Dominican Republic and Haiti

Dominican Republic and Haiti

After our arrival at the lovely Isla Saona at midnight in torrential rain we had a glorious sail the following morning to the marina at Casa de Campo where we cleared in to the Dominican Republic. The marina was very modern and located in a massive holiday park stretching for miles, not really what we hoped to see, preferring unspoilt anchorages. While there we hired a car and drove to Boca de Yuma for lunch and watched a graceful display of pelicans diving for fish off the cliffs 30 ft in front of us.

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From there it was on to Higuey, a large town which really tested driving skills dodging scooters, bikes, hand carts, donkeys, trucks, large drainage ditches etc and then on to Punta Cana another beach resort where we were refused entry to any part of the beach as we weren’t resident, a very strange reception.

After Casa de Campo we sailed along the Dominican coast to an anchorage at La Caleta near the main airport where we were moved on by the Navy.  (The navy didn’t like us anchoring, there are very few cruising boats and they like to keep us under observation.)

 So we had to sail back to Boca Chica a party town for the local population and memorable for its deafeningly loud music at the weekend, blaring from boats with very large sound systems. It was from here the next day that we took a local bus into Santo Domingo, the capital of DR and toured the Colonial Quarter on a horse and buggy seeing some great architecture dating back to the 14th Century.

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Santo Domingo, the capital of The Dominican Republic

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Monument to Columbus

We then took a taxi to the grandiose monument which supposedly houses the bones of Christopher Columbus, erected at a cost of $200 million but it was closed. We chatted to the police guards and one young guy volunteered to go in and take photos on our cameras. When he returned his boss agreed we could go in and we were given a guided tour by the young policeman who also acted as photographer – a memorable kindness.

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It didn’t stop there – on hearing that we were going to walk back to the main bus route, he said it would be too dangerous and we were driven in a police car to the bus stop. These guys couldn’t have been more helpful! We returned to Boca Chica by local transport, squeezed into a bus built for 20 people which had closer to 40 on it and more hanging on the outside chatting to the passengers on the inside.

The following day we sailed for Punta Palenque, another anchorage where we were boarded by the narcotics squad, four beers later we were allowed to stay and spent a quiet night inside the reef.

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Puerta Palenque

We were now pushing on to meet my sisters in Cuba so we sailed again the next day for Las Salinas, a sea salt recovery town situated beside a large lagoon which we thought would be well protected.

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As it happened, the wind got up as we approached and we were subject to a nasty chop and strong gusts. The anchor dragged and then held for the night but when we came to leave in the morning Gill discovered the reason, we had picked up a load of old mooring lines and chain which we eventually managed to clear at the cost of our gaff hook.

Next day we had a great sail to Barahona where we would clear out from the DR. When the officials checked our passports it was evident that the officials in Casa de Campo had forgotten to stamp my passport so a fine was levied on top of the extortionate process charges. We hired a car through the same immigration officer who also seconded as our driver up to a large salt water lake 40 m below sea level populated by tame iguanas and not so tame crocodiles.

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Lots of dead trees killed by the rising salt water but not a Croc in sight – MMMM no swimming today though!

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Tame Iguanas waiting to be fed – we could run faster than them – just!

This same Jekyl and Hyde Immigration officer who had acted as our driver then tried to extract more money from us for clearance out of the country (which we had already paid) until Gill pointed out an anticorruption poster on the wall. This grasping attitude by officials and this one in particular left a bad taste and spoiled an otherwise interesting visit to the DR.

On route to Cuba we decided to visit the Isle a Vache lying 5 miles off of mainland Haiti. The anchorage there was not marked on any charts and we had to guess its location, picking our way through endless reefs and shallows and avoiding the dozens of fishing buoys (usually small glass bottles). It proved to be a beautiful bay with a small sandy village and a rather nice hotel.

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The Main Street in this village

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Fishermen mending nets and a modern hotel beyond

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And bringing in the catch

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Waiting for the bank to open!

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Gill on one of the islands unspoilt and near deserted beaches

Luckily we met a delightful French couple Ginnou and Jean Luiq who gave us a run down on the island, the people, politics and customs, after 15 years of visiting and staying on the island they were setting up a part-time home here and building a very small house above the bay in a friends back garden – no water (carried from the well over a mile away), no electricity, no gas (no bills!), no windows, only bamboo shutters to keep out wind and rain, no drainage and cooking on an open wood fire. This was very basic living but they were quite at home with the prospect and Jean Luiq was making his own furniture with a basic tool set.

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Ginnou ans Jean Luiq’s house designed by them and made from home made breeze block and corrugated iron.

They introduced us to Jean-Jean who became our local guide.  He and his wife had just opened a local restaurant which was still under construction where we enjoyed a delicious conch lambi meal.  

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Jean-Jean Rosemarie and their delightful children in the restaurant.

We found out from them that a small war was running between the villagers and the government who wanted to throw them out of their homes without any form of compensation, to build more hotels, an airport and roads of which there are currently none. If the plans go ahead, it is likely to totally ruin this island paradise and dramatically change for ever the lives of a couple of thousand islanders.  

After a few very pleasant days relaxing we decided to go to the town of Les Cayes 5 miles away on the mainland by “ferry” with Jean Jean as guide to top up supplies. The ferry was little more than a large rowing boat with an outboard and carried 20 very noisy villagers and us.

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Getting ready for a rough ride

On arrival after an hour long crossing the disembarkation process was like nothing we had experienced before. First, we offloaded into an even smaller boat, timing the leap between waves and then we were carried ashore on the backs of porters to what could only be described as a rubbish tip with a pig routing around and a lot of folk shouting and rushing around.

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The ferry ashore

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Greeted at Les Cayes by a pig!

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The busy market in Les Cayes

 

Gill and I were now illegal immigrants in mainland Haiti having decided not to clear in to save trouble later on when entering Cuba. We toured the town and its market buying what we needed and managing to get our gas canisters filled by a guy in a shed who would definitely not meet Elf and safety regulations in Europe. Despite the very run down and dirty appearance of the town, the locals looked well fed and well dressed in what is perhaps the poorest country in the western world. After walking miles shopping we ended up in a one roomed restaurant which was the front room of someone’s house where the cooking was done in the street over an open fire and the toilet was a trench running under the rusty galvanised fencing at the rear. Reversing the boarding process we took the ferry for the return trip and set off into the teeth of a strong breeze. The sail was then spread over our heads to keep the waves off and we sat there, doubled over, with a very silent bunch of passengers under this tarpaulin for the hour long journey back to the island. An incredible day and an experience we were both very glad to have had!

A few days later we were sorry to leave this, for us, idyllic spot to sail on to Cuba and to meet up with my sisters in Santiago who were joining us for a 10 day holiday on the boat. This last leg was a major challenge for us to meet the deadline of the 6th February from several thousand miles back.  The sail between the two countries was around 180 miles and we experienced a large uncomfortable swell which denied us sleep that night. Dawn broke to the sight of Cuba and we sailed gracefully into the lovely harbour of Santiago to tie up in the Punta Gordo marina where we were given a friendly and helpful welcome by the officials which this time included a doctor with a liking for beer and a vet who investigated our provisions – fortunately there was no tinned meat from Brazil amongst our stores! We read in the Cuban Cruising guide that no fresh fruit or vegetables or eggs were permitted for import to Cuba so Gill was furiously squeezing all the juice from our fruit in order to salvage some value as we sailed into the marina after having carefully hidden two dozen eggs around the boat. As it turned out they weren’t in the least bit interested in either fruit or eggs and Gills efforts were completely wasted but we enjoyed the juice.

The next part of the blog will cover our sailing and our onshore adventures around Cuba where unfortunately internet is difficult to come by and when you do find it of limited supply and very slow. Apologies for the long delay but there was little we could do to remedy this given the lack of communication in Cuba.

The Caribbean Adventure

We arrived in Antigua very pleased to have crossed the Atlantic without serious mishap but with a long list of jobs to do and conscious that we were arriving in the week before Christmas, knowing many places would be winding down or already closed.

As it happened, we were lucky to find Oscar, a Rastafarian engineer trained in England in most aspects of boat maintenance, fortunately for us Rastafarians don’t celebrate Christmas and Oscar was available to us during the holiday period.  He helped us complete 34 of the 44 items on the list!!  The only major item still outstanding was the new autopilot which refused to function in accordance with the manual (more of this later).

Most of the days leading up to Christmas were working days sorting out the boat.  However, we did find time to go ashore on Christmas Day for the open party in Nelson’s Dockyard with the anticipated climax of a lobster dinner in the Admiral’s Inn which turned out to be turkey as the fishermen were unable to go out in the rough weather (poor dears!)  On Boxing Day it was back to boat fixing which kept us busy until we had completed those jobs which we could in Antigua.  In order to keep costs down we moved out of the superyacht marina to anchor in Falmouth Harbour bay.  We were the smallest boat there by around 100ft.  The closest anchorage we could find was about half a mile offshore and it was at this time that the outboard decided to start playing up.  Fortunately, the oars came to the rescue on more than one occasion and the skipper was a lot fitter for the experience.

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In amongst the Christmas revellers

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Christmas day, Antigua – Gill waiting for the lobster that never came

Our second day off was spent at Pigeon Beach where a series of rain squalls ruined any chance of sunbathing.  At least we could swim without getting any wetter!  Fortunately, there was a bar where we were able to take shelter and the odd refreshment

We decided to celebrate the New Year in St Maarten and as the autopilot still wasn’t working, we took Oscar, the engineer, with us to finish off the job, leaving at 4.0pm for an overnight sail in fairly strong winds.  We reefed down twice in what proved to be a fairly stormy night.  As the dawn came up, the winds dropped and St Maarten came into view. 

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‘Oscar and Mike just chillin’

We decided to take the boat into Simpson’s Bay where most of the repair facilities were available.  To enter the Bay meant passing under a lifting bridge with a belligerent operator who refused us entry as we were approaching behind a super yacht and, according to him, we weren’t close enough.  While we were waiting to enter two hours later we anchored just off the bridge but kept dragging and on raising the anchor discovered a huge boulder trapped between the claws of the anchor which the puny female crew was unable to despatch (and nor was the impatient skipper – for quite some time).  Once in the lagoon we made several attempts at anchoring which failed because it was either too shallow or the anchor wouldn’t grip on the weedy bottom.  An hour later, in desperation, we decided to make for a marina where we stayed for a week (more work, little play, lots of time spent at the chandlers!) 

On New Year’s Eve we managed at last to organise a lobster dinner, albeit Mexican style and then on to La Bamba – a Latino beach bar with a firework display at midnight and a paddle to mark the beginning of the new year.

New Year’s Day for Gill is a double celebration being also her birthday, a fact the skipper forgot and will probably never be allowed to forget for the rest of his life!!  The day was spent at the beach swimming and sunbathing and joining in a local beach party.  As partial atonement for his sins (not forgotten), Mike ordered two of the largest lobsters in the tank and two bloated people staggered back to the boat. 

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New Year and the birthday girl gets the lobster this time, a 3lb whopper!

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Later that night and ready for a swim!

After fixing most of the items on the list and having grown weary of marina life we decided to set sail for the first time with just the two of us for the British Virgin Islands, some 100 miles to the west.  The first part of the journey was idyllic in sunshine, with calm seas and a gentle breeze.  Our contentment obviously provoked the sea gods and the second half of the journey (in the dark) was spent in high winds, squalls, with boats coming at us from all directions.  Making landfall at night is never easy and this night was no exception.  We had selected Pirates’ Bight on Norman Island as our overnight anchorage.  When we arrived we found it occupied by another 100 or so boats, which meant threading our way through to find a spot we could anchor without hitting somebody.  We dropped the hook at 1.00am and spent a further hour checking that the anchor wasn’t dragging in the strong gusts coming over the island.  Sleep was difficult while we were making regular checks on our position in the bay.  By morning the winds had abated, the sun had come out and all was well with the world.  We made our way to Tortola to check in with Customs and Immigration and afterwards Gill made a beeline for the icecream parlour.  While we were waiting at the counter, there were shouts of “Gill, Gill” from an English couple who it turned out Gill had met in Trinidad the year before.  This was the second coincidence in two days – the other being a meeting at the chandlery in St Maarten with a Canadian couple she had met two years before in Grenada – such a small world.  

It was then on to Beef Island to test the anchorage at Trellis Bay which unfortunately had been overrun by charter boats and moorings at $30 a pop so we moved on across the bay to Marina Cay but the same problem there. By now we were getting a bit fed up with the BVIs and the overly commercial attitudes to everything. We eventually found a very rolly anchorage on the south side of Scrub island, with no one about. The following day we made for Jost Van Dyke which was a very picturesque bay and town with charming officials to carry out clearance but once again after several attempts at anchoring and dragging, including nearly sinking the dinghy, losing the pump and the baler (later to be recovered) in a another bloody bay full of mooring buoys we were forced to find $30 to fund a peaceful night. We had had enough and left the following day for Tobago Island (an uninhabited rock) where we found a tiny inlet just wide enough to take the boat and enjoyed a peaceful night.

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Main Street – Jost van Dyke – not a bit like Southampton High Street

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‘That’s us at anchor just above the table’

Next morning we were up at the crack of dawn, thankful to leave the BVIs and sail to the Dominican Republic, skirting around the USVIs and Puerto Rico as we didn’t have a US entry visa only available back in Barbados (not very visitor friendly). This made a trip of 285 miles to Casa de Campo, however, we decided to stop at the beautiful Isla de Saona and anchor for the night. The trip took longer than planned and we ended up anchoring at midnight and to cap it all the heavens opened with a deluge just as we arrived. Two very soggy, tired and grumpy people threw out the anchor and turned in. We woke the following morning to blue skies, palm trees and a pure white sandy beach – heaven. As the tourists poured in en-masse in lots of local boats we then left and had one of the best sails of the trip for the remaining 20 miles to Casa de Campo marina. We had reached the Dominican Republic and completed another stage of the journey.

 

 

Atlantic Crossing

Well this is it 2208 miles between Praia in the Cape Verde Islands and an estimated 18 days to cross with fair winds. On the morning of the 2nd December after provisioning the boat we refuelled and filled the water tanks and sailed out of Praia harbour at 12.00 noon.  The tanker delivering the water pumped at a high pressure and unknowingly blew apart one of the valves in the boat’s water system.  This could have been disastrous and mean total loss of water if we had only found out later in the journey, however the bilge pump started running whenever the fresh water pump was switched on, giving us the vital clue and the burst pipe was located and plugged with only the loss of a few gallons of water and as things turned out we had plenty for the journey, little did we know that we would encounter many other challenges along the way.

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Riding the trades – goose winged

The key resources to manage on a journey like this apart from food and water are fuel and battery charge/electrical consumption with the latter, as it happened proving the most difficult.

So, we left Praia around noon that day and set a course south of the island of Fogo in fairly light winds.  During the night we cleared the island of Brava and our last sight of land before the Caribbean. Night watches were set up as 4 hours on and eight hours off where possible and we rotated these so that each person’s watch moved on four hours each day, the least popular being the 12 to 4 period. Gill and I shared the cooking and Sim was Chief Washerupper, a system which worked quite well and provided some excellent meals given the difficulty of cooking in a rolling and pitching galley. We were always conscious of the burn and scalding risks but no one was seriously hurt.

Gill always seemed to attract the hazards – squalls, collision risks with tankers and others, bits breaking etc The second night out she had to avoid a tanker and the third night we had even more company with several ships and yachts around us, including a phantom ship emerging out of a rainstorm which hadn’t been picked up on the radar.   It’s unusual to see so many other vessels out in the Atlantic, most people report making a crossing without any sightings at all, but not us.

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The Ancient Mariner – alive and  well

Food is an important part of any crossing and one of the highlights of the day – Gill had made sure that we were well provisioned with 500 tons of food (exaggeration!) and we managed to cook lunches and dinners every night apart from the last.  Attempts at bread making haven’t been too successful.  Sim’s first loaf would have made an excellent third anchor and Gill’s was fine once the carbon was chipped off.  Message from skipper “must improve bread making skills”.  I blame the oven (Gill)!!! (Foote note – it turned out the bread mix we were using was duff so I owe a big public apology to Sim and Gill).

On 5th December, a skipper’s haircut was well overdue, so Gill set about the hazardous task of wielding scissors around the ears.  Fortunately, both the haircut and the ears came out well.  Sim and Mike then had a sea water sluice down using our new collapsible bucket, whereas Gill had a hot freshwater shower and hair wash, so much for equality!

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A rough cut

The next major event was catching our first fish (Mike had taken some stick for his several failed attempts on the way to the Cape Verdes) when he pulled in a sizeable Mahi Mahi which provided us with a delicious dinner and the following day, Sim also caught one.  This proved a useful supplement to our frozen stores.

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One of the problems which started to emerge was the gradual dropping of our battery charge despite inputs from our main engine and water turbine generator.  The most likely explanation for this was the almost incessant use of the fridge and freezer which use sea water as the means of cooling.  Temperatures in this part of the world are, of course, much higher resulting in longer running of the fridge and freezer. The problem eased when the winds picked up after half way and the water turbine was then giving us a good charge 24 hours per day. It turned out that the belt driven engine generator was coming off its mount because of the constant vibration and heavy weather and we were lucky it didn’t part company from the engine at sea, causing major damage.

Back in Weymouth we realised that buying flags for every country we intended to visit was going to be a very expensive exercise, so Gill suggested buying material and making our own.  The first of these is the Antiguan flag, which has proved to be a work of art and commercially must be worth several hundred pounds!  (see photos). Even the Antiguans have been impressed!

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The hard work!
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And the finished article

We broke our “no drinking underway” rule briefly to celebrate mid-way with a beer for the boys and a grogue (Cape Verde rum) for Gill.  Sim nearly wept when his full glass went flying across the cockpit but Mike magnanimously shared his glass to restore crew morale.

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During the second part of the crossing wind speeds increased to Force 5 to 6 which made watch keeping more challenging.  With only one person on watch for each four hour period during the night a lot of responsibility is placed on watch keepers meaning that Mike forfeited a fair amount of sleep helping out during difficult situations and sometimes sleeping in the main cabin ready for action, on one occasion responding to Gill’s urgent cries for help in his birthday suit – not a pretty sight!

A few days later investigation of strange graunching noises from the stern revealed that the bolts for the self-steering system had sheared leaving open bolt holes for water to come in. Fortunately the holes were only half an inch diameter so we were not at risk of sinking and the bilge pump coped quite well. We had to remove the Hydrovane rudder off its shaft to avoid further damage to our stern so Sim heroically volunteered to go over the stern (strapped on of course) and into the sea to do the necessary work of removing the hydrovane rudder. Mike noticed another squall bearing down on us while we worked to make the hydrovane safe. No sooner had we recovered Sim and the rudder back on board than the storm struck and we experienced gusts of 50+mph wind. Pleased with our success and having plugged the holes and with the wind eased we got back underway for Mike’s watch only to lose the Genoa over the side after it had broken loose from the halyard.  Sim was called again and the two recovered the sail and lashed it safely to the rail, continuing with reefed main and staysail.

Our troubles were not over – on the penultimate day of our trip we noticed more graunching noises coming from our back up Autohelm self-steering gear which we found to be very hot and on the point of failure. We shut it down and went onto 2 hour watches to manually steer the boat for the last 150 miles. No one had much sleep that night and dinner was abandoned for the first time in favour of biscuits and peanuts – the joys of long distance sailing.

As dawn broke on the 18th December there was Antigua, a sight for very sore eyes, and much relief for all on board, it has been quite an experience but we had triumphed and brought both boat and crew safely to Antigua after a voyage of less than 16 days despite weather and mechanical failures.

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The Cape Verde Islands

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This next phase of our journey was to explore a few of the Cape Verde Islands and we managed to visit quite a few – Sao Vincente, Santo Antao, Santa Luzia, Sao Nicolau, Boavista, Maio and Santiago which proved to be a fascinating, and at times, challenging journey. 

Our stay in Mindelo on Sao Vincente, ended up being much longer than originally planned as we had quite a few repairs to do to the boat after our sail from the Canary Islands.  We had to fix the main and genoa, the water system including cleaning oil from the water tanks, fixing a leak in the fuel tank and unblocking the forward heads – yuk!  The joys of sailing!! 

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Scrubbing out the water tanks

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Three heads are better than one

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5 days of sail mending by Ray and Sim.

All of this took two weeks of fairly constant toil, however, in the middle of our stay we did take one day off for good behaviour to explore Santo Antao which proved to be an island of spectacular scenery and, to Sim’s horror, high mountainous hairpin tracks taken at speed by our local driver.  On the other hand everyone enjoyed the local grogue tasting and of course we had to buy a bottle of this fiery rum-like hooch for the boat’s stores (Gill’s private preserve to ease the pain of sailing with three guys!) 

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Beautiful scenery on San Antao

During our stay in Mindelo we had plenty of opportunity to meet the locals who were always friendly and charming.  It was amazing in such a small community to find our problems solved by just asking around in markets or on the streets, somebody always knew somebody who would be able to help with mending broken parts, replacing lost fishing gear or, in one case, fashioning a marlin spike from an old screwdriver by grinding it down in an old Aladdin’s cave of a shed.  We also made some great friends at the local fish market where we were on kissing terms with the local fishwives! 

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One of the unexpected aspects of the marina in Mindelo were the strong gusting winds sweeping down from the mountains reaching speeds of 40-50 knots which at times made the whole boat shake and broke one of the mooring buoys and both snubbers attaching the boat to the pontoon and breaking a cleat off the pontoon.  Fortunately we were able to re-attach the lines elsewhere in the nick of time. 

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A friendly local

One of the features of the marina was the ever popular marina bar and if Gill was ever looking for the guys, it wasn’t hard to guess where to find them.  However, tragedy struck and the boat bringing the beer from Praia in Santiago ran aground and this bunch of would be drunken sailors drank the bar dry (Gill’s words). 

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The bar in Mindelo Marina

After two weeks in Mindelo, the crew was getting harbour rot and all agreed it was time to leave for our next destination which was for the little island of Santa Luzia about 20 miles north-east of Mindelo.  The sail proved to be a challenging one with very strong gusts of wind coming down the valleys as we passed along the south side of Sao Vincente forcing us to reef heavily and slow the boat down from 9 to 6 knots.  Someone forgot to close the galley seacocks resulting in a flood of water combined with diesel oil which had leaked from the fuel tank and providing a skating rink, albeit at a 45 degree angle, in the galley.  Gill heroically scooped bottle after bottle of greasy water mix to be passed up to the cockpit for disposal before realising that the seacocks were still partially open!   Lovely job in difficult conditions but her skin definitely benefitted from the diesel scrub.  We arrived at sunset in a beautiful anchorage on the south side of Santa Luzia, tired but pleased to be safely at anchor although we were still plagued by very strong katabatic winds sweeping down the mountains and a wind generator that sounded like an aircraft about to take off.  The anchor held well in these strong winds although this wasn’t to be one of our most restful nights.

The next day we sailed to the port of Tarrafal in Sao Nicholau in a good force 5, making for a lively beat.  The following day we hired a minibus to tour the island, starting with a steep climb on narrow tracks up the volcano Monte Gordo in the cloud which eased mine and Sim’s vertigo problems. 

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The steep track up Monte Gordo

We then descended down through spectacular rugged scenery to the charming main town of Ribiera Brava which was hidden up a valley to avoid attack by pirates in the middle ages.  The following day we left at 6pm for an overnight sail to Boa Vista which proved to be one of the most uncomfortable sails todate, making sleep impossible as we were bounced around our bunks on a very confused sea. 

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The beach at Boa Vista

We were all grateful to arrive in the bay off Sal Rei, the main town on Boa Vista in a relatively quiet anchorage. The next day after checking in the outboard failed  on the way back out to the boat and as we were anchored 1 mile off the beach this was to cause us a problem. Meanwhile Sim had left the boat to join wife Nancy who had flown out to spend a week in a rented apartment just outside the town and that evening the rest of the crew were due to join them for dinner.

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Gill, Sim and Nancy in Sal Rei

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Just a little refreshment in the local at San Rei

This meant a long row against strong head winds back to shore. A great night ensued and needless to say we didn’t make it back to the boat until the following day. On the way back we asked around the town if anyone could fix our outboard and sure enough in a bar we found the right fixer and after 15 minutes in a local house/workshop the engine was operational again for the princely sum of £5.

We left Sim to his comfortable bed and running water and Ray, Gill and I motored to the next island – Maio and dropped the hook off the main town of Porto Maio in a lovely anchorage 100 yards off a pure white sandy beach with a couple of beach shacks on it. The down side and there always is one, was the surf breaking on the beach – how we laughed when a dinghy off a French boat turned turtle and dumped its crew fully clothed into the foaming sea. Then it was our turn, we didn’t get turned over but we did get a good soaking as waves broke over the boat. Ashore was a real Shirley Valentine moment, sitting on the beach with a drink watching an amazing sunset followed by a nice meal – this is what it’s all about!

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Playing football for the Cape Verde team!!!!!

Getting back to the boat in the dark proved equally challenging with me pushing the dinghy, Ray and Gill out through the surf and Ray rowing the dinghy clear and towing me while Gill bailed out the boat, character forming stuff and good fun.

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They’re Gill’s beers!!!

After a couple of great days on Maio we motored the 15 miles to Praia on Santiago and the capital of the Cape Verdes where we picked up Sim after his flight from Boa Vista. This was our worst experience of the Cape Verdes and we were warned by the local police to park the boat just off the police station and employ someone to guard it while we went ashore. The local policeman checked out our guard and made it clear we and our boat were under police protection. Not a nice last stop here but fantastic police service.

Ray is leaving the boat here and going to join another in Mindelo for a crossing to Barbados and Gill, Sim and I will continue to sail the boat across the Atlantic.

Tomorrow and Sunday we will provision the boat for the Atlantic crossing, refuel and top up our water tanks so all those who complained about the time between this blog and the last – it will be 3 to four weeks before we land in Antigua which is now our destination in the Caribbean and the posting of our blog “Across the Pond.”

 

Las Palmas and Tenerife

Morro Jable was our last port in Fuertaventura and we left there at 6 am to cover the 57 miles to Las Palmas on Gran Canaria before nightfall, this is where the majority of the ARC (Atlantic Rally for Cruisers) boats are congregating. This year 260 boats will be leaving from Las Palmas for St Lucia at the end of November so we phoned ahead to see if we could get a berth there as Jon Osborne from Kika who were already there, emailed to say they were turfing boats out to make way for the ARC, however the marina agreed we could have three days there.

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When we arrived an English guy took our lines at the reception pontoon and we got talking, he turned out to be quite an amazing character. He had suffered from bone cancer had all his toes, half his fee and most of his fingers amputated though being given the wrong treatment so afterwards having lost all faith with the NHS and being given a month to live turned to homeopathic remedies of  bitte apricot kernels and sweet mollasses and bicarbonate of soda all of which he had read about on the internet in one last desperate attempt to cure himself which he has done and is now, to the amazement of his doctors completely clear 6 months on. He now lives on his boat in the Canaries sailing the Islands and manages to balance and sail the boat with incredible handicaps. He is one of the most positive full of life people I have met and an example to many others in his position.

Once moored up we contacted our friends on Kika and invited them over for a drink. The facilities here were very comprehensive so we spent our time doing maintenance work on the boat and overhauled the engine, working with a Spanish Volvo mechanic who spoke no English, a challenging exercise but we finished the job and I am now a fully qualified gofur who can fetch and carry in Spanish.

After our three days were up in Las Palmas we set sail for Santa Cruz the capital of the Canaries located at the foot of the volcanic peaks on the north end of Tenerife and we toured the cities spectacular streets and architecture on an open topped bus.

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The Marina in Santa Cruz looking                          Anchorage at San Atoria de Abona

After a couple of days in Santa Cruz we decided to anchor at San Atoria, a small village about 30 miles south. Here we anchored in crystal clear waters and spent a couple of days lazing in the sun, reading and swimming with fins and snorkel to watch the fish life and inspect our dragging anchor. It wasn’t too much of a problem but we needed to keep an eye on it to ensure we didn’t wash up on the rocks.

The next day we sailed the 20 miles to San Miguel marina by the airport to meet with Nancy and Kate, Sim’s wife and daughter and managed a day sail with them although there was little wind and very calm seas which pleased our visitors. After they left on the 21st October our reinforcements arrived in the form of Ray Millan and Gill Walton for the next phase of our voyage down to the Cape Verde Islands and across the Atlantic to Grenada in the Caribbean.

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Nancy, Kate and Sim out on the boat                            Ray and Gill relaxing on voyage

In the picture above with Ray and Gill you can see the 12000 ft peak of El Teide in the background. Nancy, Kate and Sim managed to get within a whisker of the top while they toured the Island. We are now in La Gomera and about to go off on a tour of the Island by car tomorrow.

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San Sebastian harbour on La Gomera.                       Ray showing a part of the £600 shopping bill

Before leaving San Miguel we stocked up at the local supermarket, being unsure of the facilities on La Gomera and El Hiero so we individually loaded three trolleys often with repeated items and filled the hire car so much the springs were bottoming out. Some of this we wanted to freeze for the Atlantic trip and some for our 7  day sail to the Cape Verde Islands some 800 miles south.

Our next stop will be El Hierro some 50 miles south of here before leaving for the Cape Verde Islands and I will update the blog there if we can get internet access.

Lanzarote and Fuertaventura

We were tipped off by Jon on Kika who were a couple of days ahead of us that Isla Graciosa didnt have “entry port” facilities so we headed for Puerto Calero further south on Lanzarote, which proved to be an excellent marina, very clean and even had polished brass bollards and solid brass manhole covers – very posh! As we arrived the sun came up to a spectacular sunrise.

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As we arrived Kika was leaving so we made tentative plans to meet up in Las Palmas where they intend to overhaul their engine and will be around for a few days.

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Kika leaving Puerto Calero.

From here we hired a car and toured the Island climbing up over a volcanic plain which looked like one would imagine the surface of moon looked like, completely barren rock for mile after mile just as it was the day the rocks fell from the volcano.

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At the end of this plain is Monte del Fuego (fire mountain) where we watched demonstrations of geysers and cooking over hot volcanic vents.

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Some brave tourists went up the mountain by camel an experience we resisted although these had side by side seats rather than saddles which would have been cheating anyway. The view from the top was spectacular but not a sign of vegetation anywhere.

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After a day of working on the boat doing jobs from our never ending list, this time with Sim making new control lines for our twin poles for downwind sailing while I anti-fouled the rudder of the Hydrovane which was missed in Cowes during refit. Before I left I imagined we would have lots of time on our hands but in fact we are kept busy with shopping, port entry procedures, cleaning the boat, sailing the boat, sleeping, cooking and eating, exploring and the books that I brought remain largely unread. Maybe over the Atlantic we will have more time. That night we treated ourselves to a steak and chips dinner, my first since leaving UK, which we washed down with a nice red wine – lovely jubbly!

On the subject of food by default our meals tend to be routine, something with either rice or pasta, being easy to cook in bulk, refrigerate and reheat so its nice to go ashore and eat things we don’t have on board. My attempts at fishing have been sporadic and unsuccessful so far with four traces lost and only one decent catch which got away as I was reeling in. It will be easier with more crew, the size of some fish would keep us going for months so I only intend to catch small to medium ones but haven’t worked out how to communicate this to the fish yet.

From Puerto Calero after saying goodbye to the helpful staff there we headed for Isla de Lobos on the north end of Fuertaventura where we intended to anchor. It proved to be a lovely anchorage with crystal clear waters and good shelter.

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After a quiet night at anchor we headed for Puerto Castillo, a small fishing village on the east side of Fuertaventra, a sail of around 33 miles. It was Sunday when we arrived with no officials around so we picked a berth and left the following morning after a lazy start. I saw my first flying fish in nearly fifty years so we know were headed the right way. We anchored off a lovely little village called Ginijinamar where we swam and lazed around for the afternoon.

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Next morning we set off past a very barren landscape for Morro Jable our last port in Fuertaventura and jumping off point for Gran Canaria and Las Palmas. We have managed to book a berth for a couple of nights so will meet up with Kika.  We are moored alongside the harbour wall here which is great for shops and restaurants.

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In the morning it will be an early start for the 60 mile crossing to Gran Canaria – the forecast is good with 15 knot winds from the North East which will be on our stern. Next post will be Gran Canaria. TTFN

A Trip Into the Desert

First apologies to all I have put the last few posts under the “Home” button rather than the Portugal to the Caribbean header. Hopefully this will be back in the right place – all part of the learning process. Apologies also for scaring Ray and Gill in stating we would pick them up in Gran Canaria when I meant Teneriffe.

Sim and I hired a car yesterday Wednesday 25th September  and set off to Taroudant about 80km off into the desert. It is a walled town of around 6000 people with wide streets except in the old souk where there are only tiny alleywaysImage

 

This is the little car we hired outside the city walls.

Our first stop was a corner cafe for a coffee and here we asked directions to the local Berber market which is held on Wednesdays and it was at an adjoining table we met Hassan Mohammed who used to work for the local tourist office and volunteered to be our guide around the city. He was a great asset and took us to places we would never have found.

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Hassan is the one on the right!!

He took us through tiny alleys into the heart of the town past specialist areas of wood carvers, tin smiths, a maize and corn market, here you could buy anything from cooking pots to secondhand bikes, refurbished 30 year old TV’s, car parts – you name it it was there, I even saw a kitchen sink. This is where the nomad tribes come to trade their handmade carpets, spices and animals for the things they can’t make or get in the desert. The noise and bustle is fantastic.

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More spices for sale, I could photograph the goods but not the stallholder.

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This is the wood working and carving area of the market where they make doors, furniture, wall panels etc.

Hassan was known by everyone, himself a Berber who was born in a village nearby, he stopped and greeted many people on our journey around the town and around 1 o’clock took us to a restaurant where we all ate brochettes and chips and freshly pressed orange juice for the grand sum of 120 dirham which is about £10.00 . 

Hassan suggested taking us to one of the hill forts in a village called Tiout some 30 kilometres further east into the desert. We went up a very rough unmade road to the fort from where we had a panoramic view across the surrounding countryside.

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Here is the village of Tiout with the oasis behind.

Back down in the village Hassan introduced us to a guy who organised donkeys to take us through the oasis.

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This next photo shows the 400 year old fort from the Oasis.

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At around 3.30 we set off back to Agadir via Taroudant to drop off Hassan and cross his palm with silver for his splendid tour of his countryside – a real gentleman and a pleasure to meet.

Tomorrow at around noon we will be leaving Agadir and heading off to the Canary Islands, we have really enjoyed our 3 week stay here and learned a lot about the culture, religion and lives of the people. The highlight of our brief stay has been the people we have met, always polite, interested in us and our venture and the epitome of kindness and generosity. It must be something in the simpler life that engenders a greater interest and compassion for their fellow man. 

If all goes to plan we will cross from here to Isla Grasiosa to the north of Lanzarote arriving in 2 days time.

Rabat to Agadir

We stayed for 8 days in Rabat and on the last day visited Casablanca by train, this time with Sim who had recovered enough from Moroccan belly to make the journey. The focal point of Casablanca which is a  city of 5m people is the Grand Mosque which was built between 1998 and 2005, the third largest in the world after Mecca and Riyadh. It is spectacular and blows your mind. It accommodates 25,000 worshipers inside and 80,000 outside, attracting at least this at Ramadan.

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Beneath are baths where the congregation can wash as a part of the ceremony and each person has 2 minutes to complete their cleansing before moving on at the mushroom fountains where 12 people can wash at one time. Incredible to imagine this whole religious process working.

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This is one of the few mosques in the world where infidels can visit on cultural grounds and we felt quite privileged to see the mosque and understand a little more about Islam. The Mosque is built out on the sea on pillars with each pillar dedicated to a script from the Koran, “Allah has his seat on the sea where he can survey the universe”.

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This photo was taken as we sailed past Casablanca – “You must remember this” we never did find Rick’s Bar and anyway Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman would be long gone!!

We left Rabat and headed for Mohammedia about 40 miles down the coast but we were too deep drafted to get in and anchored in the bay, Here is Sim relaxing after arrival.

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We only rested overnight here and set off early morning to cover the 80 miles to El Jadida which is purely a fishing port and doesn’t cater for yachts at all, it was also filthy and we couldn’t get out quickly enough. We also had Kika the British boat and Island in the Sun, our German friends with us. We three skippers were all queuing first thing to get our exit permits to leave next morning which quite upset the harbourmaster. This was the worst place we have visited in Morocco.

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While going through clearance I spotted this guy taking his shark for a ride.

Our next destination was Essaouira another fishing port 110 miles south where we ran aground on entry but on a rising tide.

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We were given a deeper berth alongside the Lifeboat and met the skipper “Horace” would you believe, who was one of those founts of all knowledge and a smashing bloke to boot.

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The town was very attractive which made up for the lack of facilities in the harbour, and very clean with quite an extensive souk. Here we met Jennifer from Connecticut who was rafted outside us and was on a circular tour of the Atlantic single handed.

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It was Sim’s 21st birthday or so he said so we all went ashore, the crew of Kika and Jennifer for a birthday meal and a few medicinal beers to kill any potential bugs.
Sim's birthday party in Essaouira Back on the boat at 2am for a nice long sleep – it’s such a hard life!

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A fish restaurant offering on the harbour at Essaouria – just a work of art.

That afternoon we set off for Agadir on an overnight sail arriving at 6 am off the port. Sim does the early watch 8pm to 2pm and I do the late watch 2am to 8am and as I approached Agadir spent the early morning dodging untlit fishing boats some of whom kindly flashed a torch if I got too close!

We are now moored in Agadir which is very much a tourist town which also means the search for beer is a lot easier – we even had pints of local beer last night – what luxury. In the supermarket we had to go to an underground cell to buy alcohol as its against the rules of the Koran and only vaguely tolerated for foreigners. 

We went off to try to find some bits for the boat in the massive Porte du Pecheurs which houses over 600 fishing boats, sadly most in decline as a result of quotas. Here we met Mohammed who was our guide and managed to route out places which sold the bits we needed. Afterwards he took us to a series of fish restaurants where the locals eat fresh fish straight from the boats. Each family has a strip of tables elling the same fish at the same price – wonderful but no alcohol.

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Mohammed the proudly showed us the yard where they built the fishing boats and we met the owner. These are traditionally built boats in wood Image

 about 50 ft in length and all hand built from eucalyptus as they have been for centuries.

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They build 20 a year but this is dwindling fast as more secondhand boats come up for sale.

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Tonight we had a light dinner on board after our huge friture de mer at lunch time this next photo shows the marina at night.

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Up on the hill behind is a huge inscription  which says ” Allah, King, Country” which all lights up at night. Tomorrow we are off to Tardouant, an oasis in the desert some 80km from Agadir. We have rented a little Fiat Punto for £25.00 for the day, after some negotiation so we are off exploring in a country of mad drivers and bad roads.

Our next stop and post will be in the Canaries where we plan to visit Isla Graniola just north of Lanzarote a sail of about 240 miles. From there we will make our way south down the chain of Islands to pick up Nancy and Kate in Teneriffe, Sim;s wife and daughter and then on to Gran Canaria to collect Gill and Ray who will help us crew the boat to the Caribbean

 

 

 

 

Marrakesh

On Sunday Sim was laid low with a tummy bug similar to one I had had a few days before which even a few pints of beer couldn’t cure, so I headed off to Marrakesh on my own as we had already reserved the hotel and left Sim on the loo. 

The train journey from Rabat to Marrakesh was like something from the Orient Express, in our compartment we had me, a Steve, a Kiwi geologist, Caro, his Hungarian wife, Hassan, a Moroccan businessman who made ceilings for Mosques and Aziz a Marrakech businessman who ran a transport company. We enjoyed a four hour exposee on Morocco, the Koran, Islam, sociology and philosophy which helped to pass the time and provided interesting debate and education. When we arrived in Marrakesh, true to Moroccan form on hospitality, Aziz drove me around the city sights in his big 4 X 4 ending up outside the Medina where my hotel was, a fantastic way to see the sites with an expert guide. Wide streets, modern villas, superb public buildings and of course the old Medina.

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The grand theatre Marakesh

This next shot shows the gates to the Medina where Aziz introduced me to his personal herbalist who promised to cure every ill for a few Diram. I got away lightly! You can also see the storks nesting above the gate which the locals think brings good luck.

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And a close up of the storks

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Here is the inside of the herbalist’s shop which doesn’t do justice to the thousands of bottles lining the walls.

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The Riads in Morocco are old houses decorated and furnished in the old Moroccan style and the one I had selected was lovely and inexpensive to boot; this is my modest little room for the night.

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Marrakesh is famous for its huge central square where since time immemorial Berber, Toureg and Bedouin tribes have come in from the desert, traded their goods and in the evening the city lays on its food and entertainment. This same tradition carries on today and in the evening after the market closes the square comes alive with fire eaters, snake charmers, belly dancers, jugglers, musicians and storytellers each with crowds around, the noise in this huge square is incredible but so alive. this shot shows the tea vendors selling delicious sweet mint tea.

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There are row upon row of food stalls so I tested my newly settled stomach on a lamb couscous and here I am with the “chef” definitely not Michelin starred but Image

In the morning I went to look at the grand mosque.

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Even the mosque has to put its rubbish out and then back to the station for a five hour train journey back to the boat to find Sim alive and better after a days rest. An exhausting but fascinating two days.

Portugal to Morocco

After a week at anchor in Cascais waiting for Sim to arrive we set off for Sines about 50 miles south, the home of Vasco da Gama so naturally we nipped round for a visit to pick up a few navigation tips for the voyage ahead.

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From Sines the plan was to go to Lagos but we changed our minds and decided to sail to Rabat directly from Cabo san Vicente to Rabat after an overnight anchorage just round the corner of the Cape in a small bay beneath and old fort. We anchored close to the cliffs to keep out of the strong gusts which meant a sleepless night for both of us checking and rechecking the boat. We also had the chance of a swim in the crystal clear water which was surprisingly warm considering this was the Atlantic.

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We set off early in the morning to cover the 205 miles to Rabat across a very busy shipping lane and did 120 miles in relatively light winds in our first day. We had to reef to slow the boat so we would arrive in Rabat in daylight and catch our first view of Africa, our second continent. 

There is a sand bar across the entrance and the river up to Rabat is heavily silted so we had to call out the pilot to guide us in, at times we had less than a metre under our keel as we pushed up against the falling tide. As we passed Rabat the river banks were lined with hundreds of fishermen cheering us and shouting “Welcome to Rabat” in English, an amazing experience.

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The pilot took us about 3 miles up river to Bouregreg marina in Sale, which used to be a pirate stronghold in the middle ages. Here we produced passports and boat papers for a 2 hour check in with Police and Customs. They fed me on iced mint tea and chilled figs while I was completing the paperwork, not the sort of treatment we have received anywhere else. This has proved to be a continuing experience with the people here who cant do enough to help and are so anxious that we leave with a good impression of the country – a lesson for us Brits here, they put us to shame.

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The plan is to stay here and explore the souks and Kasbah’s  for a few days and then make our way down the coast to Casablanca, Marrakesh (an inland trip), Safi and Agadir. From Agadir we’ll cross to Lanzarote, around 230 miles at the end of September.