Our landfall in the Canary Islands was the tiny island of Graciosa, just 6.5 km by 3 km. Despite its small size it has 4 volcanic cones, almost as many cones as there are residents (not quite true, but its very quiet).
Graciosa lies just a mile or so north of Lanzarote, separated by a narrow stretch of water called the Estrecho del Rio, rumoured to be a route favoured by migrating pilot whales. Alas, we didn’t see any but the site of the 500m high almost vertical cliffs of Lanzarote on one side and the pretty island of Graciosa on the other was a site to behold. The harbour is a little small for our boat and we had already heard on the radio that it was full so we bypassed it and dropped anchor in the neighbouring bay. A total novelty to be able to see the anchor and chain on the sea bed in crystal clear turquoise water; a far cry from the muddy waters of the Solent!
Much of the island is protected by a marine reserve and we had applied for permission to anchor in the bay of Playa Francesca, the designated reserve bay but that looked very busy and the bay closest to the harbour was empty so we had it to ourselves. Later we discovered the reason – since our guide book was published, they had prohibited anchoring in the one we were in, so we upped anchor and joined the busy throng in the bay of Playa Francesca.
Ashore we took a walk into the island between the cones – there is no tarmac just a few dirt tracks and roads.
It was fascinating to explore and quite remarkable to see the lava dust covered in tiny white shells, not only on the shore line but up on the volcanic cones too. Apart from a few fenced off areas of vegetation, and some low lying plants Graciosa has little to spoil the natural look once you are outside the small settlements.
Back at the harbour we were surprised to find a small but well stocked supermarket, so we bought a few bits and pieces before returning to the boat.
At first light we left for the 205 NM trip to Agadir. This was seeing a familiar pattern by now, with preparation of a suitable meal for on passage and 3 hour watches during the hours of darkness. The saloon berth which we fitted a lee cloth to (a cloth side to stop you falling out as the boat rocks on the waves) was working well, allowing for off watch rest whilst still being available easily if needed for sail adjustment or support when avoiding the fishing fleets from Sadie. Fishing fleets have been a bit of a pain at times as we have travelled down the coasts of Spain and Portugal, but this particular fleet was a serious challenge. Whereas the European fleets have fairly consistent lights, this Moroccan fleet consisted of over 50 boats some with no lights, some with torches, some strobes and the occasional large one with normal navigation lights. With it being pitch black and foggy the radar was showing a multitude of possible targets and no apparent way of getting around them. We got through it without coming too close to any after a couple of hours and then the fog cleared a little bit and the moon came out so all was a little more peaceful.
Arrival at Agadir was very different, we were waved into a berth by the friendly marina berthing staff. Stern to mooring on a finger pontoon, a little short for us but ok, we braced the boat to ride the gentle swell that wrapped around the entrance. Electricity, wifi (at the top of the pontoon) and water meant we could spend a happy few days researching and catching up with friends and family and washing and tidying up the boat after her 800 or so miles since Porto.
Marina Agadir felt like Port Solent with a Moroccan twist and we celebrated our first rental income from the house reaching our bank account by having a fabulous meal out ashore at a restaurant called Pure Passion.
We had heard that their was a large supermarket and a good Souk (covered market) so we took the opportunity to get the bikes out and cycle to them . We filled our bags at the Souk with fruit and veg then continued to the supermarket and proceeded to do a mammoth shop which by necessity meant a taxi for our shopping, bikes and us for the trip back to the marina! At 30 Dirrams (£3) it was a bargain and we had food again.
We aimed to leave in the evening so arranged to check out and get fuel. Having been told by the marina staff that the fuel berth closed at 6. We arrived at 5 to find it closed… Apparently it was a fairly regular occurrence we were told by a local who had the operators number on his mobile phone. He tried in vain to get him to return but it was clear that unless we paid him 450 Dirrams (£45) he would not return! Our choice was to leave without fuel or stay another night and leave early the next morning. On balance we decided to stay. We arrived again at the fuel berth at 8am (the time we had been told it would open) to find it still closed. After a leisurely breakfast and boat prep we managed the task and left an hour and a half later than scheduled. Frustrating being given the wrong information however it was a good decision to stay for the refuel as Ocean Blue seems to have turned into a motor boat again for this trip.
Agadir has a fantastic opportunity to become a popular destination for the European boats heading South to the Canaries and a real alternative to the typical routes, but unfortunately the fuelling situation and the way it was handled by the marina staff left a rather bad taste in our mouths. Whilst their view was that the fuel berth was nothing to do with the marina, they might be correct, but from a visitor’s perspective, its in the marina and and if the marina staff say its open at a certain time, then is it really too much to ask for it to be open? When asked to register the issue with the harbour authorities, all the staff were interested in doing was securing another night’s berthing fees, although a compromise was begrudgingly reached. Thankfully the police were far more obliging having gone through the checkout procedure for the previous evening and ending up staying another day.
So this ended our visit to Morocco. A fantastic adventure, great places and despite a few inevitable frustrations, a country we can thoroughly recommend to fellow sailors.
Once clear of the Moroccan coast leaving the fishing boats and floating rubbish behind, the open sea was a welcome change from harbour.
A shower and hair wash followed by blow drying in the warm wind with a cup of tea made us feel refreshed and relaxed.
Seven hours out we saw a small whale on the surface, Lesley’s first time seeing the blow of water. Several dolphins joined us briefly, the smooth expanse of sea making it breathtaking to watch them jumping through the swell towards us from some distance off.
Another 24 hours and we would be in the Canary Islands…
We left Mohammedia early before dawn. As dawn broke we still couldn’t see much as there was a heavy mist with visibility less than half a mile. As we approach Casablanca there was a city of cargo ships at anchor which we could see on the AIS and then loomed into view as we got nearer to each one.
The Hassan II mosque, the tallest religious buildiung in the world, and the most westerly of the muslim world appeared to float in the clouds as we passed it.
We still had no wind and saw very little of note until we arrived at El Jadida at 15.50 as the fishing fleet was departing for their evenings work. We entered the tiny harbour and jostled with the steady stream of fishing boats that were leaving. There appeared to be only room for one boat to anchor inside the harbour walls without causing chaos, below the remains of the Portuguese walled fort in a deep water pool.
We had read that you had to go to the ‘Yacht Club to check in, and before we had a chance to do so there was loud whistling and gesticulation from a figure on the wall. We launched the dinghy and took the documents to the shore where the gesticulating man was very welcoming and took me through the locked yacht club premises, carefully re locking the gate to the harbour office where his part of the process was performed. He finished by giving me directions to immigration and the police to perform their duties and giving me a key for the duration of our stay to re-enter the yacht club! The walk to the immigration (or anywhere else outside the yacht club) involved a tour around three sides of the fishermen’s inner harbour, where nets were being repaired and loaded with fish heads in preparation for the night’s fishing.
Once again there were small barbeques cooking what looked like sardines all over the place, feeding the hungry fishermen. To say the area had an odour of fish was an understatement, but the many cats of all shapes and sizes seemed to love it!
The following day we explored the town. Just to the west oif the harbour the old Portugese walled town was fascinating. Apparently it used to be surrounded by a moat, but this has since been filled in, but the battlements still remain complete with many cannons. Central to the walled town is the cistern – a huge underground ‘room’, with a hole in the centre of the ceiling. In days gone by this became filled with rain water and provided a source of water for the rest of the town.
From the top of the wall, you could look down onto the boatyard, where fishing boats were being repaired after being hauled out of the water up tracks, and new boats were being built – all with hand tools and small antique power tools.
To the East of the harbour is the contrasting of beach resort; Western style cafes and hotels along a wide expanse of parkland footpaths. After a stroll along the foggy beach front we settled into one of the cafes for a nice French Moroccan style breakfast.
We headed inland a few blocks and found downtown El Jadida where the locals shop and bought fresh veg and fruit to top up our fridge but passed on the meat being sold by the street butchers!
The guide books had said it was nice to support the small restaurant on top of the yacht club so in the evening we went ashore. Slightly bizarrely although its situated on the first floor of the yacht club there was no way in without leaving through the locked gate (for which we had a key), walking around the fishing harbour, out to the main town then along the main road and back down a dark grit road to the bottom of a staircase no more than a metre from where we started!
On leaving, we were very tempted to climb the fence to save the 3/4 mile walk and asked permission. The response from the waiter was to shout for ‘Rashid’ the gatekeeper mentioned in the guide book, who duly arrived some the shadows with a whole wad of keys and duly opened the gate, and the gate to the pontoon, which avoided teetering along the dockside outside the railings, which we had had to do every time we went ashore until then. All in all a strange experience but enjoyable none the less.
We returned to the boat and settled in for our last night there since we were leaving for Agadir the next day.
Casablanca, meaning White House, was renamed by the Portuguese in the 16th Century.
The security of the harbour at Mohammedia meant that we could happily leave the boat and take a trip into Casablanca. The railway station is a short taxi ride from the harbour and the high speed train took 30 minutes for the two stops to get there.
The “petit taxi” is basically a small car, fiat, or similar; all with coordinated distinguishing colours; light green in Mohammedia and red in Casablanca. They clearly do not have an MOT system as they would be condemned in the uk. Our driver apologised enthusiastically in French, stopping to re slam the door, locking it so that it didn’t spring open!
The train was efficient and running to timetable which is a change from my experience in recent weeks on south east rail in England. Crossing the tracks on foot to reach the exit was a novelty.
We headed for the medina, the old walled town, to explore the markets. We happily wondered around the intricate and haphazard streets until we decided that we had seen the same resturant before and had gone in a series of small circles! Oh well, we decided to have lunch and try again to find the food section, a bit like exploring an unfamiliar hypermarket trying to find the one item you just popped in for!
After several attempts at asking directions in our poor French we found the wonderful stalls with spices, bread, fruit and vegetables.
Our senses were on overload especially in the meat section when I found myself standing next to the head of an animal with it’s enormous tongue hanging out.
There were also sections for fabrics and upholstery, engineering and repairs as well as clothes and the usual tourist souvenirs. We eventually emerged near the Hassan II Mosque which is reputably one of the largest in the world .
A fascinating day trip and a dip into the Moroccan culture and history.
The vast majority of cruisers heading for the Canaries either go via Madeira or directly from Portugal. We had heard good things about Morocco and because it was somewhere we had never been we decided to give it a try. We were not expecting European 5 star marinas or cute sandy bays, but actually we were pleasantly surprised by some places.
Mohammedia was always going to be a small busy fishing harbour with limited space or facilities for yachts, but that’s fine – that’s the type of Morocco we wanted to see – just normal hard working Moroccans going about their everyday business as normal. As well as a fishing harbour Mohammedia is an oil transfer port – we arrived on a Sunday and there were queues of tankers parked up waiting to enter the port all along the roads.
We didn’t know what to expect with regard to the officialdom – customs, immigration and police but whilst a little more time consuming and labour intensive (mostly all recorded in duplicate or triplicate in hand written ledgers), it was an easy hassle free process.
When we arrived it was spring tides and the yacht pontoon was small and relatively shallow, so after spending one night there and touching the bottom at low water we headed out to the bay the next day.
The bay was very pleasant and peaceful. We were the only boat in it and could watch the locals enjoying the beach in the evenings. Fishing is obviously not only a commercial activity here – many fisherman were casting off the beach late into the night and some were still there in the morning. We could dinghy ashore and it was only a short walk into town, passing local barbecue stands cooking up all types of fish for both locals and visitors alike, eaten on rickety tables directly on the pavement!
The most intriguing fishing we saw was from a couple of young guys, one perched on an inflated inner tube paying out net and another swimming pulling the tube in a large probably 200m wide circle starting and ending on the beach. Eventually they gathered the net in and collected their catch!
The bay was safe to leave the boat so we took the train to Casablanca for a day then left the next day for a trip down the coast to El Jadida. Mohammedia had been a fantastic introduction to Morocco, albeit one that left crude oil stains down the tubes of the dinghy and memories of a harbour littered with loads of rubbish floating everywhere.
Rather than travelling 20 miles east to Lagos after rounding Cabo Sao Vincente (the most South Western point of Europe), we stopped in a small bay at a place called Baleeira overnight. We had planned to move on the next day so continuing to Lagos was going to gain us nothing and Morocco was calling! The 210 miles from Baleeira to Mohammedia in Morocco was rather uneventful. The sea was more akin to an inland waterway, there was no wind and apart from a couple of hours as we passed across the main routes in and out of the Med, we saw very few ships.
Our destination was set to be the small fishing village and oil terminal Mohammedia, some 210 miles and 32 or so hours away. Once again there was no wind so we were set for another diesel burning session on flat glassy seas.
Coming onto springs the moon was full and the sky mainly clear so the night was not even particularly dark. Being so far South it was even warm overnight no longer requiring much in the way of clothing to keep us warm. It was so still that we brought the TV up to the cockpit and treated ourselves to a dose of Die Hard from our film store as it went dark.
After 31 hours we dropped anchor outside the port of Mohammedia and took the dinghy into the harbour to check in. Being our first check in, in Africa we were not sure what to expect, but we struck lucky and found some English speaking French people who lived in Morocco and knew the staff at the port. A quick phone call brought the very helpful port staff to the pontoon and they suggested that we could moor Mediterranean style on the end of one pontoon which would have sufficient depth for us and they would arrange for the authorities to come to the boat to check us in.
The boat went back in the water on Monday afternoon and after a few checks and a last minute complimentary deck wash we left Porto for Lisbon.
The sea was virtually flat with little or no wind, a stunning sunset and dolphins accompanying us for over an hour we motored down the Portuguese coast overnight arriving in Cascais 24 hours later.
After a provisioning shop in Cascais we arrived back at the boat to be asked by the harbour authority to leave as they were closing the anchorage for a regatta. We pulled up the anchor and headed into the Rio Tejo to Lisbon to find another anchorage.
Against the outgoing tide it took several hours to negotiate. There was plenty to see on the way. In medieval times Lisbon was one of Europes busiest ports.
Holding our breath as we pass under the Ponte 25 de Abril Bridge
There are several marinas to choose from but we settled on anchoring in Seixal situated off the Canal de Barreiro,in the Rio Jude. It seemed the furthest point in the harbour and was a lovely still night and with a regular ferry service across the river to the city it was ideal.
Thursday we spent some time exploring the city visiting the Castelo de S. Jorge. It was built by the Moors in the mid 11th century.
From 1147 the first king of Portugal made it his royal residence, it was mostly destroyed in the 1755 earthquake and restoration and archaeological research work has confirmed the historical importance of the site.
Thursday evening we refuelled at one of the marinas and started south again for an overnight passage to Lagos.
Porto was an opportunity to lift the boat out of the water to check the bits we don’t see very often! The copper coat has done a fantastic job and after a brief pressure wash the hull was clean. We wanted to check and change anodes, lubricate the through hull fittings, polish the prop and generally inspect the rudder etc for the journey ahead.
We decided to get the blue hull professionally polished as our previous attempts had not had much impact.
The team at Douro Yachts were extremely professional, accommodating and can be thoroughly recommended for any planned or emergency repairs. Their yard is well run and spotlessly clean. They clearly take pride in their work to give you the best results.
Saturday was market day just outside the marina so we had to sample the local food but equally interesting was the communal wash room, where many locals congregate to do their washing in vast tubs and hang it out to dry on a matrix of bamboo and rope
On Sunday we took time out to cycle along the south bank of the river and explore.
The river is navigable for 200 km upstream to Barca de Alva. An interesting port tasting tour was found in the Vila nova de Gaia area of the city.
The vineyards are approximately 100 kilometres up the river in the Douro valley and the wine is transported down the river for export. 4 million litres of port wine were stored on the premises to age! The tradition goes back centuries.
We finished our 2 week holiday in Povoa, securely tied up the boat and flew home for just over a month. Povoa, like many Portugese marinas can get wild in the winter storms and it is apparently a rule that the boats have to be out of the water by the end of September. Whats more the marina entrance can be closed for weeks at a time as the Atlantic swell can make the entrance too dangerous.
It was with great relief that as the day we were returning approached, the forecast was for little swell and no wind. The weather gods were kind to us and the autumn storms had held off until after our return date the 3rd October.
All credit to the marina and the staff, they looked after the boat for us and the prices put the UK to shame.
My brother in law Pete flew out with me to help me take the boat down to Porto, where we had planned on hauling her out for an inspection, a polish and a little tlc prior to heading to the Canaries for the start of the ARC. We flew in, thanked the staff, untied the boat and left on the 15 mile trip to Duoro Marina in Porto