Captain's Log, Stardate:
Arrived Canary Islands
Hello to All:
It is my duty to report that we have left Gibraltar and arrived in the Canary Islands. But there is more to say about the passage than that. Unlike the movie by the same name, this was truly a Fantastic Voyage!
Just sailing in the shadow of the famous "Rock" was reward enough. As we left the large British harbor at 1:30 p.m. on October 26, a Star Clipper ship, "Nino Clipper," was just leaving and a "tall ship" was arriving. The Strait of Gibraltar must be one of the greatest shipping bottlenecks in the world. We played "bumper boats" most of the way through with ocean-going freighters passing close astern and tankers close in front.. Then it was a left turn and down the coast of Africa retracing the beginning of Columbus' exact routes on his four trips to the New World. I thought we had timed the tides right as confirmed by the marina operator but it turned out we were bucking a strong current through the Straight and a diminishing one as we diverged from the coast. Of course all the water needed to increase the level in the Mediterranean by some three feet must pass through the 10-mile wide channel.
Peering at the chart the next morning, the five of us debated whether to make a pit stop at the romantic-sounding city of Casablanca, Morocco. There were four Yea's and only one Nay (Mary) so we decided "heck yeah!" Approaching the city of over 2,000,000 souls from only four miles out, we caught the attention of an Atlantic bottle- nosed dolphin. Then there were two, then four, eight, 16, 32, and even more! It is the biggest dolphin escort any of us ever witnessed, and it lasted for 25 minutes or so! On autopilot, all of us sat at the bows and the trampoline in between looking down at these amazing creatures. They would jockey for position closest to the bow waves and frolic this way and that, up and down, over and under, simply amazing! We were sometimes afraid the boat would strike them as it pitched up and down--isn't that called "porpoising?"--but it never happened. They are far too nimble, having total control in the water.
We had no guidebook but had heard from another boater that the marina was at the head of the harbor (largest on the West Coast of Africa) so we tiptoed to the end where we spotted some sailboat masts. Remaining inconspicuous was not an option; with our gleaming new white catamaran, flying a large American flag, we turned hundreds of heads. Soon, a man directed us to a dilapidated work barge and secured our lines. It was now nearly 8 p.m. and getting dark. Shortly, two men in uniform arrived to check our papers. Having just arrived in a Muslim nation, we were a little uneasy, especially this soon after 9/11. But the officers treated us no differently than other boats, we guessed, accepting my offer of beer and, as they were leaving, more or less demanding a pack of cigarettes from the one smoker on board. I felt really uncomfortable when one of them kept my original boat documentation paper promising to return it upon our departure. Later, the "marina" operator brought us a Moroccan courtesy flag and we were then officially "in" the country!
After the other three crew members were in bed, Dustin and I figured we'd go see if we could find Rick's Bar--actually, any would do at that point. We walked out the entrance where 4-5 guards were chatting away in Arabic. We wondered if they would remember us when we returned since we had no key or anything to identify us as "marina" guests but then remembered how noteworthy we must have appeared: Caucasian, wearing Bermudas, and speaking English.
We caught a cab for the short ride into "downtown" Casablanca. The cabbie took us to his recommendation for a bar. How could we communicate with a Moroccan cab driver? Remember the movie? They all speak Arabic AND French; Dustin, being originally from Montreal speaks fluent French so no hay problema. Who is Dustin you say? He and his friend Debbie happened to be walking by the boat while they were on vacation in Argostoli, Greece AND said the magic words good for a free beer on Escape Cay, "nice boat." Four months later, he found himself watching and then later cooking dolphins. (Actually, we caught a dolphin FISH and later enjoyed an escort from the dolphin MAMMAL.).
Meanwhile, back in Casablanca, one of the customers at the bar was from England so we had some immediate common ground. Soon, we thought it was time to move on in our quest to find Rick's and told the bartender so. The bartender told us that his was the only bar in brightly-lit downtown Casablanca that was open past 11 p.m. "Yeah right," we said to ourselves as we walked out. Thirty minutes later, we walked back in from the deserted streets, hats in hand, and ordered another beer. It was hard to believe his was the only bar open in the central part of a city of 2,000,000 people but it was true. Not even Rick's was open so late.
The next day, Sunday, we had even more trouble remaining inconspicuous with Mary asking everyone in sight where she could attend Catholic Mass. Nonetheless, she found a church and reported that the service was beautiful with the priest giving it in English, having had a few words with Mary prior to the start. Sometimes conspicuousness pays off.
Our marina manager, Otto, was fluent in German and much more able to speak English than we Arabic so when he volunteered to give us a tour of the City, we agreed. He charged $25 per head and would take us in his private "car." We asked if it was legal in Morocco to load six people in a compact car and he said "yes." But we protested and finally he agreed to have a friend carry half of us in another car. His friend, however, didn't speak a lick of English so I came up with the brilliant idea to give Otto one of our small FRS walkie-talkies so he could narrate the tour to the occupants of both cars at the same time.
Soon after our caravan got moving, I made sure the things worked by establishing contact with Dustin who was in the lead car. I could hear him just fine for a little while and then, suddenly, I heard Arabic. I was surprised that someone else in such a country would have radios working on the Family Radio Service frequencies so I tried to get Dustin to change to a different channel. About then, Karim, our driver, grabbed the radio out of my hands and began shouting into it in Arabic. Good; our driver did the right thing and told the breaker that we had the channel first. But the guy on the other end kept yacking back at Karim. Soon we learned that Otto had grabbed the set out of Dustin's hands in the other car in order to give Karim some important parking instructions upon arrival at the Mosque, our first stop.
Once at the Mosque, both cars were parked at the curb while Otto showed us around. This Mosque was huge and, together with the surrounding acres of marble-tiled approaches, could accommodate 30,000 Muslims at a time including, I suppose, room for their blankets.
Afterwards, we taxied by the "American Sector," apparently a housing development set in motion by a visit from Nixon in 1972, where the architecture was markedly different and also the nearby "Miami Beach," identified by a huge sign of that name.
As promised/warned, Otto took us to the poor area and the nearby medina where we witnessed abject poverty. For another part of the tour, he took us by a very well to do neighborhood. I looked at all the beautiful houses and asked Otto how poor Moroccans could became so rich. He instantly answered, "I have no idea! I was hoping you knew and could tell me!" Guess I walked right into that one.
We also visited the shopping districts where prices for crafts were really low and, of course, had to stop for some mint tea, which we all agreed was the best we had ever had. Finally, the caravan was halted in front of "Rick's Cafe." Otto must have chuckled knowing that the movie was filmed entirely in Hollywood yet he was being paid to drive tourists to what was probably the brainchild of some enterprising Moroccan--build a bar called Rick's and make it look like the one in the film, "Casablanca."
While transiting from one stop to the next, our two drivers would immediately commandeer the walkie-talkies and jabber the whole way. Upon arrival, however, they would say nothing to each other. I think they were looking for a way to justify a new technology . . . like some say I often do.
We told Otto we wanted to leave and so he retrieved our precious boat documentation as promised. We left for the ~350 mile journey to the Canary Islands at 8 p.m., just as a good share of the fishing fleet was leaving as well. As they overtook us, again with our oversized flag flying, they would shout to us in broken English, "Have good trip," "Thanks visiting Casablanca," or "Goodbye!" The immigration official had told us that last year at this time, the harbor was visited by some 10 yachts per day but now, since the start of the war, it dropped to a trickle of 1-2 boats. It made us especially glad we had stopped.
By 11 a.m. the next morning, we caught two dolphin and ate them for dinner. Wow. First an escort by dozens of dolphins and now, we got to enjoy a nice dolphin dinner prepared by our gourmet chef, Dustin. Of course the first were the mammals and the second were the fish variation of dolphin but the opposed connotations of the word did not take away from our enjoyment of the dinner; it was great!
Then, trying to top the Casablanca reception committee, apparently, on the second afternoon out we were escorted by perhaps 100 dolphins! This time in the bright sunshine and crystal clear water, weaving in and out, thoroughly enjoying themselves. We could see reinforcements coming from afar, obviously being called in by the forward observers! Simply unbelievable! None of us could ever remember seeing such a sight before, including Tom who spent six years in the US Navy. We broke out the new DV-Camcorder and got some great video. We have the means on board to get a short filmstrip on our website but as yet, not the know-how. I promise I will work on that and let you know so you can see for yourself. I don't think I've ever seen a Jacque Cousteau, National Geographic, or the like have such video either, at least not from only six feet directly below. The performance went on for 30 minutes when a dummy on board suggested we drop the sails and jump in with them. As the boat slowed, they began to drift away and when the first human splashed off the stern, "enough is enough," they must have figured, and were all gone in an instant. Unlike their approach, we couldn't even tell in which direction they departed; they must have swum so far without taking a breath that they were out of sight when they next surfaced. So much for "Swimming With the [wild] Dolphins."
Three hours short of three full days and nights at sea, we dropped anchor off the Northeasterly- most island in the Canaries, called "Lanzarote." Counting the 28 hours it took us to get to Casablanca, we spent 96 hours or exactly four days at sea (with a 24 hour break in Casablanca). Our average gps speed counting opposing currents, slowly motoring up the harbor in Casablanca and maneuvering to drop anchor was 6.1 kts.
We hope all is well with you and your family.
Lee and Mary Bakewell S/V Escape Cay