Tarfaya (Morocco)

Imagine Of Falmouth Online Log
Jon Constantine
Sat 18 Aug 2007 12:00

18th August 2007

Fear And Loathing In Morocco

After flying back to the UK in July, we returned to Lanzarote on 6th August and decided to call up some friends in Marina Rubicon to see if we could arrange a little get together for my birthday,  in the One Bar  - our favourite watering hole, which is just yards from the where "Imagine" was moored for most of the winter.

On speaking to our friend Phil, he said that some of them were intending to sail over to Tarfaya in Morocco on the Friday evening and would be back on Sunday evening. "OK I said, we'll join you if we may - sounds like a great way to spend a birthday".

Scheduled departure time was at midnight on Friday so we would arrive in Tarfaya in daylight as it is 79 miles away or approx 12 hours in sailing terms. I had heard a few people mention Tarfaya as being the nearest port on the Moroccan coast with very basic facilities, just a small local fishing port.

We left Calero on Thursday and sailed down to Rubicon so we could do some shopping and a few jobs on the boat before setting off on Friday.  We went to the One Bar on Thursday evening to confirm the arrangements and invited Yves, a Spanish friend to join us for the trip. He readily agreed but would need to be back on Sunday as he works in the Rubicon boatyard.  We therefore agreed that he should return on Phil's boat as we were going to sail back to Las Palmas where we had planned to get some work done on the boat - mainly, get a bimini made, as we currently have no sun shade in the cockpit.

We met at the One Bar at 10pm, had a bite to eat and cast off at midnight as scheduled. As we motored past the One Bar, everyone was outside singing "Happy Birthday" - Nice touch!  Yves had also spoken to a friend who knew someone important in Morocco (a politician no less) and he would be coming to meet us at the port to smooth the inevitable Moroccan bureaucracy. We had already purchased some cheap Spanish cigarettes in anticipation of oiling the wheels. (We had done our research!).

The forecast was for NE 20kts wind, pretty normal for the Canary Islands at this time of year.  An expected wave height would be about 3 meters due to the strong winds we had had for the previous few days.  With one reef in the main and two in the genoa, we set off at about 6 knots.  A billion stars (well ok maybe 2 billion) were twinkling in the sky and we had a terrific night sail with the wind on our quarter. By 5.30am it was light and we were nearly half way there. By midday, we could see the coast and the harbour entrance which we knew to be a bit tricky in a blow, as waves could break right across the entrance. We dropped the sails and motored carefully in. Once inside, we could see a crowd was already gathering on the quay with much waving and pointing to a small gap between an enormous dredger and the most decrepit fishing boat I have seen for a long time which for some reason appeared to be flying an American flag. On closer inspection, I think it might have been one of the crew's tee shirts put out to dry.

There was an immediate problem with the suggested space on the wall.  Right in the middle was a giant black six foot liquorice allsort designed to keep the dredger away from the wall but in our case, perfectly positioned to remove our stanchions and repaint the boat a lovely black rubbery colour. More shouting and waving in French, Moroccan, Spanish and English and we agreed to moor along side the dredger whose crew stared down at us with gleaming eyes. (There go the fags I thought).

By the time we were secured along side, officialdom arrived in full strength.  We weren’t sure who was who, as two of them wore uniforms (liquorice allsorts style) and the others appeared to be from the secret service as they were cleverly disguised in track suits. Green Uniform was obviously in charge and asked to see piece of paper after piece of paper. We went through passports, ships registration, ICC Certificate Of Competence, VHF Certificate and finally the manual for the radio.  Green Uniform inspected each one carefully before making notes and passing it to Blue Uniform. The Secret Service looked at each one but made no notes at all.  I got the impression they were here for the inspection below decks rather than any documentation.  Time to offer them a drink I thought, but knowing we were now on the edge of Muslim Fundamentalism, I offered them a coke, a juice or a glass of water. Green and Blue took water but the SS shook their heads, they obviously wanted to get on with the inspection as quickly as possible.  I took them below and surprisingly, they seemed little interested in removing the floorboards or crawling under bunks. I think this may have been because our expected VIP had arrived on the dredger in his finest Moroccan attire and was calling on them to get a move on as the "reception" in town was ready and we needed to move as quickly as possible.

Phil's paperwork consisted of a Bill Of Sale, an EPIRP certificate and a few sundry receipts for marine equipment which he proceeded to try and blag them with.  In the end Jan (who speaks French) simply asked Mr Green if he liked cigarettes and gave him four packets.  They disappeared faster than Tommy Cooper's "just like that" trick and within minutes it was all over.  Only their muddy boot marks in the cockpit reminded us of their visit.

Mr VIP was now waving profusely as the food was waiting and after locking the boats we made our way carefully over the weird fittings that befit a large dredger. Everything being smeared in either grease or a mixture of wet sand and salt.  Once ashore, there was lots of handshaking, nodding mixed languages and we were quickly ushered into two gleaming four wheel drive vehicles with carpets on the dash board.  Although we were now in air conditioned heaven, what we were passing outside appeared to be something completely different. The road was just dirt and sand, the buildings half finished or rather half started, washing hanging from windows, eyes following us as we proceeded like a NATO convoy to our destination.  It wasn't long before we stopped and all climbed out and went into what appeared to be one of the better houses in the town. We were taken upstairs where we all took off our shoes and entered a dimly lit room smelling of sweet incense. Beautiful cushions surrounded the walls and 2 low tables were covered with soft drinks, coke, orange juice, water, milk and in one corner another of our hosts was brewing the Moroccan tea.

After the introductions had been made, we all sat down and had a drink and within minutes the food arrived. A huge plate of meat kebabs which were surprisingly tasty especially as they turned out to be camel meat.  Once we had eaten these, the next course arrived which appeared to be a mountain of couscous covered in steamed vegetables, more camel meat and bowl of soup each.  It seems our hosts had been expecting six people on each boat, 12 in total instead of just the six of us. We did our best to reduce the mound to a mere heap but there was still plenty left. Perhaps to be passed on to the women folk who were not permitted to join us in this room which was reserved only for special guests. Yves mentioned that he wanted to buy a gift or two and a shopping trip was quickly organised. We set off down the sand street with one of our hosts leading the way.  Faces again stared at us as we passed by open doorways, donkies and carts and the odd goat or two. We arrived at the main street; I presume it was the main street because there were a few "shops" and a cafe or two. A shop was actually no more than a front room open to the public and containing a few items for sale. By this time, several small children were surrounding us asking for money, cigarettes, or even our watches. The evident poverty was quite astounding. This was turning out to be a very strange birthday indeed.

We were then taken on a walk to see the beach and a monument which was a corroded model of a bi-plane apparently depicting one that had crashed there like an alien spaceship many years ago.  After we took some pictures, we walked back to the port, flagging now as we had been up most of the night sailing across from Lanzarote. I wasn't sure which I wanted more, a beer or a siesta. It was not to be as our host said he would be back for us in an hour to take us for dinner.

We grabbed a few beers on the boat and maybe a few winks but shouting from the dredger announced that our hosts had returned to collect us but first the drugs squad would be coming to inspect our boats with sniffer dogs.  What a bizarre country of contrasts we had arrived in. Within minutes two "officers" and a spaniel were peering down at us from the dredger but decided it was impossible for the dog to get down.  They would go and find a boat and be back alongside in a minute. A small fishing boat still  full of nets soon appeared round the corner topped by the spaniel and the two "officers". Apparently they had come over 100 kilometres from another town to visit us and were not going to be put off by a dredger and bonzo was unceremoniously thrown aboard to begin the search which he did with some gusto sniffing wildly but ending up disappointed after his long hot journey in great anticipation of another drug bust and the biccy reward. They left the way they had arrived and we climbed back up the dredger again to meet our waiting hosts who bundled us back in the 4WD to go for dinner.

Apparently dinner was delayed as the camel had escaped and one of our hosts had gone in search of it so we were going to be taken for a little drive to see where the tourist development would be taking place.  We drove out through the salty sandy air until the last breeze block dwelling was out of site and just desert was on our right and the large waves crashing on the beach was to our left. We came to a stop after a few miles and got out by what appeared to be a derelict fisherman's hut but were told that this would soon all be vacation homes.  (I wonder if he meant timeshare?).  I asked him how far the desert went westwards but he just said "to the end of Africa" and I guess that was a fair enough answer.

We decided not to buy "off plan" and all climbed back aboard for the return journey. The sea breeze was giving us an appetite again and perhaps they had captured the missing camel. We returned to the same room in the same house and shook the same hands as we had a few hours before.  The coke and juices were still on the table and we all sat down again in the same places. Wonderful thing habit. Host no.4 turned on the TV so we could watch a movie in Arabic while we waited for dinner. But then he proceeded to change channels about once every two minutes or between each of his mobile phone calls.  Mr VIP was also busy on the phone, in fact it seemed to be some sort of ritual and we wondered if maybe they were phoning each other or perhaps it was just to confirm the catering arrangements?

After about an hour, and bearing in mind that we had now been up since midnight the previous night, the hospitality was wearing a bit thin and the conversations were now amongst ourselves or by mobile phone. Suddenly dinner arrived and it was immediately obvious that the camel had not been found as the huge dish contained a fabulous display of baked fish covered in olives and vegetables. We formed a circle round the table; legs crossed and tucked in to what turned out to be a delicious feast. The fish was followed by a huge platter of fresh fruit.  At about 11.30 we were taken back to the boats and climbed down the dredger where we managed a few snifters to celebrate the last few minutes of my birthday and one of the weirdest days I can remember for a long time.

At 8.30 the next morning the "officials" returned to stamp our passports to allow us to leave Morocco and our hosts waved us off after we gave them cigarettes and whiskey. We cast off from the dredger after giving the crew 2 packs of cigs for "looking after" the boats and motored out in a heavy swell. We pointed our bows to Morre Jable in Fuertaventura and on to Las Palmas and the others headed back to Rubicon.

All in all an interesting experience but I doubt we will be rushing back to Tarfaya in the near future.

  Tarfaya Beach with Shipwreck        Tarfaya Monument