08 – 10 June 2011
We are now officially semi-circumnavigators. On 08th June 2011 at 11.27am, Balvenie sailed across the line of longitude which signalled exactly 180 degrees completed since leaving Westhaven Marina in Auckland, NZ on 08 May 2004. We are now over half way at last!!!!!
We had left Estepona with a solid westerly of 15 – 20 knots forecast. It was time for a change of scenery, language, culture, currency, country and even continent. With a double reefed main and a reefed headsail we zipped along in lovely flat water heading south towards Gibraltar. With the wind coming off the land it really did make for pleasant but still chilly sailing. Our plans were to pass “the rock”, and scoot south across the Straits of Gibraltar – just 14 miles of lively water where the Atlantic Ocean meets the Mediterranean Sea – then we would be back in flat water in the shelter of the African mainland for the last 10 miles down the coast of Morocco, now doesn't that sound like a great day out on the water?
As we manoeuvred through the parking lot of anchored freighters off Gibraltar the seas were still quite flat, the wind was fairly gusty but we expected that, then as we left the stationery shipping in our wake and headed out into the straits the wind increased steadily as it funnelled through the “Gates of Hercules”. Unfortunately it shifted slightly to the south as well which put it in front of the beam,. What followed next could be called a somewhat “sporty sail”, as we peaked with wind gusts of 34 knots, boat speeds of around 8.5 knots and the biggest salt water boat wash we have experienced in a very long while.
Added to this were the somewhat busy shipping lanes with huge freighters coming and going, some wind over tide, and the currents around these parts. It certainly wasn’t a boring crossing and before long we were back into flat water, sure get there faster when you go over 8 knots the whole time! We headed down the coast of Morocco to Marina Smir. We had had this marina recommended as a good spot to go out of the EU, it is located in a security monitored environment within a resort complex, but with no local town or real Moroccan flavour.
We got all the salty sails away, contacted the marina who gave us directions to make sure we left the red buoys to port (its a shallow entrance) and headed around the breakwater. Mmmm, there was a dredger operating and the entrance was closed off with lines across it. Surely the marina office situated no more than 50 metres away knew this. A small boat came out to us to guide us around it, we told them we needed 2.4m to stay afloat, they didn’t look too confident but told us to follow them in. Their lack of confidence was well founded as… not for the first time and no doubt not for the last time… we slid to a stately halt, grounded on the silty seabed. Skipper reversed us back out to deeper water and we dropped anchor as advised.
We would have been happy staying at anchor but anchoring in Moroccan waters is not permitted, so we sat and waited. The tide was coming in, but the tides here are not very big, it eventually appeared that we were waiting for the dredger to finish so we could go through the deeper water that was currently roped off. So after 2 1/2 hours we finally tiptoed in with 20cms to spare and docked at the visitors dock. Of course by now it was late and the office staff really didn’t want to be there any more, no “Welcome to Morocco” from the marina staff here!, just an invoice for 49€ a night to berth! Once cleared in we moved across to the wall to side tie, no marina staff to assist but we managed ok, we were in Morocco and excited to be here.
Unfortunately 3 different types of music booming out from the closest quayside restaurants (empty all night), the constant stream of people walking by peering into the boat, and the totally overpriced berthing fee all dulled our excitement of having arrived in Morocco. We had planned to leave Balvenie here to explore inland, but we weren’t feeling positive about doing so now and had a rethink overnight. Next morning we changed our plans, checked out, yelled across the bay to stop the dredger blocking the channel before we could leave, dropped our Moroccan courtesy flag, raised our sails and left Moroccan waters.