Friday 24 November 2023

Mohammadia, Morocco

 Sunday 29th October 2023

After a long night of motoring and dodging fishing boats and very little sleep, we were pretty shattered when we arrived in Mohammadia.  We knew that it was a working port with a marina set at the south east end of the port, but the descriptions we had read still hadn't prepared us for what we saw. There is the fashionable ‘shabby chic’ but this was just shabby without the chic. 

Being a busy oil, chemical and fishing port, it was noisy, dirty and smelly. The marina was basically three floating pontoons with boats moored to them.  When we arrived, there wasn't any space so we rafted up next to a motor boat that we had to climb over to get on and off. There were large fishing boats moored four or five deep on the other side of the inner harbour, reaching out only a few meters away from yachts.

Never mind we thought, we're only here for a couple of days and nothing a nice hot shower couldn't fix.

But first, we had to do the formalities with the officials. When entering Morocco, you and your boat have to be checked in with Immigration, Customs and Police and you are not allowed to leave your boat until these formalities have been completed.

First up was Customs. As soon as Offbeat was securely moored, Mark was taken to the Customs official. A sweet little man, who looked as though he was in his seventies and would now never grow into his suit and cap. He did the necessary paperwork and then came back to the boat to have a look at her and to check that we weren't carrying anything illegal (drones are a  big thing in Morocco as they are paranoid about being spied on). Happy that we weren't illegal traders, all three of us had to go with him with our passports. 

Next up was the Police. A couple of young men turned up on the quayside, took photographs of our ships papers and passports and then left. We think they may have been Port Police and Gendarmerie but as they never introduced themselves, we will never know. 

The Customs Officer then indicated that we had to get in his car. With our very limited French and his very limited English, we got into the car in good faith, not sure where we were going. I was rather anxious as we hadn't locked the boat and anybody could get on board. 

But, off we we went to the Immigration office on the Port where we were met by a lovely Moroccan lady who spoke very good English. It was quite a surreal experience. In between asking formal questions for the authorities, we had conversations about local customs (Friday is family day with CousCous - their equivalent of a British Sunday Roast), good spa treatments, children and grandchildren and where the best cafes and restaurants were. Mark felt bewildered but knew better than to interrupt three women, one of them armed with a pistol and the other two with sharp tongues!

By the time we had finished and walked back to Offbeat, it was time to have a hot shower, something to eat and a well earned glass of wine and discuss the next stage of our journey.  Three out of four's not bad, as we never did get hot water.

Based on the forecast when we left Spain, we planned to stay a couple of nights in Mohammadia to wait for the southerly winds to pass. By Wednesday/Thursday a northerly wind would set in to blow us to the Canaries.

In the meantime, we would explore Mohammadia and get Offbeat ready for the final passage. Jo and I went into the town to explore, but as it's a working town, there wasn't much to it for sightseeing.  There was a central boulevard that was pleasant, with cafes and restaurants, but that was about it.

Meanwhile, back at the marina and drama was unfolding. The fishing boats leave en-masse at six in the morning and return similarly around sunset. And all hell had let loose as one of the fishing boats, being towed by another, goes bows first into the side of the yacht behind us, causing damage to his rigging. As you can imagine, there was a lot of shouting and probably expletives as they tried to pull the fishing boat off the yacht. The next few hours and following day there was a lot of coming and going of officials to assess the damage.

We felt really sorry for Michel, the French owner of the yacht. A lovely guy who had been very helpful to us in translating for us with officials and marina staff and who hadn't planned to come to Mohammadia but had to because the entrance to Rabat was closed.

Witnessing this accident made us decide we shouldn’t stay there longer than needed. But, we had checked the weather forecast for later in the week and whilst there would be a northerly wind, there would also be 4-5 meter waves behind us, brought about by the storm hitting the Iberian coast 700 miles to the north (its amazing how far waves will travel in the open ocean without losing much power.) By Saturday (possibly our last day at sea), the forecast was for 25 knot winds, gusting to 35 knots close to Lanzarote, adding further to the swell from the storm. 

Safe to say that the look on Jo and my face was enough for Mark to decide that this was a no-go. He even admitted that he'd find it “a bit intimidating.” But what to do instead? We could go south to Agadir, but that would be another 48 hours at sea and we still risked being hit by wind and swell or we could motor north back to Rabat and stay there until the weather calmed down. Rabat won.

It would mean that Jo didn't finish the crossing to the Canaries with us, but she would get to visit Casablanca!

So, decision made, I spoke to Michel who kindly phoned Rabat marina to check there was space for us. Hooray, there was, and he was travelling there himself, to escape Mohammedia.  We decided that we would leave at 10:00 on Wednesday to catch the high tide needed to enter the river to Rabat marina. Relief all round.

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