Call For a Tow

Moving On To Morocco


By Liz Tosoni

Cadiz was our penultimate and quickly became our favorite Spanish port. (The Canary Islands will be our last Spanish port of call before we head out across the Atlantic in a couple of months.) No wonder Christopher Columbus made it his jumping off point for two of his four voyages to the New World just over 500 years ago. Come to think of it, we should probably call him the great great great great….grandfather of cruisers, as he kind of started the trend.

Cadiz has a fine, large, natural harbor and being just north of the Strait of Gibraltar, on the Atlantic side, is easily accessible for an easterly or westlerly heading.

Cadiz is considered the oldest city in Europe, diverse and oozing with history, dating back to 1100 B.C., crammed full of elegant architecture, churches, museums, restaurants, and tapas bars. It’s very artsy.

Here’s the castle dedicated to Christopher Columbus. There’s also a bust of his pilot, Juan De La Cosa who, according to the plaque, drew the first map of the Americas.

The people are well dressed, friendly, cultured, the many beaches and sand dunes wide and welcoming, the waters warm, it’s where flamenco originated, there’s a bull ring, there are sherry and brandy bodegas, fiestas galore. Cadiz has it all.

The surf was up while we were in Cadiz and so were Tom’s spirits… just for awhile.

The anchorage just off the “new town” was perfect for shopping or sightseeing forays into the “old town,” about half an hour away by bicycle. It’s ideal for all winds but those from the east, so when it blew an easterly gale (levanter) for a week, we just headed a couple of miles northeast to Puerto Sherry  yes, it’s where the sherry we all know originates – and voila, another perfect anchorage with more gorgeous beaches, bicycle paths, and cobbled tree-lined avenues.

I love this place. We should stay a year, I secretly thought, then Tom’s announcement “The weather looks good for departure on Friday or Saturday Lizzie.” Alas, as much as we both liked it, it was time to move on again.

Rabat, the capital of Morocco, some 155 miles due south of Cadiz was to be our Moroccan landfall.

Google Earth shows a rather spooky looking narrow, shallow river bar entrance at Rabat (four metters or about 12 feet at low tide, or so we were told) so we wanted to arrive on a rising tide with minimal swell.

On entering rivers in Morocco, the North Africa Pilot says: “..keep a lookout astern for unexpected rollers sneaking up from behind. It is an alarming experience to have a succession of two-meter steep-sided rollers hit your stern when the sea is otherwise flat and you are in a confined channel concentrating on transit lights ahead, as happened to me.”


Arrival around mid-afternoon for the rising tide posed the question: Do we do the distance in one shot or a double overnighter? The forecast called for 10- to 15-knot westerly winds, so that answered the question: We planned to do it in one shot. We also wanted to avoid any fishing boats that might be working as far off the coast as 15 miles. We’d read that their lights can be confusing, frequently put on at the last minute or not at all, and one cruiser friend described a harrowing tale of his keel and propeller getting caught in a net off that coast some years back. He gave us the advice that if ever you find yourself in such a predicament, never ever cut the net as you could be shot at, as some friends of his had been! We would definitely heed his advice, and stay well clear of the coast until daylight.

Leaving the harbor with us at 0800 was a fast-moving Coast Guard vessel, heading towards Gibraltar. “Wonder what they’re up to,” we said in unison. A little later over the radio, came a “Pan Pan, Pan Pan, Pan Pan,” from Spanish Coast Guard, regarding a sunken vessel with 70 people on board in the vicinity of Spanish Morocco. “Keep a sharp lookout for many people overboard” was the warning.

Over the next two days we heard two more Pan Pans about that incident and then BBC radio gave some more details: It was a vessel of refugees from Morocco heading to somewhere in the European Union when it sunk. Apparently, seven people were rescued, 11 were found dead, and the rest were unaccounted for. This was a disconcerting, shocking piece of news to hear, knowing this awful tragedy was taking place just a short distance from our course.

As we made our way around the big bulge of the Cadiz peninsula and into the wide Atlantic, benevolent white cotton-ball clouds dotted the blue sky but seas were lumpy and uncomfortable, winds light. Bang bang went the boom, slap slap went the sails, “Argh, this is not a good sign” went the crew. By noon though, the winds picked up from the west for a nice beam reach, seas flattened, and sails filled. They were fickle though, so on and off went the engine, up and down went the sails over the course of the afternoon, but as night fell, the winds filled in again for real and Feel Free enjoyed a divine sail under a star-studded sky, dodging a few brightly lit fishing boats here and there.

Morning arrived with a 360-degree cloudscape encircling Feel Free, so my early morning watch found me cloud gazing, observing cumulus formations as they paraded and flowed one into the other, showing off, creating shapes: a seahorse, a hopping rabbit with long ears, a side view of an old man laughing. There were towering sculptures like swirls of white candy floss, puffing in slow motion, flat undersides tinged grey with the sea’s reflection.

While motoring in calm conditions, a forceful WHACK!came from the port side. Tom, who was resting down below, came shooting up the companionway. “What the h _ _ _?!” The main boom had been pulled over to port as the wind was from the starboard quarter, the main sheet leading from it to a preventer block at the deck level on the port side, and then back to the cockpit. The loud bang came when the sheet suddenly snapped off the block; but luckily as there was little wind, no dangerous jibe resulted.

A quick look at the block revealed that it had blown apart! The 36-year-old block had taken much stress and worked hard over its lifetime but finally gave up the ghost on that calm morning.

“Pop bottles off the starboard bow, Tom!” I called out from the bow about four miles from the entrance to Rabat. Zig-zagging around these little hard-to-see crab-pot markers was our form of excitement for the next hour or so as we made our way to the breakwater at the Bouregreg River entrance leading to Rabat, the capital of Morocco. The last thing we wanted to do just a few miles from our destination was to get our propeller fouled by crab-pot line! The owners of those crab pots would feel the same way for sure.





Once at the entrance, a call on VHF radio channel 10 brought out these two friendly guys in a RIB to guide us up the river to the Customs dock for clearance into the country, and then to the brand-new Marina Bouregreg. Conditions were very mellow, so easy going we could take in the view of the birdlife, a medieval Kasbah to starboard, and small colorful fish boats to port.


  Clearance was quick and efficient including a masked Health Official as well as a policeman in heavy black boots accompanied by a police dog that did a thorough sniffing of the boat bow to stern. “Welcome to Morocco!” (And by the way, no photos were permitted.)

We hadn’t availed ourselves of the amenities of a marina for a very long while so the sight of the splendid new facility was sweet. Formalities complete, we were about to tie up to the end of the first dock we came to as there were many spots available and the slips were just the right size for Feel Free. Perfect. Then came our friendly guys in the RIB calling, “No No No No!” Why not? Answer: It’s the “Pontoon Royale,” for the exclusive use of the King’s boats. Okay, not a problem, on to the plebeian docks where everyone is treated equally –15-foot docks for every size of boat!

What’s wrong with this picture? What happened to my dock? Here is a typical Moroccan style marina – long on hospitality, short on docks. We were delighted to see friends Sarah and GB of the boat Djarrka at the Customs dock the next day. We hadn’t seen them since 2006, in Malaysia, so there was much yacking until all hours that night.

So here we are, happily ensconced in water- and power-heaven while planning our trip to the interior to discover some of Morocco’s mysteries. We’re itching to get going.