Morocco Magic

 

3 years ago in October, Richard and I were very excited as we sailed our maiden voyage on Velvet Lady from Majorca, through the straits of Gibraltar and back to UK.  Since then we have not returned to the Mediterranean until now.  Our recent trip from the Spanish Rias to Malaga included the opportunity of visiting Morocco for the first time on our way back into the Mediterranean.  As I spent most of my early years in Africa, I was especially looking forward to visiting this very special continent by yacht. 

But it is 500 miles from the Spanish Rias to Gibraltar and first we had to get there.  With the wind blowing firmly from the south we made slow progress and after a succession of squalls complete with lightening we decided to take a break in Cascais.  Cascais is only half an hour by train from Lisbon, and we spent a pleasant day exploring this vibrant capital city, we also took advantage of the opportunity to buy some Port.

Fully refreshed from our days break we headed south, and although we had to motor for some of the way, once around Cap St Vincent we had great wind and were reaching along at 8 knots for most of the night and following day.  As dawn approached after our second night at sea I was very excited to see the sun rising over Africa, and tried my hardest to take a photo – I’m not sure it captures the emotion I felt, but it was a fabulous sight.  Just after the sun rose we decided to dodge across the traffic to the south side of the Straits to get a better view of Morocco.

 

The only weather we had not encountered so far on the trip was fog, which came down on us just as we were clearing the Straits.  It gave a rather strange feel as we couldn’t see anything but still had to wear sunglasses for the glare.  We crept along the coastline, dodging small fishing boats until we found the marina and the fog lifted enough for us to identify the harbour entrance.

Clearing customs and immigration was remarkably easy if time consuming and during the time I was away from the boat a ‘local guide’ was encouraging the crew to hire him and his mini bus for a trip inland.  With only a short time to spend in Morocco we thought this would give us an ideal opportunity to visit a typical Moroccan town and souk and so gladly accepted.  After half an hour in a minibus our guide showed us around the narrow streets of Tetuan and directed us through the maze of the local market. All very exotic and interesting as we experienced our first real bartering!

As we left Smir the following morning, we encountered a huge number of dolphins – and stayed with them for well over an hour.  As usual we had the book out to identify them and came up with short beaked common dolphin as being the closest.  There must have been at least a hundred of them, all moving together as a group.

After Smir, we visited Ceuta, a bustling Spanish enclave on the Moroccan coast, and a return to Mediterranean style mooring – stern to the quayside.  Getting ashore requires us to rig our passeurelle (gang plank) and to rig that we have to move the dinghy out of the davits, so mooring becomes quite a time consuming job.

After Ceuta we spent a night in Jose Banus where the rich and famous keep their boats before ending our trip in Benalmadena Marina, Malaga.  After a short hiccup where they couldn’t find our booking, and a night in an uncomfortable berth, we are now securely wedged between two power boats in the main part of the marina.  We get used to Velvet Lady being one of the largest boats in the marina in most of the places we go, but she now looks dwarfed against the 30 metre boats which are on the next pontoon.  Temperatures are in the late 20’s, with blue skies and sunshine – so why are Richard and I packing our bags and flying back to UK tomorrow!  We are taking the opportunity of a quick break to visit our families and celebrate an early Xmas as we can’t be with them for Xmas and New Year, when we will be sailing in Lanzarote.

Tropical Storm Grace

Our guests arrived anticipating a week of sunshine and light winds to explore the Spanish Rias, but it wasn’t meant to be.  The weather had a somewhat unsettled feel to it, and our first days sailing was interspersed with rain showers.  We anchored for the night in the Ria de Alden, not too far from Sanxenxo.  During the night the rain came and went, but we started the morning of Monday 5 October in light airs.  Little were we to know that out in the Atlantic, just south of the Azores, Tropical Storm Grace was forming and that her path would bring her within 300 miles of the Galician coastline and Velvet Lady’s cruising ground.  By 3 in the afternoon there was a storm warning on the navtex for force 8 to 10 winds offshore and our plans to find an idyllic anchorage for the night needed to be radically changed.  We needed a marina berth that would be safe in the predicted strong southerlies and so we headed north to the Ria de Muros and Portosin marina.  As we approached the marina and already in the protection of the Ria we were experiencing severe rain squalls with wind gusts of 40 knots, Velvet Lady was still doing 4 knots under bare poles.  After a trip to the shower and laundry to dry out, we settled down on board with a well earned beer and prepared to sit it out.

During the night we could hear the wind gusting – although at one stage there was a completely clear sky, and were very happy to be tucked up on board.  With the weather really no good for cruising, we took a bus to the nearby old town of Noia, and practiced our Spanish. 

We went out for a sail after our second night in Portosin, and although the wind had died somewhat, the sea was still rather large.  After 11 or 12 tacks, we realized that we were not going to make fast progress out of the Ria, and headed back to marina Portosin for a third night.  The girl in the marina office chuckled when I entered, but said we had stayed out longer than she expected!

Finally the weather improved, with bright blue skies and sunshine, and we spent a long day enjoying being out in the fresh air as we headed 50 miles south to Bayona and some authentic Spanish Paella. 

Despite the weather, we all enjoyed ourselves, sailed 144 nautical miles, practiced navigation, chilled out from work pressures, visited 4 picturesque rias, took photos of leaping dolphins, ate and drank lots, barbequed on board, ate al fresco and filled the time practicing our tall tales of being caught in tropical storm grace.

We even added to our general knowledge.  We were all extremely puzzled after the storm as we sailed through huge patches of ‘red goop’.  Google came to the rescue and let us know that it was naturally occurring red algae caused by the upwelling of nutrients found specifically off the Galician coast!