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Cruising Report On Morocco & Atlantic Islands September 2005 - January 2006

By doina — last modified Sep 08, 2006 12:35 PM

Published: 2006-09-08 12:35:02
Countries: Canary Islands , Cape Verdes , Madeira , Morocco

Crewed by Hugh, Heather and David Bacon on ARGONAUTA I

ARGONAUTA I, a highly modified Beneteau 440, has just completed an extended world cruise. We began in the Caribbean in 1997, transited the Panama Canal in 1999 and crossed the Pacific to Australia. Our passage from Australia took us from Darwin via the Indian Ocean and Red Sea to Kemer in Turkey where we left the yacht in dry storage winter 2003/2004. We then continued on to France and after a winter in dry storage at Port Napoleon, we continued in July 2005 to Spain and Gibraltar. In September 2005, we continued via Ceuta, Spanish Morocco to Mohammedia on the Atlantic coast and then on to the Madeira Islands. We awaited the Atlantic crossing season in the Canaries before heading some 800 NM south for the Cape Verde Islands. From there we departed Mindelo January 4 and arrived Barbados January 17.

GENERAL

This report covers items that might be useful as considerations for those planning a westbound cruise from Gibraltar to Morocco and on to the Atlantic Islands with the ultimate objective of crossing the Atlantic to the Caribbean.

Strait of Gibraltar to Ceuta, Spanish Morocco

Timing for departing the Mediterranean for a southbound passage to the Canary Islands in order to position for an Atlantic crossing is flexible. Indeed, it is entirely feasible to depart Gibraltar once the northern hemisphere summer Azores High Pressure pattern is established in late June. A cruising friend did exactly this placing his boat in dry storage in the Canaries and returning home for the remainder of the summer.

Cruising guides suggest an October departure from Gibraltar as a reasonable plan. Indeed, this is when most of the Atlantic Rally for Cruisers (ARC) participants head south. Since we wished to cruise somewhat more extensively than a straight shot to the Canaries, we planned an August departure from the Med. The usual enroute delays held us up but we finally sailed across the Gibraltar Strait for Ceuta, Spanish Morocco September 12. Compared to the Singapore Straits, the transit was easy. We had a good weather window to cross. It was a boisterous beam reach in westerly F4-5 winds. Only minor course alterations were needed to avoid traffic and in less than three hours, we sailed into Cueta’s wide, sheltered outer harbour.

Ceuta, Spanish Morocco

The marina is part of a well protected port. It is tucked away in the south east corner and includes a fuel dock. We found the marina staff very responsive in finding a spot and helping us tie up at the bow/stern to slips. Moorings are in place with lines tailed to the dock. Cost was 11 Euros per night including water and electricity. Fuel is only dispensed directly to the vessel. Inexplicably, staff refused to fill jerry jugs perhaps because of tax considerations. Here we washed the rig and prepared the yacht for the Atlantic crossing.

The city is adjacent. Provisioning is excellent as prices are reasonable and there are many supermarkets and specialty food shops available. We finally got our second propane fill of the year. There are many restaurants and several internet facilities. Night clubs and other tourist attractions abound. We explored the ramparts of the massive fort built by the Moors in the 1500s. It is a dinghy tour delight as one can go from the marina, around the fort via a salt water moat and into the sheltered beach area on the south side of the narrow isthmus.

Mohammedia, Morocco

Mohammedia is some 185 NM from Ceuta. We departed, September 19 one hour before daylight, at high water plus two hours with a F3 to 4 easterly wind. We could not have timed our passage through the Strait of Gibraltar any better! We hit only a 3 K negative current for about an hour. Abeam Tangier we had an ENE wind at 20K and were sailing with a boat speed of about 5K; the favourable current gave us a speed over the ground of up to 9K.

A review of the Imray North Africa Cruising Guide and guidance from other yachts that preceded us left me with the impression that to avoid navigation complications, it was advisable to select a port with deep water access rather than a destination which involved crossing a shallow sand bar. The Guide and our 2004 version of C-Map NT showed a marina called Sable d'Or. The latter provided precise track/GPS guidance. So in good conditions we followed C-Map. We stopped following C-Map about 300 metres from a low cliff; no marina in sight! Local fishermen confirmed there was nothing and explained that about a mile further south, there was a small enclave enclosed by two breakwaters. About this time, Moroccan authorities in a RIB came alongside and politely explained we were in a restricted area. They took our particulars and we explained our purpose which they accepted but advised that the so-called marina was not viable and in any case the area was out of bounds. We later learned that the King has a summer palace nearby and has decreed that there will be no marina at Sable d'Or!

We were directed to continue to Mohammedia Marina. This is where most cruisers visiting Atlantic Morocco end up as Casablanca is closed to yachts except as a haven in severe weather. A new marina is under construction in Casablanca and local yachts have been relocated to Mohammedia. Thus space is at a premium. We arrived just after 1700 hrs. The marina people were most helpful in moving a small motor yacht to make space for us. The marina is rudimentary but is evidently the only one on the Atlantic coast. Getting docked was an incredibly tight squeeze and I wondered how we would ever get out. It took four helpers to warp us in bow to. The yacht was secure but the slip was more suited to a 30 footer than a 44 footer. We had to do some creative fendering, the first time since Colombia that I have used my four foot 2 by 6 inch board! Price though is low at Dirham 100 per night. (Under E10). Amenities include access to a nearby yacht club and pool! Staffs try to accommodate all comers. They even allow yachts to drop anchor in front of vessels tied to the outer finger and secure to the dock using long lines. Fuel is available. Large amounts are delivered by fuel truck. Jerry jugging by taxi is best for smaller amounts.

Mohammedia turned out to be a pretty town with good amenities and very attractive central gardens. Prices are low with taxis to anywhere not much more than a Euro. The city offers excellent communications. We visited Marrakech, Casablanca and Rabat by train.

Cruisers planning an Atlantic crossing should not be deterred from visiting Atlantic Morocco by concerns about heavy Atlantic swells rendering approaches to ports untenable. Mohammedia is benign even in a heavy Ahoule (swell). We departed with a large swell running and had absolutely no problem. There have been mixed stories about the Mohammedia Marina being reluctant to accept visiting yachts. Certainly in September 2005, this was not the case. Yachts should note that Casablanca Port will not accept yachts although the port respects the storm refuge caveat and in October 2005, several yachts did spend a few days there sheltering from a major storm. We did check on the marina in Casablanca during our visit by train. The port is undergoing a major reconstruction that includes a new marina. We were told that the developers of the marina within the port had withdrawn from the project. Reportedly, the marina will now be included in the overall port reconstruction. Completion date is uncertain, the best guess being before 2010. When it is finished it will be a marvellous facility within walking distance of the city and just across the road from Rick's Café which takes its name from the classic Bogie & Bacall film. Go there for lunch or join the Beautiful People at cocktail hour. Many of the Casablanca based yachts have relocated to Mohammedia so once the Casablanca Marina opens, Mohammedia should be less crowded.

THE MADEIRAS

Porto Santo

We found most cruisers visiting Mohammedia planned to continue down the Moroccan coast as far as Essaouira before crossing to The Canary Islands. We later received positive reports from those who had done this. We had decided to visit the Madeiras which meant a westerly course of some 440 NM to the Island of Porto Santo. We departed Morocco October 2 and anchored early morning October 7 within the large, sheltered harbour. Check in at this Port of Entry was straightforward. There is a well-equipped marina in the northwest part of the harbour but we decided to remain at anchor for which there is a fee of about E12. This allows access to all marina amenities. We had made best speed all the previous night through a broad band of extensive thunderstorms heralding a deepening low-pressure system. By October 9, the low pressure area had developed into a circulatory storm which was soon officially named Hurricane Vince.

Winds within the harbour did not exceed Force 5 and holding was excellent so we had no problem. Seas were running very high outside though and the ferry from the main island was cancelled for a couple of days. Later we met several crews who were caught at sea in this highly unusual event. Several yachts suffered damage. In the harbour, we lost our old Fairwinds wind generator as the lanyard connecting the topping lift to the boom parted in the breeze and the shackle tipped line went through the whirling blades. I cannot attribute this to Vince though as I should have been more vigilant in monitoring chafe.

Madeira Island

We sailed away from Porto Santo October 12 in a WNW wind to 35K and 5 hours and 35 NM later anchored in Baia do Abra, Madeira Island. Quinta do Lorde Marina was just around the corner so after a couple of days at anchor to careen the propeller and catch up on some maintenance we entered the marina.

The Marina is near Caniçal on the south east coast of Madeira, about 12 miles from Funchal. There are 242 slips and it is a port of entry. Formalities taken care of by an efficient staff were again straightforward. Cost was about E30 per night. This is the most convenient marina to the airport. Hire cars are reasonably priced and a run into Funchal takes less than an hour. At the time of our visit, there was extensive construction in progress at the marina giving rise to significant noise and some disruption.

We learned later from cruisers who had found Calheta Marina that this might have made for a better stay. If airport access were not a priority I would chose Calheta next time. It is located about 14 miles west of Funchal and has berths for some 300 yachts. It too is a port of entry with Customs, Immigration and Maritime Police. This Marina is not listed in any Yachting media that I could locate. It received only sketchy treatment in our Cruising Guide. Some detail is available at http://www.madeiratourism.org and follow the links. Contact info: Porto de Recreio da Calheta. Telephone: +351 291 824 003 Fax: +351 291 824 006. E-mail: portoderecreiodacalheta@netmadeira.com

In Porto Santo, we had obtained permits to visit Madeira's two groups of isolated uninhabited islands. Ilhas Desertas and the Sevagens. In calm conditions we motored about 20 NM to the Desertas but a huge swell being generated by foul weather to the north made the anchorage untenable. Se we continued overnight to the Sevagens but found similar conditions. It was time to head for the Canaries.

THE CANARY ISLANDS

Graciosa Island

A second overnight trip brought us to Graciosa Island, the smallest of the populated Canary Islands. We secured in Sebo Marina by 1430 hours October 19. The planned island hop had turned into a two night non-stop passage of some 300 NM. October was too early to consider an Atlantic crossing so we needed a place to secure and wait. I had identified Graciosa Island in the eastern Canaries and Sebo Marina as a good, inexpensive place to chill out for a week or two. The island is only 6.5 Km long and 3 Km wide and it has four extinct volcanoes. There are beautiful beaches a barefoot stroll away and a pretty, welcoming little town with shops and a few restaurants. Sebo Marina costs only 7 Euros per day. There are no officials at Sebo but it is evidently acceptable to ferry over to nearby Lanzarote Island to check in at Arrecife. There did not seem to be any particular urgency although we saw it as an important formality to fulfil within a week or two. This marina is virtually new but development halted at the completion of the docks. There is no water or electricity at the slips but water is available by jerry jug or by going alongside the main dock. Diesel at the favourable fisheries rate is available. November 28/29, 2005 Tropical Storm Delta wreaked havoc on the installation. Current status of repairs is unknown.

Lanzarote Island

Almost a month later we tore ourselves away from Graciosa and November 17, sailed to the southwest end of nearby Lanzarote Island securing at Rubicon Marina in the town of Playa Blanca. This was a shock to us all as we moved from the barefoot sandy streets of Graciosa to a glitzy tourist town. A first reaction was lets go back home! Graciosa had become more than just a port visit.

Rubicon is a modern marina with slips and has all the conveniences including WIFI (wireless Internet) that made it easy to update files and communicate. Propane refills are available in Arrecife and we combined this errand with an island tour by hired car. The dive shop at the marina refilled our SCUBA tanks and we topped up our diesel. The adjacent boatyard offers a decent maintenance and haulout capability and there we had a new anchor snubber put together. After a week, it was finally time to position for our major push across the Atlantic

Gran Canaria

Many yachts not in the Atlantic Rally for Cruisers (ARC) stay clear of Las Palmas, Gran Canaria until after the start, this year on November 20. We sailed overnight November 25/26 and with a good northeasterly wind we covered the 100 odd miles in 17 hours arriving Puerto de la Luz y Las Palmas early morning.

We secured in this huge marina with some 1200 odd berths. Berths for visitors are stern/bow to. Cost for a 44 foot yacht is about E11.50 per night including electricity and water. Marina infrastructure is older but adequately maintained. Unfortunately visitor slips are close to the marina entrance and are affected by swell when the wind is from the ESE to SSE. Larger visiting yachts are berthed on the sheltered eastern wall if space allows. Many yachts opt to anchor to the north of the marina. There, holding is excellent although it is vulnerable to swell from the SE quadrant. The port offers an extensive yacht maintenance capability and nearby there is excellent provisioning. Unfortunately, fresh water quality at the dock is poor. While it is not at all polluted, total dissolved salts (TDS) were between 700 and 800 parts per million. The UN based World Health Organisation identifies 500 PPM as the maximum for long-term usage.

Here we sought out a replacement wind generator for the one destroyed in Hurricane Vince. I decided too that if at all possible we would replace the leaky seals in our autopilot hydraulic ram. We arranged for the work to be done by the local Beneteau dealer. Then came Tropical Storm DELTA. This was another like Hurricane VINCE, a rotating storm which rarely occurs in the sub tropics. In any case, November 28/29 was a bad night in Las Palmas. The wind from the northwest increased to F8-9 pushing us on the dock. We were stern-to and our transom mounted wind vane steering took a hit so we were up until 0300 hours adjusting lines, sometimes motoring to keep the transom from hitting the dock again. In Tenerife and Lanzarote it was far worse and many boats were damaged in 70 knot winds. We were lucky to be further south in Gran Canaria and saw only 45 knots. Fortunately there was very little damage in the marina.

Eventually we got the new Air Marine X wind generator installed. Friday, December 2, the autopilot ram was removed with a promise to have it reinstalled as better than new by next day. Monday we learned that Wednesday was the earliest we could expect it. Despite two national holidays, late Wednesday evening the ram was returned. To our delight, it operated normally without any fluid leaks.

Meantime we had enjoyed the extensive shopping in the nearby city and completed major provisioning. Hurricane EPSILON had been whirling away at about 35N/30W but by December 15 it was dissipating mid Atlantic. We had decided to break the Atlantic crossing at the Cape Verde Islands so with a good weather window we departed that day for Ilha do Sal some 800 NM to the south southwest.

THE CAPE VERDE ISLANDS

Sal Island

We departed Las Palmas in light winds but shortly, we were sailing in 20Ks from ENE. Day 3 we covered 160 NM for a 24 hour period. After a day of light winds, soon we were sailing at hull speed with reefs in all the sails with the exception of the storm jib. It was nice to cross 23.5 N latitude and once again enter the tropics. December 22, less than seven days out of Las Palmas we dropped anchor at 1000 hours in Porto Palmeira, Sal.

There we checked into the Republic of the Cape Verdes. Formalities were simple; Port and Customs fees totalled USD11.00. Porto Palmeira is a rather grubby uninviting town so we decide to depart after a brief stay.

Boavista Island

The island of Boavista is just under 40 NM south so early the next day, we upped anchor and headed south. We reached Porto de Sal Rei, Boavista Island mid afternoon and settled into the sheltered anchorage between the off lying island of Sal Rei and the mainland. Startlingly white beaches and sand dunes extend for miles south of the port and the nearby island has its own white crescent of sand along with a crumbling old fort complete with six rusting cannons. The town itself has a certain charm. Since total island population is about 5000, much of the land is unoccupied. Apart from two Italian run resorts the rest of the nearby beach is a vast stretch of empty sand and dunes. In town, there is an internet facility cum tourist bureau where it is possible to hire a vehicle to tour the island. Beaching the dinghy is easy there but one runs the risk of having it interfered with by children. A stern anchor is needed to tie up to the dock because of swell. Everything should be locked down in the dinghy against pilfering. We were too trusting and lost some laundry!

With time eroding, we set off on December 31 for Mindelo on the Island of Sao Vicente some 136 NM to the west. New Years Eve found us on an overnight passage that gave us an early morning arrival New Years Day.

Sao Vicente Island

Mindelo is an attractive town surrounded by stark, craggy hills. Vessels breaking their Trans Atlantic passage normally call into this island. Mindelo is the port most visited in the archipelago thus there are more facilities for yachts here than anywhere else.

At present, there is no dinghy dock but organised boat boys provide assistance and security for dinghies on the beach. We found them both helpful and inexpensive. The nearby Club Nautico puts on a good lunch and in town, provisioning is acceptable for basics. There is a small marina soon to be expanded to 120 berths. Kai, is a helpful German expat who operates the marina and is behind the project to expand it. He hopes to see completion of the expansion by late 2006. His office is at the back of Club Nautico. Kai is the best contact for arranging any necessary boat work. More information is available at http://marinamindelo.com/index.html Contact details are kai@boatcv.com telephone +2389915878, fax +2382300 381.

Diesel to fill jerry jugs is available from the garage pumps on the waterfront and all types of propane/butane tanks can be filled at the gas plant a bit further along the waterfront. Efficient Customs checkout is done at the main port, a short walk from Club Nautico. We found Mindelo an excellent stop.

January 4 we sailed for Barbados with a good forecast for the first five days; easterly trades of 15 to 20 K. So we had a fast beginning at hull speed under reefed sails. Despite several days with late evening and overnight squalls, we enjoyed a problem free passage averaging 150 NM per day for the 2024 NM distance. Sunset January 17, we picked up a mooring outside Port St Charles, Barbados. Drinks all around!

Hugh Bacon, ARGONAUTA I, Ottawa, Canada

August 24, 2006

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