The Sunday delivery of pink-skinned tourists, mostly from the UK judging by their accents and pallor, wandered the promenade of Marina Albufeira in various states of undress as we prepared to leave.
We’ve been here long enough to spot the new arrivals: open neck shirts gaping to the navel revealing plucked-turkey-like skin, with brochures in hand for the various sightseeing trips on offer. Each batch wandering along the waterfront taking a long look at the respective menus and beer prices of the waterside restaurants.
The marina doesn’t have the brash commercial feeding frenzy of the main town of Albufeira, it’s a more relaxed affair. And it’s been a good place for Maria to recover from her back injury and for us to get ready for our two-day sail to Morocco. There are plenty of supermarkets nearby, and an Uber taxi service available to get all your purchases back to the boat.
So, fully stocked up and paid up, we slipped our lines, briefly stopping at the fuel pontoon to top up with diesel and squeezed out of the harbour by 1320 with our sails up at 1355 steering a course to take us to Rabat.
The greatest show on earth
The beautiful long-lingering sunset finally gave way to darkness across the night sky at 2200 to reveal the most spectacular display of stars and planets you could wish for.
Away from any light pollution or cloud cover, everything was there to be seen… the milky way, constellations clearly recognisable, satellites sweeping the sky – and several shooting stars arching their way down to earth.
And if that wasn’t enough, the sea produced a spectacular display of its own. Phosphorescent jewels lighting up the wake of Lady Jane as we gently sailed on at 4 knots towards Rabat.
I was mesmerised by it all. Although on look out, I couldn’t decide whether to look out, up or down.
This continued for hours, until the moon came up like an unwanted usher’s light in a planetarium to spoil the party.
Return of the seasickness
At around 0100 the next morning, with Maria on watch, the wind dropped – and so did the speed – down to 1.5 knots. Because of the swell, this set up an unpleasant rolling action just at the right frequency to set off Maria’s seasickness again.
To say she is disappointed by this is beyond understatement.
The rest of the voyage she spent armed with bucket, determination, and a brave face.
As expected, the winds increased about half way across. There’s some stronger stuff up to gale force near Gibraltar – hence the reason we took a less-direct route to Rabat. Here the winds are mere force 7.
We reefed the sails down to very little so that things were less wet and a lot more comfortable, and rode this out for a few hours.
An important lesson learned here… when beating into wind, it’s important to turn the dorade vents to face backwards – otherwise they act as a scoop for any seawater washing over the deck. I felt this lesson when sleeping in the cabin, where I received a deluge of water from the vent directly over me. Not the best of awakenings, but at least it got me and not the cushions.
Night time brought with it another stunning sunset, but not the same display of stars as last might due to cloud cover. The phosphorescent glow was still there, however, lighting the sea around Lady Jane and creating more of the tiny jewel-like spots of light in the waves.
At 0900 the winds dropped to just three knots, so it was time to bring in the sails and put the engine to work for the remaining few hours to Rabat.
The sea state became thankfully calm, which gave us chance to tidy the boat, and ourselves, ready to present to the officials in Morocco.
It also gave me chance to re-plumb the watermaker. It didn’t seem to like the current plumbing arrangement, but after re-routing some of the pipes it is now producing some exceptional water in great quantity. And with that, we treated ourselves – and especially our noses – to cool showers.
Rabat’s hazy low-lying coastline loomed into view about five miles out, and I called the marina from two miles away. Nothing heard, so we tried again at one mile, then outside the outer breakwater. Still nothing.
Then… speeding out of the harbour, came a pilot boat from the marina to lead us in.
This was a first.
The pilot beckoned us to to follow him in, which of course we did, and he picked a course through the invisible sand bars, and the much more visible swimmers and leisure boaters who were all over the channel. Occasionally the pilot would slow down to berate anything in our way, pointing behind at us to show them what was coming in.
We felt quite important.
The river Bour Regreg is a real assault on your senses. You certainly know you have arrived in a very different country with a very different culture. It’s hard to describe the cornucopia of sights presented to us as we followed the pilot – both on the water and on land.
Photographs of that will follow.
The pilot led us to a waiting pontoon and explained that the police and customs will come soon to see us. And that after they have gone, he will guide us to our berth.
Not bad I thought.
The police and customs men arrived within minutes. And were exceptionally professional and polite. They asked for permission to come on board, removed their shoes before stepping inside, and proceeded to make the whole process as painless as possible. Not too many forms were needed, and the policeman could speak exceptionally good English – for which my addled brain was very grateful.
Another customs official arrived on deck after about 20 minutes, but was told by the customs guy already onboard that he – and his sniffer dog – are not required.
The whole process of clearing in took no more than 1/2 hour. They left, and the policeman said he would return our passports later after stamping.
After they left, the pilot and his mate came back to show us to our berth. I asked what side of the boat we would need to get the ropes ready, and he offered to show me. So, I jumped on his boat for a tour of the marina.
The allocated berth he showed me looked a bit short. So he allocated us another one at the end of a pontoon better suited to Lady Jane’s length, then took me back to the waiting pontoon.
The marina is used by a rowing school and a water craft rental company, so required a bit more of the same path-clearing from the pilot. We again followed him while he berated folks ahead with horn blaring and arms waving.
Safely tied up with the help of the pilot’s mate, the policeman returned our newly-stamped passports. Shook my hand and told me that if there is anything we need – just ask.
And at no point was there any hint of backsheesh. This is all free.
From here, we will spend as much time as we can exploring this very special country.