Friday 29 December 2023

Reunions in Lanzarote


December 2023

Whilst Mark was having the sail of his life from Rabat to Lanzarote, I was in England stalking him on Marine Traffic, making sure he was going to the Canaries and not heading off to somewhere exotic without me! In truth, it was comforting to me to monitor their progress and know that all was well.

I also spent time with family and friends, helping my daughter Alex move house, celebrating early Christmas and Margot's third birthday. Where has the time gone!

As usual, the time passes far too quickly and it was time to leave cold, wet England and head south for some sunshine and heat.

Mark had arrived in Lanzarote the previous day and was settled in Marina Calero, which is about 20 minutes south of the main airport. So, with too much luggage and duty free to manage public transport, I took a taxi to the marina. It was an opportunity to see a bit of the Eastern side of the island and I have to say it's pretty unspectacular. Very dry, barron and covered in dried red lava, I didn't feel inspired to put on my hiking shoes and go exploring.

But, the marina was nice, the people were pleasant and there was plenty of life in the bars and restaurants. It also turned out that our friends Peter and Leslie from Estepona were moored in the same marina.

We had made friends with Peter and Leslie a few years ago, when they had berthed in Estepona for a few months. During winter, they had left their boat in Estepona and returned to England when Covid hit. As travel was forbidden we looked after their boat for them during this time. When they did finally make it back to Estepona, Peter wanted to take it back to the Canaries, so Mark had helped him sail it over.

It was lovely to see them again and have some friendly faces around. They know the islands really well, so were able to give us a lot of advice and tips on sailing conditions and anchorages.

We used our time in Lanzarote to relax and recharge before heading off. We didnt do much site seeing, other than a day trip to Arricefe. Mark needed to get his passport stamped to show that he was back in Spanish territory, so after a bit of a fiasco with the the Policia Nacional, he was duly stamped back in.

After a spot of lunch, we headed back into the city and had a wander around. Arricefe is a working city, so in terms of tourist attractions, there isn't much to see, except for statues and the plaza with the main church.

However, down at the seafront, one of the more memorable places we visited was San Gabriel's Castle. Built in the 18th century to defend the island from pirate attacks, the castle is set on an islet and surrounded by small beaches of golden sand. The castle is accessed by two bridges, the oldest being Puente de las Bolas, complete with the original drawbridge.



By the weekend, we had itchy feet and were keen to move on. We wanted to go to Las Palmas in Gran Canaria for Christmas and New Year, but the marina there doesnt take reservations, you have to turn up and sit in the anchorage until a space becomes available. We didnt fancy the possibility of spending the holiday season at anchor, so I contacted the marina in Santa Cruz to se if we could book in there.

Hooray, they had space. So a week after arriving in Lanzarote, we said our goodbyes to Peter and Leslie and headed out just before midday into bright, calm seas for a leisurely overnight sail to Tenerife.

Saturday 16 December 2023

Rabat to Lanzarote


Thursday morning welcomed us with the sun breaking through thin layers of mist snaking up the river banks and shrouding the higher landmarks. The forecast looked settled for the four days that it would take to sail to the Canaries. Offbeat’s crew were keen to get moving. Time to go.

Rabat is a tidal harbour and is very shallow at low tide. Boats with deep keels such as Offbeat can only leave a couple of hours either side of high tide. We presented ourselves to the police station in the marina at 0900, got the paperwork and the boat checked and, with our passports stamped, headed off down the river towards the harbour entrance at 0930.  One last look at Rabat as we left (OK nine or ten last looks. It is a very beautiful place!) and then we felt the bow rise to the Atlantic swell and looked southwest towards the Canary Islands.

The winding River Bouragreg at low tide

Plotting a route to make best use of the winds
I had plotted a course to get us clear of the small fishing boats and their mazes of nets, and the trawlers ploughing their steady courses, by sunset.  The forecast was for little or no wind for the first 24 hours, so I knew that we would be using the motor a lot of the time. I wanted to get us in a position just outside the shipping lanes when the northeast wind was due to kick in. And that would also be enough time for Bernardo and Cesar to become used to life on Offbeat at sea. I use an app called SailGribWR to plan a route that makes best use of the wind for passages longer than a day. Sometimes it tells me what I already expected, sometimes it surprises me with a twist to the most efficient route. It is always amazingly accurate, in the short term, anyway.

After nearly five hours of motoring the wind picked up sufficiently to raise the sails but not enough to make progress without a bit of motor power too.  Cesar delighted us with delicious Lamb Fajitas for dinner. We quickly came to a collective decision that he’d be cook for the rest of the journey. This was as much a relief to Cesar as Bernardo and me, because Cesar is an exceptionally good cook and very keen to eat well. The menu plan that I started with was certainly not up to his standards. And I think it shook his confidence in my domestic skills when I discovered that I had failed to fill up the water tanks before leaving and we would have to ration water for the four days!

Route planning to avoid ships
We motor-sailed on through the night about 20 miles offshore, the lights of fishing boats well inshore of us and ships well offshore from us. By 0500 on Friday morning there was enough wind to turn off the motor. The moment of quiet when, at sea, the motor goes off and you can hear only the sound of the water on the hull and wind in the sails never fails to lift my heart. Cesar shared this feeling too.But as the sun rose, the wind dropped and by 0830 we were back on the motor for the next 12 hours. During the day I chose a point to motor due west for a few hours to cross the densest part of the shipping lane.  I had planned this using another app, MarineTraffic, that monitors the position of vessels at sea using land stations and satellites. It has a feature that shows the density of vessels over a whole year that helps me predict where I’ll need to keep clear of dense shipping, or cross their paths as quickly as possible. Some sailors take no notice of the shipping and just sail their course. Me, I like to be able to sleep knowing that I’ve reduced the chance of being woken up in order to deal with a collision course with another ship. This tactic contributed to being woken only once in four nights to respond to a potential collision.

Heavily reefed twin
Yankee jibs
At 1600 on Friday, Cesar and I fitted the second jib and the poles for downwind sailing while Bernardo steered. This is a pretty complicated process and took around an hour. It's something that you need daylight and small waves to do at sea. By 1800 the wind had risen enough to set the sails - a pair of Yankee jibs that I had made in England for exactly this sort of sailing. And then I connected up Kirsten, our Aries windvane, to steer the boat ‘hands free’, reacting automatically to any change in course by pulling over the steering wheel to put us back on course. It worked a treat, responding quickly and tirelessly.

Kirsten was our wedding present from family and friends. She’s 40 years old and I bought her second hand using money gifted when Teresa and I got married. She was a bit too stiff to work properly, and has been hanging on the back of the boat, unused and getting stiffer for five years. I spent the best part of a month stripping down almost every part of the mechanism, freeing up bearings and gears, replacing with new parts where I could and fabricating parts on the dockside where I had to. I had got everything moving much freer but this was her first test steering the boat on the open sea. Kirsten passed the test with flying colours.

Oh, and why the name Kirsten?  Well, wind driven steering gear becomes a member of the crew, but consuming no electricity, food or water and steering the boat without attention for hours - days, even - without a bregak or lapse in concentration. It's traditional to name it and Teresa and I wanted to mark the incredible achievement of Kirsten Neuschäfer, a South African sailor who won the tough 2022/23 Golden Globe race.

The Golden Globe is a 30,000 mile single handed round-the-world race for boats of a similar age to, or older than, Offbeat. And using technology only available at the time of the first race in 1968/69. Kirsten Neuschäfer’s victory was notable for her being the first woman to win any round the world yacht race. But what made her victory truly heroic was that during the race she rescued a fellow racer who’s boat had sunk 450 miles off the Cape of Good Hope .

But with an Italian/Argentinian and a Spaniard in the crew, when the work of setting sail was finished, the conversation turned immediately to food. What were we to eat tonight? Maybe that steak? But how to prepare it? The Spanish and Italian stereotype of being obsessed with food is a trueism, and a very welcome one. Cesar produced a huge tomahawk steak with creamy mashed potato, tomatoes and mushrooms. Words cannot express how good it tasted and how hard it must be to produce in a tiny kitchen at sea. Bravo, chef!

By midnight the wind started to rise, just as forecasted on Thursday.  I reefed the sails to keep control of the boat (too much sail tends to make the boat want to ‘spin off’ to one side in an uncontrollable broach. Much as a car would if you hit the accelerator on an icy road.)  By the time I woke from 2 hours sleep, the sails needed reefing again. And again two hours later when the wind was a steady Force 6 and the boat flying along at 6 to 7 knots, peaking at 8 knots as the waves pushed her along.  

During the early hours of Saturday the sea was rough, with a northwest swell crossing a new set of waves driven by the northeast wind. This causes a very confused sea, with crests of the two wave trains meeting and causing peaks of 3 metres.  I promised Bernardo and Cesar that the waves would get into line sometime in the day and would be less uncomfortable. Around midday Sunday they did so, making life on board much more pleasant.

The average speed of the boat picked up too. With the foresails reefed down to a tiny 6 square metres from their maximum of 56 square metres, we continued to speed along at 6 to 7 knots, often riding down the front of waves at 8 to 9 knots, and the GPS recorded a maximum speed of 12 knots, beating the record of 11 knots set in similar conditions in the Bay of Biscay and off Cabo de Gata. Cesar and Bernardo adapted superbly to this challenging sailing, steering skillfully down the face of big waves. And Offbeat was built with just these sort of conditions in mind, the shape of her hull and keel, her weight and rudder all making her very seakindly.

As the waves marched past us,
Offbeat simply kept on looking after us

At 1600 on Saturday our fast progress was interrupted by a part of the sail control system breaking. I was having a sleep and Cesar called me up on deck, though the sudden loud flapping of one of the sails was waking me up already.  It was obvious to me what had happened and how to fix it. Cesar and I clipped on our safety lines and went up to the foredeck to rethread a sheet into the end of its pole. 20 minutes later we were back on our way, after some great teamwork between the three of us - well, the four of us if you include Offbeat. 

Thursday’s weather forecast said that the Force 6 wind would become less strong between 1700 and midnight, and was again, pleasingly accurate. By 1800 Cesar felt up to making a deliciously spicy pasta dinner and by midnight I started to let out more sail to keep our speed up. We had travelled 154 miles in the last 24 hours, compared to our average of 120 miles in 24 hours. By 0400 on Sunday we had the full 56 square metres of the two Yankee jibs out and our speed was still falling rapidly. By 0430 the wind had died to almost nothing and I conceded that we would get no further with the sails, started the motor and furled away the sails. So ended 28 hours of the most exciting sailing I have done, ever. Cesar and Bernardo reveled in it too. I’m not sure how they are going to cope with ordinary sailing after this, though.

The wind remained very light during Sunday. We stowed away the poles and the complicated system of control lines (there are 8 extra lines in use when sailing downwind with the twin Yankee jibs set on poles to hold them out).  The log records 6 hours of motorsailing, using the motor to help the sails keep up a reasonable speed. Well, to be honest, we mostly were using the sails to help reduce fuel consumption of the motor as it was providing most of the power. But at least we had a visit from a pod of Dolphins to liven up the day.

At 1800 on Sunday, after the usual long discussion about what to eat and how to prepare it, and Cesar disappearing into the kitchen to work his magic, he announced that dinner was about to be served. I stopped the engine, arranged the sails to hold us comfortably in position (‘hove-to’ in nautical language), put out the table in the cockpit and Cesar produced a delightful Sunday dinner - lamb cutlets in a rich mustardy sauce, served with couscous, jamon iberico and Manchego cheese. The man is a culinary genius as well as an excellent sailor. It being Sunday, and the meal deserving proper attention and appreciation, we stayed in place for an hour, eating and chatting. The meal lacked only a glass or two of a decent red wine to make the moment perfect. But, at sea, Offbeat is a dry boat. No alcohol to cloud our minds or make us clumsy.

After an hour I broke the beautiful peace and got us under way again.  We had been towing a fishing line all day and Bernardo had teased me that the meal would be made perfect if I could add a nice Tuna.  Just 30 minutes after the meal, the fishing line went rigid and the reel started to clatter.  I put the engine into neutral and went to set the hook but found a deadweight on the line. Then a slow, strong movement as though the fish was turning its head and the line went slack. I reeled in to find the lure gone. A 40kg ‘weak link’ that I put in the system had pulled out straight without any great effort by the fish.  A pity- I would have loved to at least seen the size of it - but I don’t want to catch a fish bigger than I can eat in two meals and 40kg (80 pounds) of tuna is a lot of fish. Who knows how much bigger it was, or even if it was a shark.

Sunrise to the east of us
the lights on Lanzarote to the west
We motored on during the night, turning our attention towards arriving in Lanzarote and getting good rest after the phenomenal effort of sailing during Saturday.  At 0500 the wind had picked up (exactly as forecast on Thursday) so I was able to set the sails and turn off the motor while we approached Lanzarote. We could make out the shape of some mountains against the background glow of the city of Arrecife and by sunrise we were clearly seeing the lights of individual villages along the coast.

At 1000 we arrived at the entrance to Arrecife harbour and called the marina by VHF and telephone. Even after all three of us tried to persuade the marina to let us in, they said they had no room and were not going to let us come in and wait for a berth to become free.  

We headed towards Puerto Calero, a couple of hours further down the coast, where a friend of mine had a boat. I had already phoned the marina, who said that they were full. I phoned Peter who advised me that if that was true, boats would be leaving during the morning, so to come in and ask when we arrived.  When we were a little closer, I spotted two boats leaving Puerto Calero. ‘’Right lads, let’s get in and grab a berth’’ I said. We put on more power and were at the marina entrance at 1212.  ‘’Yes, come on in, we have space’’ was the reply to our tentative radio call. 

By 1230 we were tied up, grinning at each other exultantly and discussing which we would have first; a beer or a shower. My vote for a beer in the shower was turned down (the boat is a dictatorship at sea but a democracy when tied up to land). Once showered, we ate lunch in a restaurant with a decent red wine (after 10 minutes of discussion with the waitress over the varieties of fish available, how they would be cooked, what vegetables they came with, if the desserts were home made or bought in, etc. These men will not be hurried into decisions over food.) And by 1700 we were saying our goodbyes as Cesar and Bernardo had flights to catch that evening.

The marina of Puerto Calero

The boat seemed lifeless without these two firm friends aboard and without the restless movement of the sea. But Teresa would be arriving tomorrow, the boat needed a lot of cleaning and tidying to turn it back into our home. So I went to bed and slept for 12 hours, dreaming of fast sailing, big fish, glorious sunsets and, maybe, just maybe, of food.

Thursday 14 December 2023

Rabat Boatyard


As soon as Teresa was on the flight to England, I was preparing to do some work on Offbeat in the boatyard near the marina.  On Wednesday morning I motored over to the Travel Lift - a huge crane for moving boats - and the boatyard workers hauled her out of the water with a great deal of care and expertise. I soon made friends with the boatyard workers - Sa’id and Suleman especially - helped by them being Spanish and Arabic speakers from the north of Morocco, whereas the people of Rabat speak Arabic and French. And sometimes English. And sometimes Berber too. I struggle to speak French. The little bit that I do know gets muddled up with Spanish. So I can’t comprehend how people manage to switch between three or four languages with ease.  The boatyard manager, Hassan, was phenomenally helpful too, always keen to do whatever he could to make our stay in his boatyard successful. 

So, chatting happily about boats, family and life in general, we got on with three days of work to:

  • Clean and then antifoul the hull of Offbeat below the waterline. Seaweeds, algae, barnacles and a host of other life float around in the sea looking for something to attach to and make their home. If it's your boat that they choose, it's called fouling because it unfairly slows you down making progress towards your goal.  So we apply a special paint that denies them a foothold on our boats. Antifouling. It must be special because the paint alone costs nearly £150.

  • Repairing the propeller. Since we got tangled in the fishing net on the way down to Morocco there had been a horrible grating noise from the propeller and I was desperate to investigate what it was and fix it.It turned out that the net - or a tough rope that it hung from - bent a pair of super-sharp stainless steel knives that cut nets and ropes to prevent tangling in the propeller. Well, not this time.  Hassan arranged for an engineer called Zacharia to come to the boatyard and he took the assembly away to bend the knives back into place and fabricate a 10mm pin that was lost at sea.

  • Repair the transom boarding ladder. We bent this ladder against a concrete wall in Benalmadena and it didn’t go down into the water properly. This ladder is important to us getting back on board after a swim or if someone falls into the water. Zacharia cut out the bent bit and welded new tubes into place. He completed all this work within 24 hours and at half the price it would cost in Europe, and a level of care and professionalism as good as anywhere I’ve seen.

  • Taking stuff apart is not the problem.
    The problem is putting it back together
    with no screws left over.
    I had 4 screws left over....
    Maintaining the seacocks. These are valves that close off various pipes from the sea into or out of the boat. They need cleaning and greasing every two years or they stick open permanently and if a hose leaks, you can’t close the seacock and, eventually, the boat fills with water.

  • Suleman also cleaned the topsides - the part of the boat between the waterline and the deck. Two years of scrapes and dirt had made Offbeat look a bit dingy, so it was nice to see her back to looking her best.

  • I checked every underwater part of the boat, especially the rudder. The boatyard staff  made a 25mm hole in the rudder for me and sealed it with a plastic pipe and epoxy glue. This is in case of any part of the steering breaks inside the boat, I can put a rope through this hole, tie some knots and pull the rudder from side to side to regain enough steering to get me to a harbour.

On Friday it rained. Hard. For five hours.  Working underneath a boat in the rain is tough going. The water runs and drips everywhere including down your neck and sleeves. I changed my sodden clothes twice and still ended up wet and miserable. And the work couldn’t be finished until Saturday. And there were no showers in the boatyard. And I was dirty, wet and cold. But we had bought a fan heater (Morocco wasn’t quite as warm as we thought it was going to be) and living and traveling on a boat was a dream that took 40 years to realise, so I pushed through that last 24 hours, working alongside Suleman and Sa’id. Sa’id, being older and wiser, not getting as wet as Suleman and me.

It wasn't all hard work and rain in the boatyard

Finally, Offbeat was ready to go back in the water. Sa’id gave me a wave, touched his chest in the Arab manner and wished me ‘’hasta la proxima.’’ See you next time. 

Offbeat will certainly be returning to Rabat some day. For practical reasons: It is safe, cheap, there’s decent services for yachtsmen, though in a different way to what we are used to in Europe (no yachty shops, but everything  you need can be sourced eventually. Though importing from Europe is a bit of a nightmare, I’m told.)  But also for sentimental reasons: the people are friendly, helpful, keen to chat (especially when I wore a Hakim Ziyech football shirt) and I’ve never felt safer than in this part of Morocco.  To pay the boatyard bill and the engineer, Zacharia, I had to visit two ATMs daily for four days, carrying the equivalent of an ordinary person’s monthly wages each day. I was usually the only obviously European person in the centre of Sale, and alone. An obvious target for a thief. OK, I carry myself with confidence and am reasonably wary. But not for one second did I feel watched or in danger and I knew that if anything happened, a streetful of people would chase the perpetrator.

Offbeat back in her berth
Once back in the marina my mind turned to the trip down to the Canaries and the two guys that were joining me to crew for the journey. Cesar and Bernardo were students of Jorge, a friend from Estepona that runs Southole Sails. I’d not met them but Jorge said they were good guys and keen to get some real time and distance at sea. I talked with both of them by video call and swapped messages. They both seemed fine, but you never know….

Cesar joined the boat on Saturday night. We got on fine from the first moment. He said he loved good food, so I knew where I wanted to take him. On the Sunday night we went to Savores O Sale, the restaurant in the amazingly decorated hotel that Teresa and I had been to.  Just like us, I could see that he was a bit bemused, a bit put off, by the warren of back streets, the scuzzy alley and then having to ring a doorbell to get in. But, just like us, he was blown away by the fabulous interior.

Bernardo joined ship on Monday and we all three reviewed the weather forecast. I had hoped to leave the next day, but Force six winds and 2 metre waves from the southwest were exactly what I didn’t want to put out to sea in. And when I checked with the marina office they said that the harbour would be declared closed on Tuesday and Wednesday because of the height of the waves. Certainly on Wednesday morning it looked fearsome, with waves breaking wildly between the outer piers and for a few hundred metres in the outer harbour. The surfers were having fun but we three knuckled down to the last tasks to be ready to leave on Thursday morning, in much kinder conditions.  

I paid my bills and said goodbye to some of the kind people that I met in Rabat, including Anas and Hakim, two brave sailors living in the marina on their 7 metre boat. They had sailed the tough 170 miles from M’diq on the Mediterranean coast of Morocco, through the Straits of Gibraltar and into Rabat to deal with some serious mechanical problems. Their cheerful, friendly, resilient and generous outlook on life was an inspiration to me.

Tuesday 12 December 2023

Rabat and Salé Part 2

Marina Bouregreg Salé was a beautiful marina. Set in an inlet up river, it was free from waves and swell which meant it was really comfortable. Add in the views over to Rabat and the quirky little cafes, it had everything we could want. 

There was one cafe that we went to most days for coffee and WiFi.  Towards the end of our stay they would welcome us with a smile and knew our order off by heart.  It's little things like this that made it so special. 

Marina Bouregreg Salé

View from our favourite cafe

All the girls loved this cafe!

No sightseeing trip would be complete without a visit to the Cathedral. Built in the 1930s during French occupation, St Peter's Cathedral is of art deco design and is the seat of the Archdiocese of Rabat.

The most striking aspect of the Cathedral was not the art deco stained glass, but the Stations of the Cross, made from mosaic tiles.

St Peter's Cathedral 

There are numerous parks and gardens in Rabat, but after the Andalucian Gardens, this is a close second. Jardin d'Essais (otherwise known as the Botanical Gardens) were created between 1914 and 1919 under a joint initiative of the sultan Moulay Hafid and the French Protectorate. 

Designed by Jean-Claude Nicolas Forestier, the gardens span an area of approximately 17 hectares and contains an estimated 600+ species of plants, including rare varieties of tropical, subtropical and succulents and an arboretum.

Villa des Arts is a small contemporary art gallery set in a 1929 art deco villa.  Beautifully restored, it now holds contemporary art and sculpture exhibitions with a focus on Moroccan artists.

In addition to the art, the decoration within the villa was stunning and the  gardens were a delight to wander through whilst admiring the villa.

Villa des Arts de Rabat

Beautifully restored ceiling 

My last day in Rabat and I wanted to spend it just wandering the streets, strolling along the prom and savouring every moment of our Moroccan adventure.

Whilst I may have physically left Rabat, a little piece of me has been left behind and I know that one day I shall return, either on Offbeat or by other means!

Rock pools and Lighthouse 

One last photo please..........!

The walled kasbah

Oh how I loved those cars!

Taxi rank Rabat style!

Last taxi ride home!