Sunday, 28 December 2014

Lagos to Mohammedia and Mohammedia to Agadir

The Marmite was confiscated by airport security - it was slightly too big to pass through: In this sad and ludicrous moment I pleaded cheerfully "there will be unhappy sailors" to no avail but at least the airport staff were empathetic, laughing but mourning the destruction of yet another jar...

In Faro it's warm and palms are growing, we flew low over yachts at anchor, shallow weeded sand banks and channels cutting out to sea, a typical lighthouse on the edge of a small settlement, a thin breakwater separating the sea from a haven.

It's my first time in Portugal and on the bus to Faro train station I'm pleased to see the Portugal I already have in mind - the houses are whitewashed, a spotted dog nuzzles it's snout against the wall, a red bank eroded, tree on top, roots visible.

Sailing reminds me that humans are wonderfully absurd, complex, resourceful creatures but at it's core, sailing is ever so simple - there isn't a more elegant form of transport

There's a lot of wind and a lot of swell on the crossing to Morocco and we're accompanied by dolphins on the second morning - they play towards the bow, dive out and in again with such ease and we must concentrate our efforts at the helm to keep Ponape steady and cooking a basic meal is worthy of applause.

In a calm moment after our first meal, we get out instruments and play to the night. The moon is nearly full, the stars are bright and we have some beer.

Arriving into the port of Mohammedia after 55 hours, we can't see a space at the marina so we moor against a quay wall just in time for the call to prayer - this makes our arrival real, we now feel that we're out of Europe and what's commonplace here is exotic to us.

We joke, perhaps they're singing "wrong place to moor, find another place", a couple of shots fire and it sounds like guns, we joke again...

Once officials have been appeased, a mooring is arranged at the marina - papers are exchanged, passports stamped and shore passes granted, we hungrily venture out into Mohammedia along a long straight palm-lined road, we're drenched by a downpour and a kind stranger brings us in to shelter in the entrance of a warehouse, exhanging greetings and subsequently pointing us in the right direction for food. We're adopted by a keen Moroccan man who chooses and orders our food before we know what's happening and then disappears into the night - a huge plate of meat arrives in front of each of us, liver, chicken and beef. It's not quite what we'd have chosen but we eat what we can fit in. We leave our table and our seats are taken instantly as a local polishes off the remnants of our meal.

The following day is spent on the boat making repairs and I'm sent up the mast to investigate a problem with the rigging and to attach the inner forestay.

Now shipshape, we settle on departing for Agadir the following morning, weather permitting.  

There appears to be a sizeable fishing industry operating in the waters outside of Mohammedia and being unfamiliar with these boats and their methods we're keen to keep clear of fishing boats to make sure that we don't foul the propeller on a net or get into any difficult situations and be forced to change course quickly.



Despite our precautions it's inevitable we'll come close to a fishing boat every now and then as we're heading along the coast and their headings are perpendicular to the shore. The general rules of navigation are international but instead of passing us astern, a fishing boat cuts across our bow and we're forced to snuff the cruising chute. Unfortunately a slack line ends up in the water and when George starts the engine we foul our own propeller in the process of trying to avoid the fishing boat.

This is not ideal but I've encountered a lot of fouled propellers at work and, touch wood, there's never been engine damage as a result. We discuss our options and decide to continue because the wind is in our favour and if the engine is damaged it makes more sense to reach Agadir and arrange a tow than it does to turn back to Mohammedia.

The following day, George spends a couple of hours in the water diving and cutting at the tangled clump of rope on the prop, knife in one hand, whilst I keep hold of a line we've attached him to for safety - once defouled, we start the engine and thankfully, it purrs happily.

I was excited to see a flying fish for the first time - the sensation was similar to seeing a kingfisher fly, beautiful and fleeting. That same night as George slept in the galley it was good sailing, moonlit water and phosphorescence but an effort to keep to course. Suddenly a slight but sudden change of conditions caused the waves to be directly on our stern - it was suddenly very easy to helm but as the waves were travelling only marginally faster than us it caused a very strange sensation - it seemed suddenly as though we were travelling backwards. Every logical part of me and every instrument on board indicated that we weren't but I couldn't shake the feeling which was part exhilaration, part terror. I knew I was in control but I felt like things were suddenly the wrong way round, my imagination took me to unlikely conclusions.

On the approach to Agadir, to port is the shore - we're keeping four miles out, almost silent in the calm. After a little while a light shines out from the darkness to starboard, alarmingly close - it's a fisherman making us aware of his presence and we reply with a similar flash of light to reassure him. Eventually a long string of dim lights appears in the night - a whole community of fishermen on large rusty boats with nets and small boats with high bows and outboards for travel to the shore. As we close on the waypoint for the approach I look out from the bow, hugging the furled genoa with one arm and holding the bearing finder with the other hand - this water is busy with ghost-like fishermen heading out to sea, their small pointed bows creating silhouettes of a deeper darnkness - they're barely discernible against the moonlit water - it's mildly alarming and beautifully evocative.

When we arrive in Agadir, we're very pleased to have satellite navigation - our plan on paper is fine but the entire port is lined with bright shops and restaurants. It's like a festival and difficult to distinguish the correct marker buoys and lights on the end of breakwaters from lights with a less crucial purpose. Agadir greets us with bold Arabic lettering illuminated on the hillside and we're so tired on arrival that we sleep deeply enough for me to miss my flight back to Bristol. It's a hilarious day in Agadir - deliriously tired, meeting the incredible characters on the other yachts in the marina - some sailors are making cheese on board their boat and selling it when they arrive in port, a family has been sailing with their ten year old son since he was born...

Sailing is wonderful...


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