Taking Pintail to Tangier

26 to 30 July 2022

Salé to Tangier, 35° 46’95” N 5° 48’03” W, 132nm, 25 hours

to La Linea, 36° 9’78” N 5° 21’88” W, 27nm, 8 hours 15

Did we mention how hot it is in Morocco in July?! With no fixed agenda after Salé and not needing to be back in Portimão until September, we started thinking about where to go next. The heat might have kept us from the interior of the country but we could make the 100 or so mile passage up to Tangier.

In 2016 during our first winter in Gibraltar we took the ferry from Tarifa to spend a weekend in Tangier. We were captivated by its ancient medina, and wandered its modern waterfront. There we found a brand new marina almost completed and waiting to be filled with boats. It would be two more years before it opened to its first visitors and another four before we fulfilled a promise made to ourselves to take Pintail on a return visit.

With a very short weather window on our way from Rabat we could not have prepared ourselves for the welcome we were going to receive.

But first we got ready to leave Salé. We had one last trip through the maze of streets of Salé medina. We petted the scruffy kittens hopefully hanging out outside the stinky fish market and ignored the rats scuttering in the shadows.

We took one last sunset stroll with the families taking their evening promenade passed the Instagrammable spots of the marina, snapping away on their smart phones.

These were the uncomfortable juxtapositions we had become familiar with throughout Morocco. The very clear and ever present divide between those who have and those who don’t.

We persuaded the port police and customs to visit us on the pontoon instead of taking Pintail to the customs pontoon. They arrived late and accompanied by an enormous and fierce looking Alsatian dog. Happily he stayed on the pontoon and only the customs officers came on board for the cursory look around that meant we could leave.

With the pilot boat guiding us out we could enjoy a more leisurely passage down the Bouregreg and take in the imposing views of the Kasbah as we glided passed. It remains one of the most special entrances to a marina we’ve experiences and we were so glad we’d made the slightly nonsensical visit.

Our 24 hour passage up to Tangier was to be a testing one. The Moroccan fishermen seemed intent on tripping us up with there almost impossible to spot and densely laid fishing pots. Wolfgang and Gabi had warned us but we weren’t quite prepared for the reality. We made slower than expected progress up the African coast. The wind was good but our speed was at least a knot less than usual. Perhaps we had some current against us. By late night the wind died as predicted and the sails came down and the engine went on. This speeded us up but made life on board more bumpy in the Atlantic swell. A combination of engine noise and being thrown around in bed does not make for good sleep on off watch and by the time we arrived in Tanja Bay Marina all we wanted to do was sleep.

It was a little unusual to find so many marina staff on the waiting pontoon as I brought Pintail alongside. The marina manager, Karim, grinned and said they had a surprise for us. Rokia, the woman I had exchanged emails with introduced herself and others stood taking photos of us on their smart phones. We’d got so used to this in Rabat that we didn’t suspect a thing and a warm Moroccan welcome is our only experience to date.

Stefan disappeared with the group to visit customs and immigration and I went below to tidy up from the passage. An hour later Stefan returned trailed by the expected delegation of uniformed men to take a look around the boat for evidence of smuggling. Glad to have all the formalities behind us we were desperate to get to our berth and get some sleep. We were stinky and sweaty in the midday heat and still dressed in mismatched passage clothes when I spied an even bigger group of people marching down the pontoon in our direction.

Before we knew it we were being presented with a huge bouquet of flowers for being the 2000th visiting yacht in the marina and served with mint tea and trays of sticky sweet treats. Worse though we were asked to pose for photographs and give an interview. Luckily Stefan managed to string together more than a few sentences for broadcast to who knows who!

Unfortunately for us our hazy memories of this moment remain forever immortalised courtesy of the internet. If your French is up to it you can read all about it here, including some hilarious misquotes of Stefan. If your French isn’t up to it you can just enjoy the photos! https://newstourisme.com/tourisme/le-port-tanja-marina-bay-international-marque-larrivee-du-2000eme/

Our five minutes of fame over we made it to our berth and a well earned rest from all the excitement. We had only a day in Tangier before we had a great weather window to take us to Gibraltar to collect our Hydrovane but we were intent on making the most of it.

During their enforced stay in Tangier whilst having their orca chewed rudder rebuilt, our friends Zoë and Martyn had discovered a jewel in the Medina and an international anomaly that came highly recommended. So we headed through the walls in search.

As with so many of Morocco’s treasures, the American Legation is hidden behind high, anonymous whitewashed walls. Gifted to the United States in 1821 to mark its independence from Great Britain, it served as a diplomatic post for 140 years. It remains the only US National Historic Landmark outside of the US.

Inside the walls it is a beautifully serene sprawl of rooms clustered around a courtyard with interiors that tell of its dual identity

It contains a celebration of famous ex patriate Paul Bowles whose novel The Sheltering Sky paints a visceral picture of life in Morocco in the aftermath of World War II. Like the protagonists of the novel, Bowles moved to Tangier in 1947 and remained there for 52 years until his death. As well as writing and composing, he was responsible for translating the work of local writers, bringing traditional Moroccan storytelling to new audiences. In the cafes of what was then the Tangier International Zone, he hung out with friends and fellow writers William S Burroughs, Gore Vidal and Truman Capote and any friend of Truman Capote is a friend of mine!

Having had our fill of Americana, we went back outside the walls of the Legation and decided to retrace our 2016 steps through the Medina. We found none of the spots our guide had pointed out to us on our first visit but did unusually successfully manage to find our own way out.

Inspired to follow the footsteps of Paul Bowles we headed up into the Ville Nouvelle and found his favourite haunt, the Gran Cafe de Paris, a pretty shabby looking place full of solo male coffee drinkers. It seemed to have changed very little at all since the mid 20th century and was all the more atmospheric for it.

At the famous Librarie des Colonnes bookshop we went in search of another of Paul Bowles’ books, a non-fiction travelogue of his journeys through the non-Christian world including Morocco. In the absence of an English language copy of Their Heads Are Green and Their Hands Are Blue, the bookseller offered an alternative, local author Anouar Majid’s Second Chance in Tangier which I subsequently enjoyed very much. (Less about Tangier and more about a Muslim migrant’s experience of life in the US, changed forever by the events of 9/11, and an attempt to reestablish himself again in his place of birth.)

Of all the sailing plans we had contrived for this summer, heading back through the Gibraltar Strait and back to the Rock was not on the list. But looking out into the Strait from Tangier’s Ville Nouvelle and across to the Spanish coast made it just too tempting to return to one of our favourite haunts. The short hop was all the more attractive with the opportunity of the tax free delivery of our new Hydrovane and the knowledge that the orcas had disappeared up north so with a nice westerly breeze forecast we decided to bring our Moroccan adventure to a close and return to somewhere very familiar indeed.

We had the best day sailing across the Strait. The weather was perfect as we dodged the enormous ships heading east and west. We suddenly realised that there was one slight problem with our plan. We had got rid of our very frayed Spanish courtesy flag when we left the Guardiana in April and, not thinking we’d be returning any time soon, hadn’t replaced it.

Deciding that being a British flagged boat in Spanish waters was probably not politic in the Bay of Gibraltar, I quickly went about fashioning an emergency Spanish courtesy flag out of of our Belgian one. (We figured we were definitely not going there any time soon!) I was very proud of my effort. It probably won’t last too long in the wind and sun but it saved us from embarrassment in these contentious waters.

Arriving back in the shadow of the Rock of Gibraltar with its Levanter cloud forming, we felt like we were coming home. It feels so familiar to us now but we weren’t heading into British waters just yet.

It was Saturday afternoon and we weren’t booked into Queensway Quay Marina until Monday so we anchored for a couple of nights in the anchorage at La Linea. We hoped to stay off the radar of the Guardia Civil who often patrolled the anchored boats because we wanted to avoid formally checking in to Spain. We needn’t have worried. The only vessels bothering us were some local yachts out of a race…

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