Tuesday, 22 November 2016

Agadir, Morocco to Lanzarote, Canary Islands

We had been in touch with Canadian friends, Ann and Barry from Cat’s Paw IV and knew they were somewhere in the Canary Islands. They were in Marina Lanzarote near Arrecife and would wait for us if we were leaving Morocco soon. We told them we would sail direct to the same marina and see them in two days, if all went well.

Reunited with friends from Cat's Paw IV
The wind stayed in the northern sector, so on Gavin’s birthday (Happy Birthday, Gavin for 14th November) we left Agadir. Customs and Immigration only made us wait an hour and 40 minutes for our exit papers. Other yachts have waited longer, so we considered ourselves lucky. An hour later, the engine was switched off and we sailed all the way to the approaches to Lanzarote. We began on a beam reach and put a reef in the mainsail just before dark. The sun set in the west and almost immediately the moon rose in the east, red and full. Not long afterwards, Venus disappeared over the western horizon. A short, sharp swell hit us on the beam making us rock and roll and spray splashed into the cockpit.  It was cold at night; full sailing waterproofs were needed along with woolly hats and boots.

As we moved further SW we picked up the north east trades and sailed downwind with the mainsail put to bed and the genoa poled out. Once more there was a beautiful sunset and a stunning moonrise. The moon was bright enough to cast shadows. The sea was rough after midnight making it hard to sleep down below. Jeremy woke with severe indigestion, but came on watch anyway.

Working hard preparing for two months layover
I could see the lights of Lanzarote before the sun rose. There was a wind shift off the coast which gave us a better angle for the swell. We started the engine, furled the genoa and when Jeremy called Marina Lanzarote on VHF 09, we were allocated berth E29. Cat’s Paw IV were in E2 and were surprised, but pleased to see us at 9.30 am. I knocked my ankle hard on a cleat as we set off for the marina office. I’m still applying ice packs three days later, but it is much better now the swelling has gone down.

Marina Lanzarote
Marina Lanzarote is in Puerto Naos, near Arrecife. Avid readers of this blog will remember that we were here in 2008 when almost everyone had to anchor. What a contrast. A retail park lines one side of the marina and all facilities are provided. The cost for us is about 15 euros a night with discounts for longer stays. Sal Darago will be here until the third week of January 2017.

Distant volcanoes rise behind Arrecife
We had a great time with Ann and Barry. The last time we saw them we were in Antigua on our way back to the UK in 2014. It was great to get together for sundowners on the first evening we arrived. The following day we were invited aboard Cat’s Paw IV for dinner and cards. We played Bridge, girls against boys, and I have to tell you that the girls wiped the floor with the boys! The third night we had sundowners on Sal Darago and went out for dinner in town.
Sal Darago flying the WOA 50th Anniversary flag in Lanzarote
Sadly, on Saturday 19th November, we helped Ann and Barry leave their berth and wished them “Bon Voyage”. Perhaps we’ll meet up again in the Caribbean. Perhaps we’ll meet up in Panama. Watch this space.

Jeremy and I are busy preparing SD for her sojourn here in the marina. Our flights are booked and we are looking forward to seeing Emily, Ben, Ellie, Sophie and Tess.

Happy Christmas, everyone and may 2017 be your best year yet.

Friday, 18 November 2016

Mohammedia to Agadir

The anchorage off the beach and just outside the harbour at Mohammedia was well sheltered from the southerly winds that we were experiencing. We checked the weather forecast and knew that northerly winds were coming soon. We also knew that we should wait a day before leaving to allow a gale further south to blow itself out. What we didn’t know was that the wind would switch direction so quickly. We went ashore for supplies for the two day sail to Agadir in calm, sunny weather. We returned in strong onshore winds with waves breaking into the dinghy and Sal Darago pitching and tossing on her anchor. Jeremy wanted to leave immediately, but we still had to clear out, which meant another dinghy trip ashore.

All sailors know the dangers of a lee shore – if the anchor drags the boat will go aground – but they also know the dangers of a gale out at sea. We went ashore and cleared out with Customs and Immigration, returned to Sal Darago and hauled up the dinghy with some difficulty on our bucking bronco of a boat. We decided to stay put until first light with the anchor alarm on, but be ready to leave immediately should we need to. Thankfully, the wind eased a little in the night and the anchor held firm. We motored out of the harbour waving at the returning fishing vessels.
Sunset over Agadir beach
We flew the genoa only as the strengthening wind was behind us. Soon the first squall hit us and we furled the genoa to a small triangle. The squall took the wind away and a yacht called Panacea that had been in the anchorage with us came sailing past under full sail. We raised our mainsail and later put the engine on as well as the wind varied in direction and strength. Our trusty autopilot, Neco, stopped working after another squall. Jeremy ducked under the stern bunk and found a grub screw had come loose and was able to fix it.

Agadir motto - God, Nation, King - on the hill
We motor sailed all night. Several fishing vessels came too close and we both had to take avoiding action to avoid a collision. By morning the wind had settled down to NNE direction and rose from 5-22 knots. Jeremy took the mainsail down and poled out the genoa. The wind blew stronger and the swell grew larger and breaking waves showered water into the cockpit. During one violent gust the inner forestay came loose and swung about like a pendulum threatening to smash our windows. It caught on the safety rail and I grabbed it. Jeremy secured it and tied it down. No damage was done.

Panache decided to make for the port of Essouira. We decided it was too risky to approach an unknown harbour in the dark in a near gale and headed away from the coast into open waters. We had an uncomfortable night with six knots on the log and 33 knots of wind from behind. Rough seas and breaking waves came rushing past like express trains. We rounded Cape Sim, the gale blew itself out and by 0500 hours the engine came on as we had only 3 knots of wind. 
Agadir Mosque
It was a delight to motor into a “proper” marina close to the beach at Agadir, where a staff member greeted us, spoke good English and helped us tie up. The sun shone brightly and the sky was blue. All was hunky dory until we saw the shower and toilet facilities – ‘nuff said!

The marina is very sheltered with non-drinking water and electricity at every berth. Apartments and shops surround the marina, but a breeze blows through from the hills nearby. In the daytime it is hot and sunny, but cools off quickly in the evening. Marium, in the marina office, gave us a map and good information about Agadir. She recommended a place to eat at the fish harbour – Abdel Krim number 7. We were glad to have this recommendation because the stalls selling food went into the hundreds. We shared a fish dinner, which included calamari, several small fish each and dozens of prawns, with a tomato salad starter and a plate of bread for 82 dirhams (approx. 8.20 euros). It was the freshest fish I’d tasted in a long time.
Being smoked alive at the Souk
Another day we caught the bus to the Souk and ate there for even less, but the food was not as good. We wandered round the Souk for two hours and didn’t see all of it. It had 15 entrances and there was much for sale and many stalls to take in. Almost everything you can think of was for sale from carpets and furniture to herbs and spices. The colours and the smells were overwhelming. One stallholder asked for help writing a postcard in English to a friend and took us behind his stall. In return for our help, he put the kettle on and left us with his fellow stallholder to share a glass of mint and citron tea. We felt like honoured guests until the big sell started. Would we like some herbs or spices? Look at these lipsticks? You like? We thanked him and walked away.
Stand Up Paddle board across the Atlantic
One day a strange craft was lowered into the marina. Some thought it was a submersible and others thought it was an ocean rowing boat but there were no oars or rowlocks. The craft became Sal Darago’s neighbour and we learned that it was an SUP (Stand Up Paddleboard) which South African surfer, Chris Bertish is going to paddle across the Atlantic. This will be the first time that anyone has attempted this. Chris and his team already have impressive sponsorship, but more would be welcome as they want to raise as much money as they can for needy children in Africa. Check out Chris’s website and if you would like to donate you’ll find the details there.
This shows the relative sizes
As we left our berth at Agadir Marina, bound for Lanzarote in the Canary Islands, we looked at Chris’s little craft and remembered the wind, waves and swell that we’d experienced in our 36 foot yacht. There is no way that we would swap. Good luck, Chris.

Saturday, 5 November 2016

Mohammedia and Casablanca

Reconstruction of the pontoons

At first the French speaking member of staff on the pontoon in the harbour at Mohammedia told us there was no room and we must go outside and anchor. We could see three empty berths but repairs were taking place on the pontoon. We were allowed to tie up and had to reverse into a berth with a short finger. We had to pick up a bowline attached to a submerged mooring and secure it over our bows. Immediately Coastguard or Maritime Police arrived and checked our papers. Then the marina manager came and said we could not stay as he had boats coming in. Jeremy said we would leave if any boats came in. Next the Port Authority arrived, checked our papers and told us the charge was 26 euros or 265 dirhams per day. We were shocked as we’d been expecting to pay about 10 dirhams per day. Finally, Immigration and Customs came and our passports were stamped for entry. Later, we learned that the marina would charge 40 dirhams per day in addition to the port charge. These fees made Morocco as expensive as the UK.

Close and it is in reverse!
The marina was in the petroleum part of the harbour and big tankers were piloted in and pushed into their berth by tugboats only a few metres ahead of us. All day and night the engines or generators roared loudly and a rubbery, gas smell permeated the air as the tanks were filled. We began to wish we’d anchored outside.

Mohammedia is not a tourist destination (surprise, surprise)! Fortunately, we were given good directions by fellow yachties and found our way into town, stopping at the bank ATM for Moroccan dirhams. The train station was harder to find and about 45 mins walk from the marina. Here, we found a good Wi-Fi signal and information about trains to Casablanca.

On 3rd November we got a taxi to the station (7 dirhams) and bought return tickets to Casablanca, about 14 miles away. At first we had to stand as the double decker train was full. On arrival, a few taxi touts tried hard to persuade us to part with our money and take tours. We took a guess at the main road into town and walked away. A policeman directed us to Tourist Information and we found a tiny, glass-cube office near a tramline. The young man inside spoke good English, but he only had tramline maps and one leaflet in English. He directed us to the Christian art deco church. We walked for 60 minutes at last finding a gateway through the sheet metal fencing which surrounded the church. The church was being renovated; no entry allowed. Jeremy was cross and frustrated. (Kathy polished her halo.)
Elusive Art Deco Church
Our day improved when we worked out the French style of designing cities with roads radiating from plazas. Since we had a tramline map, we followed the line and made our way back to the harbour. We found the more interesting old town behind the old city wall, bustling with local people, but we avoided the narrow alleys and kept to the main streets.

Play it for me Sam
The highlight of the day was Rick’s Café as featured in the film, “Casablanca”. The atmosphere was perfect with the décor and furniture straight out of the 1940’s. Our table was next to the piano and we frequently said to each other, “Play it for me, Sam.” Waiters in dinner suits served us our meal and we sipped Casablanca beer.
Here's looking at you kid
Then it was back to reality, a rush to catch the train and a taxi back to the marina. The noisy, smelly tanker had gone, but another less noisy one from Douglas, Isle of Man had arrived. The next morning, we moved to the anchorage.
View from the train - almost desert

Spain to Morocco

Ayamonte Marina - fairly empty
We had some heavy rain and thunderstorms while we were upriver in the Rio Guadiana. After two nights, we paid our bill (7 euros per night on a pontoon at Sanlucar) and prepared to leave. More heavy rain fell and the next morning Jeremy and some other cruisers rescued a tender that had filled with rain water and sunk at the pontoon with its outboard engine attached. Two other small boats were going the same way so Jeremy did more baling out until our bucket broke.

San Francisco Ayamonte style
We left at lunchtime on 25th October and motored downriver to Ayamonte Marina on the Spanish side. We tied up after reversing into an outer berth and called the marina on the VHF 09. It was good to hear a Scottish voice answering and we were soon directed to another berth for our size of boat. In Ayamonte you are charged according to the size of berth you use, so we didn’t mind moving. However, we were cross with ourselves for not noticing we were reversing into the wrong berth and had to move ourselves again! There was lots of space and the out of season rate for our boat was 15 euros per night. The showers were hot and there was a washing machine and tumble dryer available at a small extra charge. There was no Wi-Fi but a café close by had it and so did the library in town. We chose the free Wi-Fi in the library.

It really is San Francisco - it says so.
We had intended to stay for two nights but when we checked the weather there was a gale warning for the Casablanca sea area and a 3 metre swell in our area. We waited for 5 nights using the time to explore Ayamonte and prepare for our next voyage to Morocco. We began to have trouble with flies and mosquitos, so we put up insect nets on the hatches at night.

The night before we left Jeremy checked  the tricolour navigation light and discovered the colours were not right. His first job the next day was to go up the mast and alter the fitment. Our masthead sailing light had been incorrect since launching. Fortunately we have to show different lights while motoring and these were correct. Meanwhile, I made our signature sailing dish of a three day mince stew.

I motored gently out of our berth while Jeremy got ready to haul up the mainsail. Then the engine stuck in gear and would not disengage. I turned a circle as directed but had no power to turn against the current and we drifted towards the bank. In the nick of time, Jeremy disengaged the gear in the engine compartment and I was able to turn away. The next hazard was a flotilla of Optimist dinghies crossing the river from the Portugese side followed by several small fishing vessels anchored in the middle of the channel. 
Eco Museum of six wheeeled corn mill
Once out at sea we met an uncomfortable and bouncy sea. I took Stugeron. Otherwise, it was a lovely, sunny afternoon. After almost dying away, the wind came back more strongly; the engine was switched off and we sailed close hauled with a full main and genoa. By midnight 9 knots of wind had doubled to 18 knots. The sea continued short and bouncy and waves and spray broke over the decks. Both sails were reefed down.

The wind continued to rise and gusted to 30 knots. I reefed the genoa smaller. By dawn, the sea remained rough but the wind began to moderate. Sometimes, we wonder why we wait in port for better weather! There were many ships crossing both ways as they plied to and from the Straits of Gibraltar. The strong easterlies that we were experiencing were coming from the Med. It was now Halloween and our clocks had been put back two hours to UTC (GMT). Morocco is in the same time zone as the UK.

Marshland near Ayamonte
The wind died away as quickly as it had risen and by 1500 we were motoring again. Local fishing vessels started to appear as darkness fell, mostly brightly lit, but with no AIS. Rabat was 65 miles away and we were going to arrive in the dark. Night entry is not advised so we altered course for Mohammedia, 73 miles away, arriving on 1st November.

Wednesday, 26 October 2016

Alvor to Rio Guadiana

Beach walk at Alvor
 We spent three nights anchored off Alvor. Jeremy recognised the town from 11 years ago, when we had a holiday at nearby Estrella de Vau to celebrate our 30th Wedding Anniversary. We enjoyed walking along a 6km boardwalk across the sand dunes that separate the sea from the lagoon and returning via a long stretch of unspoilt beach. In contrast, the old town has cobbled streets and numerous restaurants and bars with well-stocked supermarkets within walking distance. A number of international boats winter here and others have decided to stay indefinitely. I couldn’t help being amused by a small fishing vessel called “Sol Dourada”.

Praia de Roche behind Kathy
After shopping at Pingo Doce on Wednesday 19th October, we returned to Sal Darago to find an American yacht called “Detour” had anchored within hitting distance of us. Fortunately, we were leaving for Rio Arade about 5 miles away, so we waved politely and motored away with no dramas on the exit route to the sea.

Private castle at Ferraguado
We passed the first yacht anchorage opposite the large Portimao Marina and continued upriver to Ferraguado. The crew on a Dutch yacht called “Anne Mara” told us a red mooring buoy was good and there was no charge for using it. We spent three nights there, delaying our departure by a day, as the expensive laundry up the hill in Ferraguado needed two days to wash and dry our clothes. We explored the village and sampled sardinhas at a quayside restaurant. Two large plates of BBQed sardines arrived complete with heads, tails and bones. It took a while to dissect and eat but it was very tasty.
Ferraguado fishing village
 Bad weather was coming our way, so we abandoned our plan of spending a night at anchor in the lagoon off Faro 35 miles away and decided to sail 65 miles to Rio Guadiana, which marks the border between Portugal and Spain. We left at 6.00am in the dark, following the flashing red buoys that mark the channel. I was temporarily confused by the red and green buoys marking the entrance to the marina as Jeremy dashed about hauling up the main sail. Once out at sea the promised wind was noticeably absent, so we continued motoring. When the wind came it was preceded by a squall, distant thunder and rain lashing down in stair rods. When the weather cleared we had many hours of blue skies and sunshine sailing comfortable on a reach….until we had to change course. We could not afford to lose time as the bar at the entrance to the Rio Guadiana is shallow and we needed to be there at half flood.

Rio Guadiana
Just as we reached the bar, the sky darkened and another squall began. We motored up river for about 5 miles and anchored on the Portuguese side opposite Pedra Amereta in the dark. The rain lashed down all night and we bounced around when the tide turned and small waves crashed into our stern. The next morning it was absolutely still and the river was a mirror. We were reminded of Loch Lochy on the Caledonian Canal in Scotland and thought we could smell bog myrtle, but I think it was actually eucalyptus trees.
Good navigation posts on the Rio Guadiana
We had a quiet motor up the river for 15 miles on Sunday 23rd October. The deep water is marked at regular intervals by red and green posts. There were huge rafts of loose bamboo floating in the river and avoiding action had to be taken many times before we arrived and tied up at the Spanish pontoons of Sanlucar de Guadiana, opposite the Portuguese town of Alcoutim.
Alcoutim, Portugal from Sanlucar de Guadiana, Spain