Altwasser sailing diary

Wednesday, November 19, 2003

Morocco and Gibraltar with Chris and Ben
November 3rd – 18th 2003. 320 nautical miles.

Chris, Ben and good winds.
After sailing Chris’s Contessa 32, “Hungry Tiger” in the UK and Brittany during two seasons, it was a privilege to have Chris join us for a week followed by six days with Ben. Liz and I sailed from Almerimar to Malaga Airport’s nearest Marina, Benalmadena, picked up Chris, then circled Morocco, Gibraltar and Malaga, first with Chris and again with Ben. Chris and Ben brought us fruit cake and good winds. Seeing Chris jump nimbly from moving boat to shore with mooring lines in hand, I now have a target for how fit and agile I hope to be at age 69. We hadn't seen Ben since his twenty-first in September so Liz asked what it was like to be twenty one. "Twenty One is a fine vintage, strong body, big nose, not as rich as previously and maturing with character" was the reply.


Ceuta is a Spanish duty free port in Morocco, directly across the Straits from Gibraltar and a convenient point from which to enter Morocco whilst leaving Bingo in a European harbour.

On our first visit, November 6th to 8th, we took a Tourist guide from the border and a 45 minute Taxi ride to Tetouan in Morocco. The Medina district preserves the ancient seven-gated walled city and has streets just wide enough for walking or donkeys. We timed both visits with Market day when the narrow winding cobbled alleys were lined with simple stalls, sometimes just a mountain woman sitting on the ground with the bag of vegetables she had brought to sell. All manner of fruits and vegetables were on offer, albeit many crawling with flies. We especially enjoyed the dates, figs and sticky sweet honey cakes.

Lunch was in a reconstructed Sultan's palace, reminiscent of Alhambra with detailed wooden carvings and plaster mouldings, patterned tiles, copper chandeliers and complete with silk decked thrones used for wedding parties and on which we all had our photos taken. Soup, Kebab, Couscous, cake and no after effects. Later we were taken to a carpet exhibition and after being seated and served with mint tea, several dozen carpets were theatrically rolled out in front of us by a Fez-wearing comedian whilst a government paid carpet designer explained the difference between Berber wool and Bedouin Camel hair, the natural dye-stuffs and benefits of 480,000 knots per square metre pile density. The durability tests included resistance to slashing with a sharp knife and igniting with a naked flame. Liz took an interest in a large cream highly decorative patterned design and after I refused an offer of part exchange (woman for carpet), Liz negotiated from £2,000 down to £280 and we carried our prize back to a waiting taxi.

A week later, we again visited Tetouan, this time with Ben, ate an excellent lunch at
Casa Espaniol, the Spanish ex-pats club, which due to Ramadan was one of the few places serving food during daylight hours. We avoided the carpets, bought a few gifts, some olives and finally Liz wanted black peppercorns. The spice merchant sold herbs, spices and oils for all tastes and to cure all ailments and somehow we each ended up stripped to the waist having a back-massage. We never did get the peppercorns but felt relaxed on the taxi journey back to Ceuta.


The highlights of our trips to Gibraltar were, the rock, Cathedral, botanical gardens and watching England rugby victories on the big screen at Charlie’s. The cruise liner Aurora docked in Gibraltar with a suspected virus, later confirmed as just food poisoning. Spain closed the border, Foreign secretary Jack Straw condemned this as over-reaction and the Governor threatened to take the issue to the EU. This incident illustrates the touchy relations between the twenty seven thousand British subjects and their Spanish neighbours and perhaps explains why Gibraltar emphasises its national identity.

Ben was asked why the apes were especially attracted to him and replied that as dolphins and apes are the most intelligent mammals after humans, it was not surprising that both took an interest in him.

Gentle westerly winds are forecast to return us to Almerimar by the weekend, then clean and winterise Bingo and fly back to the UK on November 27th for three months.

Our first season of living aboard is almost concluded. We have sailed nearly three thousand miles, visited eight countries, avoided danger and we like it.