The first long distance journey
Place: Graciosa, Canary Islands
Date: October 8. 2006

Day 151 - 163 Gibraltar via Morocco to the Canary Islands - 671 nm

The day started by the sound of the alarm clock. A seldom sound to be heard onboard. We had to get up at 07.00 a clock to be ready for a departure at the exact time for the best current conditions out of the Strait of Gibraltar. We refuelled and left the port right after 08.00 a clock. We were both very excited for what the next days would bring and what to expect out at high seas. The forecast had reported good wind from the east, but the little wind that we had came from the west. That meant that we had it straight towards us, so we had to use the engine. The first hours we were only managing 1-3 knots, even with full speed on the engine.

The current are strong here in this strait, but after a while the current changed direction to the same as us. The speed increased to over 6,5 knots :). We close along the shore on the Spanish side where the current are more favourable and we could keep a good distance from the crowded main lead. When we were crossing the main lead we met a faired enemy. A thick fog came crawling in, but luckily it did not last for many minutes. We went for 46 nm before the wind got favourable, and the current decreased, so we could set the sail.

We choose to try 4 hours watches. In the beginning this rhythm got somewhat uncomfortable, but after a while the body adapted. We had been warned about all the tuna nets which lay along the Moroccan coast, so we wanted to keep a distance for 40 to 50 nm from the shore. In the beginning the distance was naturally somewhat less and for a while we were 25 nm from the shore. Then we could see all the lights from the tuna nets surrounding us. We kept a good look and the boat was steady sailed around them. The tuna nets are floating in the surface and are up to 6 km long. Fortunately, most of them are marked by lights, but not all.

On my first night watch I got a unwanted experience. I drove straight into an unmarked tuna net. Luckily the speed was so good that the net went under the boat and we were able to continue sailing without problems. Since the boat only has an outboard engine, there is nothing that can be twisted into the net. The problem was that the next net crossing was not so good. I saw a marking light and changed the course to what I thought was a safe distance. Suddenly I heard the sound of a net going under the bow and passing the keel. The speed was not so good this time so the net was not able to pass the rudder, so then we were trapped.

We tried in many different ways to get loose from the net which stayed put between the keel and the rudder. There were little wind to help us move the boat, and we could not start the engine in fear of getting it twisted into the net. We used a headlight to get a better view over the situation and did our best to get loose. After a while we got some more wind and had better control over the movements of the boat. Vidar used all his force to press the net down with the boathook, so the net could pass the rudder. Luckily we made it. The next challenge was to find the way around the net. We had hit it in the middle and there were a long distance between the lights. It took us 1,5 hour to reach the end. We searched with the headlight so we always had control over the distance to the net. In the end there was a fishing boat which towed or kept the net tight. After this incidence we were much more on alert to keep clear of these floating traps.

The wind was very much shifting and decreasing, and the next days were long with little wind. Sometimes we lay for hoers with the sails down and a view over a calm Atlantic. The only thing that kept some movements in the boat was the swell. The current usually kept us drifting the wrong way. So the only thing we could do was to find us a mix of patience and suntan lotion. The time was spent by reading books, listen to music, sleep, fishing and take a swim in the ocean. The temperature in the ocean was around 25 degrees. Sometimes we got a little wind and we could sail for a couple of hoers before the wind was gone again. We felt that we were taking two steps forward when the wind was there and one step back again when the wind dropped and the current set in.

There was a lot of traffic with big commercial ships passing us. For those who were so close that we could read their name, we called them up at the VHF and got the weather forecast from them. One evening, right before sunset, there was a big turtle swimming just 0,5 meter from the boat. It did not pay much attention to us. At night time we were held company by dolphins that were playing around the boat. They made a light show created by the phosphorescence.

The last day before we entered the port in Marocco, we had a great wind. We passed many tuna nets, but on a safe distance. The fishermen frightened us with their small open boats. The last night one of these boats were stearing directly against us, no matter what way we turned. We started to think about all the refugees crossing from Africa to the Canary Islands. When they passed us with less then 10 meters distance, they just laughed and wished us welcome. Apparently they thought it was very funny to frighten us with their manoeuvres. Onboard in the little open boat sat 5 Moroccan fishermen with beard and their hats aslant.

We arrived the city of Essaouira in the middle of the day, Sunday October 1st after 5,5 days sailing. That means that we have been 126 hoers at sea and covered a distance of 425 nm. We were waved into the port by the fishermen. The port is a busy fishing port, but with a nice pontoon with space for a couple tourist boats. We moored next to 3 other sailors and two locals helped us with the moorings in expectation of some tip for the job. They did not want money, but cigarettes and clothing. We gave them some orange juice and a worne cap and they were pleased.

Before we were propably moored there was a man in full uniform and a gun in his belt comming onboard. He wrote down all the information about the boat, the crew and the equipment we had onboard. He only talked French and Arabic, so it was some minor communication problems. But the man was very friendly and the misunderstandings only ended up in laughs. I offered him something to drink, but it was Ramadan and strictly religious forbidden to drink or eat between dawn and sun set. Everything worked out at the end and the man just smiled and wished us welcome to Morocco. The next task was to stamp the passports at the immigration office. There was little equipment there who told us we were in 2006. Almost everything was done with pen and paper, and the man that was able to work the only computer there was away, so we had to come back the next day to get a number that needed to be written into the passport.

The days in Morocco were very exciting. Here we lived close to the Moroccans which are living in much poverty and straitened circumstances. Since it was Ramadan we were able to experience their daily life in this special time. The streets were narrow, but with a lot of shops everywhere. A lot of fruits, spices, beans, rice, breads, carpets and nice outfits. The grocery was placed far out in the streets and the meat was just hanging outside the shops. You could buy a living rooster which they cut the head of right before you brought it back home.

The people was incredible polite and we felt safe no matter were we went. It is probably the fishing industry that is most important for this town. The harbour was very busy almost 24 hours a day. Many men were in work when the boat was unloading the fish. The men were lined up and were throwing buckets of fish to each other. No winch or lift was used, so the process could take hours. Many of the men who was helping was unemployed, but got some of the fish as a payment. It was very fascinating to see the manoeuvres of the fishing boats. It was either full throttle ahead or full throttle astern. They bumped into each other all the time, but that was evidently normal. The fishing boats were moored sideways with 7-8 boats in a row. If the one closest to the quay wanted to go out, he just gave full throttle, bumped into the rows in front and at the stern and squeezed himself out in an incredible way.

When we wanted to fill up the water tanks we were sent to the port office to fill out some papers. They wanted to know all the details about the boat and the crew. The water was for free, but we was supposed to by a port fee. The port officer just laughed at me when I wrote down the length and the weight of the boat. In an attempt to spell out some words while he was laughing, he just said that a small boat like ours, coming so far away, did not need to pay anything. There is some advantages that comes with a small boat. The price level in Morocco is general low. We paid only around 18 for a three-course dinner with drinks. So we were living cheap these days. We tried the local food and it was very good.

The plan was to stay in this charming city for about three days, but there were a lot of wind out in the ocean so we stayed 5 nights. While we were there we were well known with a couple from Australia and a family with two kids from New Zealand. Both had sailed since 2000. On the afternoon at Friday the 6th of October we decided to loosen the moorings and set sail. It was still somewhat heavy winds, but it came from a good direction and the force was on its way down.

The first 13 hours towards the Canary Islands we held a speed at 5,6 knots in average. The boat surfed elegant from wave to wave and we were really enjoying ourselves. At nighttimes the dolphins came back to check us out and the moon gave us a great nightlight. The wind force became reduced on Saturday, but the speed was still good. We sailed 246 nm in 50 hours. That is an average of 4,9 knots, which is very good for such a little boat as ours.

Pictures from this leg can be seen here.