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On the run
Our sprint across the Med
Wayne and I have been living “across the pond” somewhere in Europe for over 5 years now. We spent about 5 months living in Portugal before driving across Europe and settling in Turkey for the boat build. Yes, we were able to fly back to visit friends and family at least once a year, but it is difficult watching your grandchildren grow up from afar. So, when we left Kalymnos, we had decided that we really wanted to cross the Atlantic back to the other side. And after building our “high latitudes” expedition boat, we found that so many European winters had made us long for the tropics. The islands of the Caribbean had become our goal.
When crossing the Atlantic Ocean from east to west one has take the hurricane season and the North Atlantic winter gales into account, therefore most boats don’t cross until November and then the season is considered best through the end of January. First, they ease their way down south along the African coast to the Canary Islands and sometimes on down to the Cabo Verde Islands. By leaving Kalymnos at the end of October, we were already way behind in that schedule. We had nearly 2,000 miles of Mediterranean to cross before we could even reach the Atlantic, much less cross it.
The day we left Kalymnos, we were delayed as we had to get permission to leave the port. We had declared our boat essentially “out of commission” to the Greek Coast Guard both to avoid paying a cruising tax and to try to stay longer in the country, and then we had to get it declared back in commission by a demonstration to a surveyor that our new engine was working fine. We were finally able to get underway around 1:00 pm on October 30. We traveled about 70 miles and crept in to anchor that night at an anchorage at Ios island around midnight to catch some sleep before continuing across the Aegean.
We put another hundred miles under our keel and anchored in the dark again in a cove off the south end of the Peloponnese peninsula. We were trying to break the engine in slowly, but by the third day we ran for 36 hours straight across the Ionian Sea and morning saw our arrival off Sicily.
We arrived at Marina de Ragusa after doing over 600 miles in 4 days, including two brief sleep stops. We were very pleased, and we had arrived on the day that technically was our last day allowed in the Schengen region. Thankfully, no one asked to see our passports. We had only intended to stay a day or so to buy some Italian groceries and visit with our friends on S/V Speed of Life, but a weather front came through bringing rain and wind, so we waited.
As Ragusa was not a port of entry, we could not clear out of the EU there, so we left when the weather cleared and motored the boat to Licata Marina. There they allowed us to tie to the dock briefly while we took a taxi to Immigration. By this time we had overstayed our permitted time in the EU by five days, so we were thrilled when the gentleman at Immigration returned our stamped passports with no mention of our having over-stayed. Whew! Fines avoided!
Next stop Tunisia! Most folks would think that going from Italy to North Africa would mean going south, but actually, it was about 200 miles almost due west to get to Bizerte, Tunisia. We got away from Licata by 3:00 in the afternoon and almost exactly 24 hours later, we tied to the dock at the Bizerte Marina.
I would have liked to have stayed longer and seen more of Tunisia. Wayne has traveled more than I have, but for me it was a very exciting first - a new continent I had never visited. The people were friendly and helpful, I got to practice my rusty French, and the marina was modern and pleasant (and inexpensive). The country has so much to offer but we were on the run.
We went out to dinner one night in the old part of town on the Vieux Port. They had this big old Phoenician-style ship made into a restaurant. Usually those sorts of places are better to look at than eat at, so we chose a little dockside cafe and had a fantastic fish dinner with frites - which was also the only thing on the menu.
The town was a photographer’s dream, but I must admit even I was taken aback when I looked up one day while doing the dishes on the boat and saw camels walking along the raised outer breakwater. That was when I really knew we were in North Africa.
Since I am the official weather router on board Möbius, I spend a lot of time with online weather service we use called PredictWind. Our boat is super strong and can take most any weather, but we - and our two elderly dogs - choose not to. We do this to have fun, not to beat ourselves up on purpose.
Our next trip was going to be our longest passage yet because we had decided not to try the rigorous process of getting a visa to visit Algeria. They ask that people apply at an Algerian Embassy in their home country, and it can take several months. So, we would not be allowed to stop. We would have to run the whole coast of Algeria in one passage. Did you know Algeria is the largest country in Africa? I didn’t either, but I do now. With a passage ahead of us of roughly 620 miles, I would need a 4-day weather window. As most of you certainly know, the weather forecast gets less accurate the farther out they go. But when it looked good, we had to go.
It’s difficult to get good photos of what it’s like to be on night watch on Möbius, but this is the best I could do. Wayne and I split the night with 6 hours on and 6 hours off. I was surprised at how populated the coast of Algeria was. We stayed about 8-15 miles offshore, and each time we passed a major port, the Algerian Coast Guard contacted us on the radio (they could see us through the AIS a system that broadcasts our position to other ships) and asked for our info - boat name, flag, destination - in perfect English.
Our last day we angled south along the coast headed for the first port inside Morocco, Saidia. The marina was nice and quite large, but no more than half full of boats. Perhaps it would have looked better in August during tourist season, but when we were there, it felt almost deserted. It looked as though someone had built this really nice place in the hopes that people would come, but not many did. And no maintenance had been done in the meantime.
Only 36 miles further down the coast was the intriguing city of Melilla. It is actually part of Spain, but a little piece of land on the North African coast surrounded by Morocco. We’d read that they didn’t care about EU visas and Schengen, so we decided to give it a try.
We had a fabulous time in Melilla. True to the reputation, they did not care about passports, and the marina was really reasonably priced. The city was beautiful and fascinating with the cultural mix of Spanish Christians, Sephardic Jews and Moroccans. The buildings were architecturally more like Barcelona with awesome murals and parks, and there were several enormous real European-style grocery stores!
On our second night there, our Yorkie Barney kept me up half the night retuning over and over to his on-deck pee-pee pad, but only producing a few drops. I sat up with him, trying to calm him, but clearly he was in pain. Using Google Maps, I located a veterinarian about 3 kilometers inland (which means uphill), and with Wayne’s help, I turned by e-bike into the Barney mobile.
With his diagnosis of a urinary infection, the vet gave him two shots and told me to bring him back the next two days for two shots a day. He was great in his basket with his ears flying in the wind, but I kept humming that bad witch tune from the Wizard of Oz knowing that I was taking him to be poked again.
The real stunning parts of Melilla are to be found in the fort and the old town.
The day we left Melilla, we were amazed that we had managed to stay for 6 days at the Spanish enclave and our passports held no evidence of our having entered Spain.
The passage from Melilla to Gibraltar was a mere 135 miles, but we had to cross the famous Straits of Gibraltar with all the shipping traffic and the notorious currents. The weather was supposed to be calm for the trip, but we had some odd local winds that kicked up off and on. I went down to sleep around 11:00 that night and got up at 5:00 so as to be awake when we crossed the straits. Our chart plotter screen was covered with all the little triangles that represented giant ships traveling at twice our speed, and I have to admit, I was really nervous about trying to get across that busy strait. In the end though, it turned out to be easier than it looked, and before we knew it, as dawn was breaking, there was the Rock.
Not long after I took this photo, we hit the strongest currents and tide rips and for a while there the boat was headed at what looked like about 50 degrees off course in order to crab our way into the port.
November 25th, less than a month after leaving Kalymnos, we were tied up at the Queens Way Quay Marina in Gibraltar. It was one of the more expensive marinas we had stayed in, so we were determined to get our sight-seeing and shopping done and head across to Tangier in Morocco to wait for a weather window for the passage to the Canary Islands.
Of course we had to take the cable car to the top of the Rock, to see the fortifications, the Nature Reserve, the monkeys,
St. Michael’s cave
and to have lunch while the monkeys strolled past our table just outside the window.
Down in the town, we walked the streets, had Eggs Benedict for breakfast, and I enjoyed shopping at the huge Morrisons grocery store. My bike’s saddle bags were so full and heavy, I was afraid to try to go down the ramp to the boat at low tide. I had to call Wayne to come help me.
On November 30, we crossed back over the straits and pulled in to Tanja Marina Bay in Tangier, and three weeks later we are still here. All the pilot charts indicate that “normally” at this time of year, December would see a majority of winds from the north, but it has been blowing gale force from the south instead. Apparently, the jet stream moved way down south, so the high pressure that usually sits over the Azores, was hanging out down in the trade wind belt and the weather has gone a bit haywire. It doesn’t matter to us, as Tangier has turned out to be a fabulous place to rest after our sprint across the Med and we have been able to take part in the joyful celebrations as Morocco made it to the semi-finals in the Men’s Soccer World Cup. I have so many fabulous photos of this city, I will have to save them for a post of their own.
It looks like we might be able to leave on Wednesday, so we might be arriving for Christmas Eve in the Canary Islands. To all of my readers, friends, and family wherever you are, here’s wishing you all joyful holidays filled with family and love.