#11 Rio Guadiana – Morocco – Canaries

Having just drifted out the Guadiana with the tide, we lay on the anchor just outside the fairway and waited for a breeze, getting a few odd looks from passing fishermen for choosing the strangest anchorage in the world. Just before midnight it came, and we headed west – our forecast showed that we would have to stay west of Cape st.Vincent to get good wind for Morocco, so off we headed, back the way we had come.

West, and south west, and the next evening we passed Lagos again and turned left. We hadn’t been going long before the wind picked up. We reduced sail and the wind kept on picking up, until we were down to nothing but the small jib, running downwind before the northerly gale. It was dark and cold and wet and scary, but at least it was in the right direction and we had no shortage of sea room. The self steering did its job admirably and my fantastic crew even managed to make some hot food, though it was so rough that I wouldn’t even have tried to make tea.

The sun rose eventually, the wind eased, the main went back up, and we continued south. I started to take sun sights with the sextant, and tried to remember the calculations – this was the first real offshore passage I had made without GPS, and so was the first time I had ever had to really use the sextant in anger.

...welcome to Morocco!

It is a strange feeling, when you are not used to it, to not know where you are in the sea, and yet this is often the reality when dead reckoning and astro-navigating. You realise that the important thing is actually to know where you are not, and so as long as you can’t see any signs of danger, you can usually relax – unless of course there are unmarked submerged rocks nearby, which suddenly become a very real and rather terrifying threat.

After three or four days of roly poly downwind sailing we found Morocco! Somehow, we even ended up in vaguely the right place. But as we neared the coast the wind backed and picked up, the sun set, and some horrible black clouds rose over the horizon. We ran towards the port, El Jadida, narrowly missing some huge waves breaking on a reef, but when they turned the navigational lights on we got very confused about where we were because they didn’t match the lights on the (up to date) chart at all! By now it was dark and there was no visibility due to the heavy rain, and the wind was just increasing. I couldn’t get the port on VHF radio, but I did get in touch with a nearby tanker, who couldn’t help me with the lights but warned us that the wind was forecast to reach F9 that night, with 5m swell.

Eventually, when the rain eased, I thought I could just make out the silhouette of the breakwater, which should have been lit but wasn’t. With fingers crossed we tacked upwind towards it with three reefs in, trying not to stray too far off the leading line into the shallows that were charted on either side. The swell was horrible and there were breaking waves both left and right – if we went out of the channel and touched the bottom that would be it, but with the severe gale on its way, we had to try and get in.

As we got closer the breakwater became clearer and I became more confident that we were in the right place. Eventually we rounded it and sailed into the small but well protected fishing harbour, found a wall to tie to, and fell into a long and grateful sleep.
After we had found our way through the maze of immigration bureaucracy we finally get out of the harbour compound and had a look around.

El Jadida in the sun finally.
Local boatbuilding.
Considering swapping the boat for one of these.

A fairly nondescript fishing town, El Jadida had bustling markets and some very active traditional boatbuilding. We bought sacks of fresh veg and bread, dates and almonds, lentils and olives, and only spent a couple of euros (in stark contrast to the port, where we had to pay €13/night for nothing at all, save a cold hose masquerading as a shower). We were expecting some hassle, as foreign tourists, but were hardly approached, and actually found shopkeepers to be exceeding friendly but rather shy – although maybe they just saw the wild light in our eyes after our days at sea and scary arrival!

Bizarrely, we had days of rain in Morocco, and used the woodburner for the first time in weeks. I got some news from home and decided to fly back to visit my wonderful grandma Lorema, after whom my boat is named, who at 94 had suddenly become very ill with leukaemia. Elin and I had a long day getting to the airport because all the roads were washed out, but eventually got to oxford late at night, and I had three days of family and cold winter sun before heading back again. Lorema died three weeks later, with her loving family around her.

We left Morocco and headed for the canaries. The wind was right behind us for days and we made great speed, averaging over 5kn (with half a knot from the canaries current). The wind was definitely on the strong side, and the boat rolled like hell with the following seas, but we couldn’t complain. After 3 days I took a sun sight and went to bed, telling Elin that if my navigation was correct, she should see a small high island soon (roque del este). I had barely put my head down when she spotted it – a most satisfying moment!

The islands loomed, bare and volcanic. We tucked in north of Lanzarote and found shelter on the south coast of Graciosa, a tiny island with one village – we chose the small marina over the secluded anchorage because of a well placed sign advertising “pizza”!

Anchored in the tiny port in Graciosa.
The cliffs of Lanzarote from Gracioca.

Graciosa is a pretty nice spot. Volcanoes, cliffs, beaches. No development. Pizzas. The holy trinity. The Marina cost next to nothing so we stayed there, made some friends, are some pizzas. Then, away, through the sirocco – the easterly wind that brings dust from the Sahara and reduces visibility to almost nothing. Locally, the wind was light and variable, but gusts of F6 would come down from the cliffs of Lanzarote, stay a minute, and leave just as suddenly. Eventually some consistent northerlies came and we sped to Arricife, where we tucked into the corner of the crowded town anchorage. A week or so there, photocopying charts and such, and west towards Gran Canaria. A short stop in Fuerteventura on the way, and a fast passage from there, arriving long before the sunrise. I was narrowly missed by a great big massive humungus cruse ship, and then followed it in to Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, a big commercial port, avoiding anchored rigs and tankers, all lit up like Christmas trees. Anchorage and sleep, and then of course the sun rose in my eyes. Got to sort out some curtains.

On the way to Arricife.
Elin rowing out to Lorema.
Optimist fleet in Las Palmas.
Swedish Christmas Glugg
Home-made storm jib!
Mad provisioning – will it fit?

Days in Las Palmas turned into weeks, and I am still here. We had Christmas (two days this year – Swedish and English), Santa made it down my tiny stove chimney, and the house elves hid cutlery around the boat. We did some work, and New Year’s Eve passed with the aroma of rum and varnish. I sowed a storm jib with some scrap sailcloth given to me, finally fixed the troublesome paraffin stove, and have been up the mast hundreds of times now, rigging and varnishing! It was agreed that I would cross the Atlantic alone, so after an interesting search, Elin found a catamaran on delivery and left with them for the BVIs yesterday. I have now filled the boat with enough food and water to sail to the moon and back, and will hopefully depart today, bound for the Cabo Verde islands 800 miles south, where I will probably stop, unless things are going very well, in which case I might head straight to the Caribbean. Excited and terrified.

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