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.

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