Cruising Notes


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Website of sailing yacht Tokomaru2's circumnavigation of the world

Crew: Nick Thomas and Liz Vernon

Morocco  September/October 2001


Finally left Morocco from Essauoira on 14 October and fair winds have brought us 235 miles to the Canary Island of Graciosa, north of Lanzarote.    Here we are anchored off a deserted beach, with the high cliffs and volcanic cones of Lanzarote rising dramatically just half a mile across the Del Rio Straight.  After two weeks in Essaouira surrounded by the exuberant and ceaseless activity of a busy fishing port,  this could not be more of a contrast.  The scenes on the ever-crowded quaysides of all the Moroccan harbours we stayed in are still in our minds:  a human chain passing up the day’s catch in a hundred small baskets, excited shouting over the price, smoke from the charcoal grills, the pressure to buy/eat all manner of fish,  fishermen hurling big sharks onto a truck,  seagulls circling and squabbling above.  And Essaouira is also a boat building centre, so there is the associated banging and sawing to create beautiful new wooden fishing boats, and all the drama of launching them……   Here in Graciosa all is very quiet.  A solitary gannet dives into the clear jade-green water,  the cloud on the volcano moves up a little.


So, more about Morocco.   Tom and Caroline came to Casablanca.   With them we visited Rabat by train, and then sailed to El Jadida where we explored the old walled portuguese city and where the port authorities did not want cigarettes to oil the wheels of bureaucracy, but Dire Straights tapes!  Tom drove us over the dusty plains to Marrakesh in a hire car and we left him and caroline there to get the train back to Casablanca.  It’s a shame they only had a week.  We sailed to Essaouira and from there we hired a car again and set off into the High Atlas mountains for 3 days.  This trip was possible thanks to Daniel, a French ex-pat who ‘adopted’ us.  The harbour officials would not allow us to leave the boat unless a ‘guardien’ was employed to sleep on board.  Daniel found us Boubrak, who was more than pleased to earn some extra money, and so we were free to go. 


We spent the first night in the Ourika valley with the Toubkal mountain range rising all around.  After declining all offers from ‘guides’ we had a peaceful evening walk along the river with only the sweet sound of land birds in the still clear mountain air – (not a fish or a seagull to be seen!).  We fell asleep to the gentle burbling of the river outside our austere and empty ‘hotel’ where a small Berber boy solemnly booked us in and took a small fee.  Next day we drove up and up to Oukaimeden, the ski resort;  no snow, and no one about, just some shepherds, wrapped in their djellabahs against the chill wind.  We saw our first remote Berber villages, earth-coloured like the mountain.  It is hard to imagine anyone living in such a harsh and barren place.  Our next goal was Imlil.  Nick urged the little Fiat Uno along xx kilometres of rough stony track and we reached this quiet, ancient Berber trading centre, set in a fertile valley, green with terraced farming and shaded with groves of walnut trees.  Imlil is a base for trekking, particularly for the three day climb to the Toubkal, 4167 metres.  Out of the tourist season, there were only a few trekkers about, and some Moroccan weekenders from Marrakesh.  In Imlil, life goes on unchanged.  Up and down go the mules.  The soft, rhythmic sound of their unshod hooves on the dry dusty track is somehow soothing.  They wait in the shade to be loaded;  on their backs are the famous Berber woven blankets - bright reds and yellows.   We  managed two good walks along the mule tracks high in the cool mountains with spectacular views.   Everyone you pass greets you and one old man invited us to his home.  But we had to go back,  along the dusty road to Marrakesh, and then the hair-raising drive in the dark back to the coast, looking out for unlit bikes, mopeds, donkey carts and pedestrians. 


Essaouira is a fine fortified harbour and the walled town is very attractive, with ramparts and towers.  Daniel took us to his home, deep in the medina, built on three floors around a central courtyard and designed to accommodate three generations of an extended family.  It seems fashionable now for the French to buy houses like this and restore them.  He gave us coffee and exquisite honey and almond pastries, salted almonds and sweet bananas.  Essaouira is as lively as all the places we visited, with its souks and stalls and street vendors trading  from morning to night.  It is strange not having to ward off cake sellers, shoe cleaners, fish cooks, carpet traders, beggars;  and not having to negotiate for everything.  Bargaining is fun, but we haven’t a clue;  (Tokomaru now has two fine carpets – don’t ask!).


Here, in Graciosa, while people are not unfriendly, nobody greets us or welcomes us;  we can take it or leave it.  In Morocco you must engage, - you have no choice!  And another thing to get used to is wearing shorts again.  No one bothers much with clothes here, and the more remote the beach, the less they wear.   So we are swimming and relaxing and planning the next leg of our voyage – hopefully to Lanzarote, Fuertoventura, and then the longer passage to the Cape Verde Islands, off Senegal.


We miss the mint tea, the warm loaves of  bread and the grilled fish.  But we have our carpets and the boat smells deliciously of spices.  You will have gathered, if you have persevered this far, that we loved Morocco, challenging though it was at times.  As we left a fisherman waved, wished us a good passage and made that most touching Arab gesture – hand on heart in farewell.


And so, farewell to you now, from Liz and Nick

Website © Nick Thomas and Liz Vernon 2008