Wednesday 1st November 2023
Before we could leave Mohammadia, there were formalities to complete. Mark had to go to Immigration Police to retrieve the boat's papers (they keep them whilst you're in port so you don't abscond) and Customs to get clearance. Should be a simple task as everything was in order when we arrived.
Rabat is a tidal port and can only be entered two to three hours either side of high tide. We therefore planned a departure time of 10:00 so that we could take a leisurely cruise at 5 knots and arrive at Rabat at hight tide and if necessary, have some leeway too.
At 08:45 Mark went off to do the paperwork. Immigration/Police first. Time ticked on and over an hour later, we saw him arrive at the Customs office. He'd arrived at the same time as the dayshift and, as in offices the world over, no-one was going to see him until they'd had a coffee and a chat. And when the two officers on duty did get round to asking him what he wanted, they checked the paperwork and declared it all in order, they couldn't find the stamp for our passports. They told Mark that he'd have to wait for the boss and she'd arrive in a deceptively precise “seven minutes.” She arrived forty minutes later and was so pleasant and efficient that Mark calmed down. The paperwork was done. We could get under way just about on time.
No we couldn't. Mark popped into the office to say goodbye to the lovely old fellow in his two-sizes-too-big uniform. He wasn't there. An altogether younger, more alert officer was. His uniform fitted and he radiated keenness and ambition. He spotted a mistake in Offbeat's Customs permit and held on to our passports so that we couldn't leave. Luckily his keenness extended to fixing the problem efficiently and ten minutes later a colleague appeared with the correct permit. With smiles, shakes of the hand and “merci beaucoup” shouted over his shoulder he almost ran back to Offbeat saying “Sorted. Right let's get the f*** out of this f***ing s***hole.”
We finally headed out of Mohammadia at 10:25, going full pelt in case they were going to call us back.
The journey to Rabat was pretty uneventful as we were under engine and we stayed about 5 miles offshore to make sure we didn't get tangled in those pesky fishing lines. The sun was shining but there was no wind, only a gentle breeze directly on the bows.
About two hours from Rabat we saw Michel, our French neighbour from Mohammadia. He had mentioned that he may have problems with his engine so was going to take it slowly, so we veered over to him to check that everything was OK. It was, so we carried on.
About 5 minutes later we were called on the radio by the Moroccan Navy, asking us where we had come from, where we were going, how many people on board and why had we veered over to the other yacht. Mark gave them the information they wanted and explained that Michel had engine problems so we wanted to check he was OK. Happy with his explanations, they signed off. But, boy oh boy, the Moroccans take security very seriously!
Two miles off the entrance to Rabat we called the marina. All the things we had read about entering the river had strongly recommended using the marina pilot boat to guide you in. They say that the estuary is shallow, has many sandbanks and not many channel markers. Despite several calls on the radio, they did not answer. Fortunately, Michel had heard our calls on the radio and as he wanted to use the pilot boat too, he had telephoned them. He radio'd us to explain that the marina pilot boat was out of action so we would have to make our own way in.
As we drew closer, Mark took over the helm to guide us in. Although there was still a slight swell, entering the river mouth was not as daunting as the sailors’ guidebooks said it was going to be. All those years entering much smaller and shallower tidal rivers on the East Coast of England gave us great confidence.
Oh my, what a sight. After the horrors of Mohammadia, we were blown away with the beauty of the twin cities of Rabat and Salé as we slowly made our way up the middle of the channel. To our right was the medieval wall of the Kasbah of the Udayas and on our left was the old town of Salé.
Further down the river we passed surfers, making the most most of the last of the swell, the grand promenade with an old fishing boat converted into a restaurant and small rowing boats that are used as water taxis. To either side were the tall minarets of the mosques, the imposing and intact walls of the old towns and directly ahead was the rocket shaped 55 story Mohammed VI Tower and the ultra modern curves of the huge Grand Theatre of Rabat.
We immediately fell in love with Rabat, even before we'd tied off our lines and completed the formalities. We had the now-familiar visit from the various officials and a short search of the boat, looking for contraband or drones. The Customs Officer, a young woman in her early 20s couldn't hide her surprise at such a small wardrobe, giving me a sympathetic look. Before leaving, the boss asked in a very serious tone of voice “how much wine do you have on board?” “Erm, one bottle of white wine” I stammered, worrying that we'd committed an infraction in this Muslim country. “Its not enough” he said smiling and declared that we were free to enjoy our evening. We did, dear reader, we did!