Morocco by boat
Morocco by boat

Morocco by boat

Thursday, January 2, 2020

Our day started with a breakfast rendezvous at a cafe outside of Tarifa. We had a traditional Spanish breakfast of tostadas con manteca (toast with meat flavoured lard) and a cortado (coffee). We ate standing outside next to the road.  When we heard “meeting for brunch” Alison and I imagined white-linen tables, cappuccinos and poached eggs with generous helpings of hollandaise, but this is Spain.

Our intention was to sail to Tangier, Morocco on Carlos’ sailboat. This boat was brand new to Carlos, he only sailed it once when he brought it home to his marina, albeit a three day sail. The sailboat was a 1977, Endurance 35, a very well respected blue-water cruising ketch (ie: solid , well behaved ocean going) with a newly overhauled Volvo inboard engine. I checked the marine forecast and it was looking to be a perfect day. Winds of 10-12 knots from the East, waves: 0.5-0.75m, sunny, 14° and barometer steady.

After our breakfast we headed north along the Atlantic coast for the 45 min drive to the town of Barbate, a fishing town known for catching bluefin tuna using a traditional method passed down from the Phoenicians. The crew consisted of Skipper Carlos, Carmin, Rufus & Idris, and the four of us. That’s three kids and five adults. We unloaded supplies and cast off around noon, heading straight south, almost directly into the wind. This wasn’t an ideal point of sail, we were pinching most of the way (sailing too close to the wind, reducing boat speed) but it did put us on course for Tangier.

Sailors are a superstitious bunch, so Rufus performed a boat renaming ceremony for Carlos (he was busy sailing) to appease Poseidon/Neptune. It included sending off a small boat and a splash of rum into the sea!

The crossing took about six hours. The waves picked up to a meter and a half as the wind funneled from the Med east through the Gibraltar Straights towards the Atlantic, making for a bit of a rough ride and heavy tiller. We received a few waves over bow and took a few big splashes in the cockpit.

We had snacks, a simple lunch of bocadillos and took turns helming the tiller, but Carlos did the bulk of the work.The kids fared quite well keeping themselves entertained. The only person that fed the fish, was me (Phil) because I didn’t take any anti-nausea!! This was the first, and only time I have been seasick on a sailboat, I gained a new appreciation for Alison’s experiences. I broke down and took a pill but it knocked me out for a good hour.

We arrived in Tangier at sunset, a few fishing boats were bathed in golden light as the birds swirled overhead. We pulled into the brand-new marina Tanja Marina Bay International and were greeted by very friendly dock hands. It took about an hour to process our passports but all went smoothly. Alison was thrilled to speak French with the Moroccans, a treat after struggling in Spanish for so long.

While Carlos was off in the immigration office, I turned my attention to the toilet. Our captain omitted telling the children (anyone!) that toilet paper should not be flushed down the toilet, unlike we do on our boat. The reason is that many med boats discharge directly into the sea and flush with sea water. The toilet pump wouldn’t flush, and all fingers pointed at my kids as the culprits.  Groggy from the anti-nausea, hungry from the empty stomach, tired from the long day I literally rolled up my sleeves and addressed the full, stuck toilet.

(this gets a bit technical – skip this paragraph if not interested in boat sewage issues)
Working from memory I emptied the toilet and took the pump apart. It is the same pump I have on my boat so I had some idea what I was doing. I had to take it apart three or four times to figure out what the problem was and get it back together properly. The issue wasn’t the toilet paper per se, these pumps can handle anything that goes into a bowl; the problem lies with flushing with sea water. The discharge hose that attaches to the bottom of the bowl slowly gets lined with calcium crystals on the inside. These crystals slowly reduce the diameter of the hose and are very rough, catching whatever is supposed to go through the hose as well as impeding the function of main valve in the system, called the joker valve (named by the same people as the funny bone). Suffice to say I removed the offending paper and restored the joker to functionality. Many boaters use freshwater to flush to avoid theses issues. The other problem with salt water flushing, that I discovered on this boat as well as the boat in Barcelona, is that the small microorganisms in the sea water, make the hoses stink – I mean really stink.

Once the checking-in formalities were completed we moved the boat to another slip. It was a funny mix of languages as Carlos, Carmen and Rufus spoke to each other in Spanish, Carlos spoke Arabic to the dock hands and immigration officers while Alison spoke French. The children, Alison, Rufus and I spoke in English to each other.

Carlos and Carmen met up with friends while the rest of us got a quick lift over to the Hotel Continental by Carlos’ friend Sohaib. I had made reservations online in Tarifa, but really had no idea as to where things were. The hotel, originally a home built in 1870 for a British diplomat, was one of Tangier’s first hotels; it is a rambling affair with dusty seating nooks decorated with cushions, carpets and camel saddles. It is strategically located atop a bluff, facing the harbour and backing onto the Médina (the old walled city within Tangier dating to the 14th century).

After checking into our rooms and cleaning ourselves up, we met with the gang across from the marina and headed back into the Médina for a traditional Moroccan meal of tangine with mint tea. Satiated, we walked back to the hotel and poured ourselves into beds heaped with blankets and fluffy pillows.