Palma de Mallorca (ESP)– Agadir (MAR)
… 10, 11, 12! A large clock projected on the festival screen loudly strikes midnight. The people around us quickly swallow grapes in an attempt to keep up. Happy New Year! Eating 12 grapes at midnight on New Year’s Eve is both a tradition and a superstition in Spain. Rare is the Spaniard who will risk poisoning their fate for the coming year by skipping the grapes, one for each stroke of midnight. We prefer the “liquid-grape” tradition and welcome 2018 with a bottle of organic cava. Families are gathered in Palma de Mallorca’s main street, tourists like ourselves are outnumbered by the locals. Everyone enjoys the live music. Fireworks are only displayed on the screen, what a smart way to avoid waste and air pollution. The festive, cosy atmosphere brings a lovely start to the New Year.
Following our Christmas celebrations in Palma de Mallorca, the weather continues to bring strong westerly winds, even a storm. We decide to stay longer, and treat ourselves to an extended stay in the luxury marina of the Real Club Nautica de Palma. It proves to be a blessing in disguise, allowing us to discover historic Palma and see more of Mallorca’s beauty. We take a bus to Soller and hike to Port de Soller. The well-marked trail passes many citrus orchards, through green valleys and across some steep mountain ridges. We now better understand why this island is so popular with tourists. Fortunately there is enough beauty left, despite the many developments.
Crossing to Cartagena
After New Year, the weather forecast still predicts westerly winds, although less strong. The marina costs are adding up and we plan to move to a nearby anchorage. “Or shall we just tack our way to the Spanish mainland?” Floris suggests. “Not a bad idea at all” replies Ivar. “It will almost double the distance to around 400 nautical miles, and be quite uncomfortable. But doable”. We are both eager to make our way further west and are not looking forward to waiting another week, despite the beauty of Mallorca. “And we’ll be able to see Margaret,” Floris adds. Our good friend is in on holiday in Spain. It’s settled: we leave the next day.
Sailing close to the wind takes its toll on us. Luci is going against high waves, which leads to frequent sudden movements. The wind increases, so Ivar works his way to the mast to reef the mainsail. It’s a demanding task and he gets a bit seasick. Fortunately, it’s a rare phenomenon for him. The next day we both feel better and see that our battle against the waves and the wind have resulted in some progress. We see Ibiza in the distance and decide to continue, despite the lovely memories and the friends we made there earlier. After four days we finally reach Cartagena, where Margaret meets us. The festive mood from seeing her again is enhanced when we reach the town centre and find ourselves in the middle of the local “Three Kings” parade. What a lively welcome after our tough passage!
A week flies by. While the wind continues to be westerly, we make daytrips into the countryside with Margaret’s rental car. We explore an old battery and the region’s mining. We also visit Calpe, for a trip down memory lane for Floris. He spent many a holiday in his grandparents’ place there.
Solar Flash Back
Back in the marina we are struck by a state-of-the-art catamaran. With its solar panel roof, it reminds us of our time in Corfu when we spent time with Falk Viczian on his solar energy driven catamaran. The one we are seeing now turns out to be a larger and newer version of Falk’s prototype, the SolarWave 64. It is the first of a production-built type from the shipyard that specializes in these type of boats. Owner Samuel shows us around and explains why he chose to buy this boat: “I like the idea of being independent from fossil fuels, because they pollute and we are running out of them.” He has the ambitious goal of crossing the Atlantic without using the back-up diesel generator. We can’t wait to see him succeed in setting a new standard for engine-driven cruising.
The next day we get an Instagram message. “We are in the same harbour, let’s meet”! Not much later, we meet an energetic young lady and her dog. “Hi! I’m Jonna!” She started her journey a few months ago and explains that her choice for travelling by sailboat comes from her passion for sustainability. Music to our ears! We are glad to be able to help her with some technical advise on her boat, and have no doubt that she’ll meet the right crew. We look forward to follow her adventures via her blog Sailing Tangaroa. When the wind changes, it’s time to say goodbye to Jonna and we sail further west.
Through the Straight
Via a brief stopover in Almerimar we continue our Mediterranean goodbye tour. An easterly wind is exactly what we need to pass the Strait of Gibraltar. Or so we think. When Gibraltar is still around 30 nautical miles away, the wind decreases, while a counter current increases to around 2 knots. Our speed of 6-7 knots shrinks to 3 and then 2 knots. We soon start running out of time, as the wind is expected to turn and remain west for at least a week. With help from the engine we stay ahead of the wind shift and we can avoid ferries, freighters and pilot vessels manoeuvring in and out the busy port of Tanger.
Once past Cape Spartel we can head southwest. We’ve made it to the Atlantic Ocean again, just before the westerly winds set in! Once again, we bow to seafarers of times past, as they navigated these waters without the help of accurate maps, wind-forecast-apps or auxiliary engines.
The Atlantic Ocean welcomes us with a long westerly swell and a gentle northerly breeze. Very gentle indeed, even with the genaker patience is required. The sun shines and Luci rides smoothly on the long waves. It’s quite a change from the Mediterranean winds heavily influenced by mountains. Life on board is comfy, so we can sleep well, cook, read and write.
Days go by without major incident until we get closer to Morocco’s coast. “There’s something on our line!” Ivar yells. “Ha ha, you’re so funny” Floris thinks Ivar is teasing him. We’ve been towing a fishing line so many times, but haven’t caught anything since Norway. “No really, it’s looks like a small tuna!” Excited, we pull in the line, get the net and haul our catch on deck. It’s a fat beauty. While Ivar filets our catch, Floris checks his fish-app to learn what we caught. “It’s not a tuna, but a mackerel,” he yells. “I never knew they could grow so big”. It measures almost 50cm, so provides enough meat for four delicious meals.
We’re not the only ones to fish in these waters. As we get closer to the coast, fishing boats surround us. None of them have AIS and some of them are so small that we only see them when they’re very close. And that’s not the only danger. Their nets and cages are tied to small buoys or plastic bottles. Even in daylight they are almost impossible to spot. When darkness falls we have to get out the torch to avoid getting stuck in fishing gear. Diligently, Floris scans the water while Ivar manoeuvres around the hazards towards the harbour of Agadir.
After an easy check-in Ivar leaves the gated community of our marina reserve in search a replacement genaker pulley. Unable to find a chandlery, he heads to the fishing harbour to try his luck there. A Moroccan guy introduces himself in German as Ibrahim. “I used to work in Germany, but now I’m a fisherman here.” He takes Ivar to at least seven different fishing supply shops and helps translate his needs for the pulley. They only have very large ones for fishing boats, a yachting culture has clearly not yet arrived in Agadir.
Back in the marina, our friendly and all-round harbourmaster Sofian comes to the rescue. He makes some calls and is able to find a second-hand pulley that fits and looks reasonably strong. From our encounters with Ibrahim and Sofian we quickly learn that help and friendliness apparently has a price here, Dirhams are expected in return. Although even the amount of tip can be negotiated.
Moroccan Road Trip
Anxious to explore more of Morocco, we rent a car and visit Marrakech. The narrow streets of the medina are a melting pot of colors, sounds, and smells. Boys on scooters and men pushing carts with vegetables, fruit and livestock zigzag their way around tourists and beggars. It’s a candy store for the senses, although the contrast with the wealth of the royal palace and parks is also painfully visible.
The next day we drive on a spectacular road through the Atlas mountain range. Each turn provides new, magnificent views on snow-covered mountain peaks, steep slopes and barren valleys. The landscapes seem straight out of a movie. No wonder: scenes of “Lawrence of Arabia” and other films were shot here.
The area is also put to use for solar energy generation. In the distance we see the vast array of curved mirrors of the Noor Concentrated Solar Power plant. At the time of the construction announcement, the project was expected to be the largest in the world. Today, there are even larger projects under construction in countries like India and China. Still, it’s impressively large. The $3.9 billion complex will provide electricity for more than 1 million people when complete, helping the African country to supply most of its energy from renewables by 2030. The technology is similar to the CSP we visited in Spain and we’re glad to see it applied on an even larger scale.
We spend the night in La Ferme Ecolodge not far from Zagora, a charming hostel created on a former date grove. Host Elhoucin offers us tea, dates and delicious food. He is from a Touareg family explains to us the wonders of nomadic life. He sends us off to the Sahara with gifts; a blue scarf and a box of dates from his own garden! “I was somewhat suspicious that it would all be added to the bill” Floris admits. “Yeah, me too. It’s a pity that one starts to think like that, after so many other situations where we were asked for money” Ivar replies.
Into the Desert
The paved road literally ends in a desert town called M’hamid, our destination. The only vehicles that continue driving through the sand are 4×4’s. We opt for a more traditional mode of transport for our little Sahara expedition: the dromedary. While they steadily plough through the sand, unmoved by ice-cold winds, we try to get used to the movements of these “ships of the desert”. It’s a bumpy ride, so we’re glad to reach the bivouac (camp) after two few hours. Ivar sums up the trip “I haven’t felt so cold since I went ice skating on a Dutch lake!” We warm up over tea, followed by a tagine. The slow-cooked savory stew, made with meat, vegetables, dried fruits and spices tastes delicious.
Our tent for the night is beautifully decorated and remarkably comfy. At night it rains (!) and the morning is cloudy. No spectacular sunrise above the desert sand dunes for us, but luckily the weather clears when we “dromedary” back to civilization.
Old and New Friends
Back in Agadir, a young guy approaches us at the pontoon gate. “I’m Ziggy and I’m hitchhiking across Europe. Could I sail with you to the Canary Islands?” The young Polish adventurer travels with a football and tells us about his motto: Ball.Voyage. His stories on hiking, exploring, living a minimalist backpacking lifestyle and meeting people resonate with us and we invite him to join us as a trainee. Ziggy checks into our front cabin and we explain the basics of life on board. While we share stories over dinner, we hear knocking on the deck. It’s Tim Visser, Ivar’s friend and colleague from Dutch Sea sailing school “De Zeezeilers”. He sails with his family on s/y Julia and has just arrived. We are sailing in opposite directions and are excited that we managed to meet. It’s a wonderful to spend time together and their three young children provide steal our hearts within seconds.
The next day a white catamaran moors next to us. As soon as we start chatting to the crew, we feel a friendship developing. Court, Rafael and their son Gabriel come over for a drink and we learn that they left New York City only a few months ago. With their boat purchased in France they are now on TheWindExpedition. We spend the next few days getting to know them better over breakfast together, running and visiting the souk.
We also meet our German neighbours from s/y Pipoca. Ute, Hartmut and their friend Hartmut spoil us with a three-course meal, while we share stories on our journeys. They are stuck with engine troubles, which they hope to fix to sail with us to the Canary Islands. We try to help them where we can and are glad to see they find a local handyman to assist.
Our encounters in the marina confirm that we are now on a different “track” than in the Med. The sailors here are all used to longer distances and on a long-distance journey. Perhaps because we have so much in common, our social contacts become more intense and time-consuming. We feel excited but also somewhat overwhelmed.
When the wind forecast is good enough, we decide it’s time to say goodbye to fascinating Morocco. A country that is so different from anything we’ve seen before and really feels like another world. We go for one last buying frenzy and spend our last Dirhams at the souk stocking up on dates, figs and vegetables. After an unnecessary trip to the customs office, we obtain the necessary stamps and forms in the marina the day we leave. While our friends wave us farewell, Ziggy and we wave back, hoping to see TheWindExpedition and Pipoca in the Canary Islands again. That thought makes leaving Agadir a little less sad…