sir Winston Churchill and other famous personages. After our tour of the ramparts by caleche we left our lagging horse at the entrance to the most exotic hotel in town. A martini cost more than the buggy ride but the hors d'oeuvres we gobbled up could have been supper. The glitterati sipping cocktails were a little better dressed than us but in a really classy place the waiters make all feel welcome.

Casablanca is a half hour train ride to the south of our marina. At first glance this vast modern city of some five million was disappointing. However, a magnificent mosque completed as recently as 1993 deserved a visit. Then the carrot: lunch at Rick's Café. Anyone who hears the word Casablanca pictures the evocative film. But Bogey doesn't live there anymore! A year earlier a clever American woman, retired from the diplomatic corps, recreated the café from the film. There is a piano bar, opulent furnishing and a fine eclectic menu. Heather had fresh oysters, David had a club sandwich. It called out for champagne! We walked from the mosque to the restaurant and got a little lost. The medina where we found ourselves was on a par with some of the most colourful we have seen. I was excited to spot a scrubbing pail among the wares; it would replace the one lost overboard! When we finally reached the restaurant, a tactful concierge gently relieved us of it and placed it in the office!

On to the capital of Rabat, for a couple of nights then it was time to move on. We did some provisioning and extracted Heather from the pool. On Sunday, October 3, 2005 we would head for The Madeiras. That meant we had to get the boat out of our extremely confined slip!

To do so was a real circus. I had guessed optimistically at the space between the pontoons and surmised there was at least a 44 foot boat length between our stern and the bow of the boat behind us. So I had a large group of yachties standing on adjacent boats with lines attached to ARGONAUTA I for them to pull. The space turned out to be less than our boat length by at least ten feet. So once backed out as far as possible, our bow was still in the slip so I could not turn. Incremental wiggling eventually got the bow out and I was able to turn a bit in the direction opposite to the exit as a shorter boat on our left allowed our bow to ease by with an inch or so to spare. Once facing the wrong way, I was able to reverse out but not before a lady line handler had fallen off the dock with a large splash necessitating rescue. Actually, I only heard the splash but Heather on the bow shouted encouragement as she swam for the pontoon!

With an open ended period before we needed to arrive in the Caribbean, we wanted to visit as many of the Atlantic Islands as feasible. Clearly, we were already too far south for the Azores. Still, visiting three of the major island groups was possible so we headed first for the Madeira group intending to sail on to the Canaries and then to the Cape Verdes. Now, we were leaving behind the summer cruisers and were beginning to encounter serious passage makers as they congregated in the many interim locations between Morocco and the Canary Islands there to await the opening of the seasonal gate for an Atlantic crossing. We looked forward to once again enjoying the camaraderie which springs up among cruisers.

Morocco to Port Santo, the northernmost of the Madeiras was our first passage into the Atlantic. The island is about 440 NM west of Mohammedia.. Wind was mainly NE at F 3 4 which on our westerly course, made for a beam/broad reach. It veered easterly for a time so we poled out and even had our big red and blue downwind sail flying for a time. Heather was queasy for the first day as the big Atlantic swells make for an entirely different motion than in the Med. She adjusted in a day or so though and made a very welcome batch of banana bread. A day before we arrived we had warning of a low pressure area approaching the islands. So we kept our speed up all of the last night. About 0300 hours, we encountered a long line of thunderstorms. Strangely, there was not much wind associated so we motored on hoping not to be struck by lightning which at times was very close. Early morning we anchored in the Porto Santo inner harbour and checked into Portuguese Madeira. By October 9, the low pressure area had developed into a circulatory storm which was soon officially named Hurricane Vince. Porto Santo is about 33 degrees north latitude.









The most we experienced in the harbour were gusts to 40 knots. Our forty-five pound CQR anchor held us secure. In the aftermath though, our topping lift detached from the boom as the stitching of the lanyard holding it in place failed. The flailing line and shackle went through the wind generator destroying same. No one was onboard at the time of the incident as Heather and I had debarked to a wilderness hotel leaving David in charge. When David returned to the boat from a run ashore, he was greeted with the flailing line and an out of balance one bladed wind generator. He solved the problem by trapping the topping lift with a boat hook then stopping the generator by tying the remaining blade to the mount.

We sailed away from bleakly dramatic Porto Santo October 12 in a WNW wind to 35K. Five hours and 30 NM later we anchored in Baia do Abra, Madeira Island. Quinta do Lorde Marina was in the next bay so after a couple of days at anchor to careen the propeller and catch up on maintenance we entered the marina. In a hired car, we headed for Funchal, the capital of the Madeira Islands. Views were striking. Funchal itself is a garden city and cruise ship port, quite full of tourists. Still, the town did not feel "touristy" and we found a very nice inner city hotel at a modest price. We bought the obligatory bottle or two of traditional Madeira tipple along with some inexpensive and very good Portuguese wine.

We had obtained permits to visit Madeira's two groups of isolated uninhabited islands. Ilhas Desertas & Sevagens both to the south. In calm conditions we motored about 20 NM to the Desertas but a huge swell being generated by foul weather to the north made the anchorage untenable. Se we continued overnight to the Sevagens but found similar conditions. It was time to head for the Canaries. I had identified Graciosa Island in the eastern Canaries and Sebo Marina as a good inexpensive place to chill out for a week or two. October 19, we arrived after a second overnight and found an available slip. The planned island hop had turned into a two night non stop passage of some 300 NM.

It was still too early to consider an Atlantic crossing so we chose to secure and wait on this smallest of the Canary Islands.. It is only 6.5 Km long and 3 Km wide and is composed of four extinct volcanoes. There are beautiful beaches a barefoot stroll away and a pretty, welcoming little town with shops and a few restaurants. Sebo Marina cost only seven Euros per day. We had everything we needed except water but we anticipated this so we made sure our tanks were full upon arrival.

With no shore power, we used the solar panels strategically and ran the motor occasionally to keep up our batteries. The few restaurants were excellent. David was not thrilled at the idea of octopus, especially as it came with huge tentacles, suction cups intact but he was a quick convert. It was sublime, crispy on the outside, amazingly tender within.

Local fishers took huge grouper and tuna in wheelbarrows from colorful wooden fishing boats to restaurants and a fish plant. The village has three or four streets loosely paralleling the water. Roads are sand and the only vehicles were a few four by fours used to transport day trippers to wild beaches. Older residents sported a distinctive straw hat shaped like a flowerpot. We suspect not much has changed since 2005.

Whenever a cruising boat appeared, a host of yachties would rush out to catch lines and, if necessary, help pivot the vessel around the finger. All were long term cruisers waiting to cross the Atlantic. After a month stay we tore ourselves away from Graciosa and sailed to the southwest end of nearby Lanzarote Island securing at posh Rubicon Marina. The contrast from the barefoot sandy streets of Graciosa to a glitzy tourist destination meant culture shock for all of us! A first reaction was Alet=s go back home!@ Graciosa had become more than just a port visit.

Rubicon Marina was like a mirage in the desert: elegant shops, a huge pool exclusive to marina residents, plethora of restaurants, all in new edifices constructed to replicate the architecture of the "real Spain of forty years ago". We hired a car and toured the island. Lanzarote is best known for one of the largest more recent volcanic events which began in 1730 and lasted for seven years. The legacy is a vast lava field and some 30 volcanic cones one or two still cooking beneath the surface. We did the obligatory tour of the moonscape and marveled at the success of agriculture in this marginal area.

Wine produced on the island is abundant locally but to cultivate the vines, growers have built rock screens placed to windward of each vine. Local architect, the late César Manrique significantly influenced tourist development and other local architecture to the extent that buildings tastefully blend in with the natural features of the terrain.

With the November 20th departure of the Atlantic Rally for Cruisers (ARC) from Las Palmas, Gran Canaria Island to St Lucia, it was time to move on to Las Palmas. We sailed overnight November 25/26 and with a good north easterly we covered the 100 NM in 17 hours arriving early morning. We secured in the huge marina at Las Palmas de Gran Canaria.with some 1200 odd berths where there is a significant maintenance capability. Here we sought out a replacement wind generator for the one destroyed in Hurricane Vince. I decided too that if at all possible we would replace the leaky seals in our autopilot hydraulic ram. Las Palmas felt a bit like the aftermath of a plague of locusts; the ARC had departed. Then came Tropical Storm DELTA.

This was another like Hurricane VINCE, a rotating storm which rarely occurs in the sub tropics. In any case, November 28/29 was a bad night in Las Palmas. The wind from the North West increased to F8 pushing us on the dock. We were stern to and our transom mounted wind vane steering took a hit so we were up until 0300 hrs adjusting lines, sometimes motoring to keep the transom from hitting the dock again. In Tenerife many boats were damaged as a dock disintegrated in 70K winds. We were lucky to be further south in Gran Canaria and saw only 45K. Those still in Graciosa had their decks buried in sand blown in from the dunes and we heard that our old slip was destroyed. Yet another ex-tropical hurricane threatened us for a few days. EPSILON had been whirling away at about 35N/30W but dissipated mid Atlantic.

Our new wind generator, an Air Marine X, was installed and our autopilot hydraulic ram was rebuilt. To our delight, both functioned perfectly. Happily, I managed to get a reinforcing plate welded to our #1 alternator mount. One small part needed from the manufacturer for the wind vane steering finally caught up with us so I was able to get it back together too.

Heather enjoyed provisioning. Almost all the treasures we craved were available. She arranged for the meat to be vac packed and frozen. Eleven boxes of food were delivered to the dock followed by even more. Fresh produce came last. She worked a miracle finding places to stow it despite the many bottles remaining from our wine acquisitions in France. We were not going to starve during our Atlantic crossing. She even hid 22 treats for 22 nights. December 15 we departed for the Cape Verde Islands about 800 NM SSW of Las Palmas.

In the next episode we continue to the Cape Verde Islands. Early January 2006 we begin a trans-Atlantic passage participating in a mid-Atlantic emergency before arriving at Port St Charles, Barbados. We then cross our 1997 outbound track from Grenada to complete a circumnavigation.

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