This is out of order a bit, since the last post was about Almerimar still.  In between we have crossed over to Gibraltar, stopped by Fuengirola, and celebrated Andrew’s birthday.

We also sailed out of Gibraltar.  That’s notable because it means that we have left the Mediterranean and entered the Atlantic.  I’ll fill in the details later, but suffice it to say that it was a smooth exit.  There is much discussion of transiting the Straits of Gibraltar where the wind, current and tides all conspire to set up some very complicated conditions.  The water is flowing one way a few miles out and then the other direction a few miles past that, at times.  Well, we cut right through that, and the huge shipping lanes there with no trouble to speak of.

Our port of entry in Morocco was Rabat.  Our original idea was to go from Gibraltar to Casablanca just because it sounds so cool to say that.  We had an exhausting night at sea and found out that there is no marina at Casablanca, so we changed our plan.

The marina is Rabat is a mile up the Bou Regreg river.  They have a pilot boat that comes out to meet you and guide you up the river.  It’s not too hard for us because we have such a shallow draft, but it’s always good to know that you’re not going to hit a sand bar.

We tie up to the reception dock and await the authorities, who are manifold here in Morocco.  First there is a doctor to check that we don’t have Swine flu or any other diseases.  Then comes the police with a sniffer dog.  Evidently, they were looking for explosives.  They found our stash – the pyrotechnics in the grab bag.  These are the flares that we keep for emergency signalling.  So, the dog comes and goes and then we have customs and immigration.  More paperwork and bureaucracy.

We’ll come to find that arriving in Morocco by boat is not as easy as arriving by air or land.  We have to go through customs each time we enter a port.  This means that we have three stamps in our passports.  Ok, stamps in the old passport are cool, but only to a degree.  This is excessive.

While we are waiting for other officials to come to the boat (we still haven’t left the reception dock) we hear an American accented voice coming in over VHF.  They are trying to call the marina, but no one is responding.  So, we respond and tell them that there is indeed a pilot boat.  We then let the pilot himself know that he should go meet them when they arrive.  That takes care of our boating mitvah for the day.

The marina is nice.  It’s a new development with restaurants along the edge.  The problem is that there is not a lot of space.  Each pontoon has these finger docks sticking off from them to form the berths, but they are only 20 feet long. Our boat is 41 feet.  So, we end up having six different lines tied all over the berth to keep us steady.

There were other American boats in the marina and we took the opportunity to talk with some of them.  One guy had sailed his boat (the first hull built by Hans Chrisitan) from Los Angeles all the way over here. We were blown away with the trips that some of these crews had done. Many of them knew the marinas in Israel firsthand, because they had stopped there on the way to or from the Med. It was great to talk to people who share our same culture and language, too.

We toured Rabat a little, although there is not too much to see. We had coffee in the cafes where the men all sit looking outwards at the street. We walked around the grounds of the presidential palace after going through a security check where we had to relinquish our passports. The tower and mausoleum dedicated to Hassan II was clearly visible from the river. So, we just relaxed after the hard sail, mostly. We went to a very overpriced but delicious buffet in a hotel there. Suddenly we were surrounded by Americans. Where had they come from? Why were they in Rabat anyway?

I did take the opportunity to lose my phone while in Rabat. So, if you know me well enough, send me your number by email.

From Rabat we sailed down to Casablanca. The lady at the office of the Rabat marina told us that we could stay the night there. We were greeted on the VHF by the authority asking who gave us permission to enter. They then let us anchor in this one section of the harbor. It was an industrial landscape, right next to the container terminal. In the placid expanse of water in this open-ended rectangle of breakwaters, we moored up next to some rusting hulk of a loading dock. In the middle of this strange area lay the partially submerged remains of a wreck. We didn’t get off the boat. But, hey, we were in Casablanca! Play it again and all that rot.

From there we sailed to Safi, another industrial port. This one is known as the export center of phosphates! We rafted up to another sailboat and a giant fishing boat. The little sailboat between us was on five or six meters long, dirty and in disrepair.
We had to go through the formalities here gain, including walking through some sort of machine that takes your temperature. It looked like a metal detector. It’s always disconcerting when a doctor takes you over to a special shed that is kept under lock and key and bids you to subject yourself to some strange contraption. But it was actually painless.

This time we did exit the harbor. It’s a long walk next to a high wall meant to keep international crews away from the Moroccans and vice versa. The old town of Safi, the medina, was pretty cool. It was full of twisting streets and vendors of all sorts, but no tourists. I think Andrew and I were the only white guys around. We bought some pastries at a little counter where we were served by a “jedi”. That’ the term I picked up in Kenya for the women who wear the hooded robes and face veils. Others prefer to call them “ninjas”. It was a very interesting experience; we didn’t know if we should talk to her or not, she didn’t seem to know how much things cost, or perhaps how to add, and of course, the whole time we are wondering what she looks like under all those coverings.

After we came back from town I went to the boatyard where they build the traditional fishing ships. They are all wooden and come in two sizes; small ones with outboard motors and the huge trawlers. A friendly kid showed me around the place. I can only imagine what his life must be like, doing hard labor all day long, exposed to toxic chemicals and injury and with no chance to get anywhere.

We were overcharged by the harbormaster and then had to stay at the boat to get our paperwork and passports back. So, we couldn’t go out for dinner. We tucked in early to be fresh for the next day’s trip down to Essaouira.