Sunday, October 30, 2011

Lost and Found in Fez

Despite our better judgement, Maggie, Levi, Emma and I made a venture into Fez for a long day-trip, taking the earliest train (7:20) and planning on coming back on the last train, whenver that was. Fez is closer to Rabat, where the boat is, and is only a 3 hour train ride. We were “experienced” (HA!) travelers now, so no problem.  We got to Fez, and headed out of the train station, and saw a huge line of Taxis. One quickly offered to take us to the 'medina' (downtown) for only 70 Dirhams. We knew that was wrong...... and after walking down the street 100 feet, we found one for less than half, 30 Dirhams. That’s more like it.

First off, Fez has a much different vibe than Marrakesh. It’s more of a music, hippie, earthy place. As we arrived in the medina, our taxi driver was so excited to be speaking English and using hand gestures, he HIT a pedestrian walking across the street who wasn’t watching where he was going either. No harm done, a lot of Arabic yelling back and forth, and we were there…..almost. As we got out, Emma spotted some puppies on a blanket near the wall, and as she approached, the mom of the litter, not pleased at all, ran after Emma, biting at her ankles. OK, two for two. We went into the medina, parked at a café, and had some breakfast. Cheese omelettes, chocolate crepes, mint tea and coffee for 4 people for $12. Not bad.

Fez is known for a lot of handicrafts and leather goods. There are also huge family owned tanneries in part of the city and we were able to tour those, even though the free tour came with a high pressure pitch to buy leather goods. The workmanship was absolutely beautiful, and I was very tempted with a large leather duffel bag, made of camel. But, the boat and the sea is no place for leather goods and I didn’t dwell on it too long. Maybe in another life.

All the guide books say Fez is a circular city and sloped to the middle. Going downhill takes you toward the center, walking uphill supposedly takes you out. Well, we managed to get fairly lost and wound up going down streets that were progressively darker and narrower. All of the sudden, no one we met could speak English. Most Morrocoans speak some English, but now we couldn’t find anyone speaking English, French, Spanish, Italian, Greek, nothing but Arabic. Rut ro. We finally found a school boy who took us back into the main part of town, and started the process of getting out. He didn´t speak English either, but with enough hand gestures, he got the idea we were pretty lost!

We were fairly famished by this point, and made a pit stop for some dinner before heading back to the train station. We had ‘tagines’, a Moroccan dish which are clay plates with clay cones that are baked with meat, potatoes, veggies, and rice, olives, and spices inside. All four of us had a fantastic dinner and Cokes for $22. From there, it was a taxi ride back to the train station and wait in the rain for our train.

We made it on the last train, and after riding back for 3 hours, we were trying to figure out which stop was ours. We thought we’d arrived, and all got off. After looking around, we didn’t realized it was NOT the right stop and were climbing back on the train, when it lurched into motion, heading away. Maggie, Levi and I jumped into the open doorway, while Emma was trying to catch up. Levi saw she wasn’t catching up, jumped off to get Emma on and then as the train was speeding up, Levi was running to catch the train car behind us. He jumped on, trying to find a handle, and FELL off the train, sprawling out on the platform! We were going too fast now, and Maggie was hysterically looking for the red handle to stop the train!! We were all in shock, trying to figure out what we do now as Levi was already far in the distance, with no money, no Arabic, in pain, and at 11:30 at night. As we calmed down, we realized as we crossed over the river, that he WAS at the right stop and we were off to the wrong one. No problem. That was the least of our worries. I knew Levi would figure it out and probably walk the ½ mile back to the boat, while we figured out where we were and took a city tram that would take us backwards towards the boat.

All in all, everyone was back safe, just after midnight, with a few bruises, and we were really glad to be together on our little boat, having a late coffee, and telling Rachel about the day’s adventures and mis-adventures!

Thanks Morocco, for an amazing, unforgettable, experience!    

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Berber Village and Family

While we were in Marrakesh and the Atlas mountains, we went to a Berber house to have breakfast (which was actually bread and tea). The Berber people are the native people of Morocco. There was a little girl there, and as soon as we got there, my dad picked her up for a picture and then put her down and then she was reaching for me! 

So I picked her up and when I tried to put her down she wouldn't let go of me. So we went upstairs and she sat down with me and as I was drinking my tea she was reaching for the bread and tea so I gave her some of mine. 
We walked around her house and she showed me where she plays and we played there for a little while. When I had to leave, she wanted me to stay. She grabbed my hand and was pulling me but I had to go so I waved goodbye and she let me go and waved goodbye too. She was SO cute!!


Monday, October 24, 2011

Marrakesh pt.2

Marrakesh pt.2

Moroccan Shoes.....Shops like this were everywhere!
So we wandered into the downtown, right at late afternoon, which is when the main square and streets come to life. As we walked in, we were hit right between the eyes with a huge plaza bustling with street vendors, selling everything from fresh squeezed orange juice to silver tea pots, Morrocan drum bands, people carrying monkeys, motorcycles weaving around, basically chaos.
It was quite a bit to take in and right as we came in, a man wanting to show us his snakes, threw one around Levi’s shoulders and then put it on Miles’ lap in his stroller where Miles naturally grabbed the snake’s head. Rachel screamed right as a bicycle rode by with about 25-30 dead chickens hanging off the sides, and while Emma was trying to get me to look at that bizarre sight, a woman was starting to paint Henna tattoos on Lily and Zoe, assuming we’d pay as soon as she was done. It was full immersion!

We huddled together to re-group and make a plan to pick a direction and see about a youth hostel in the old city we’d found online before we’d come. We decided to make our way there, drop off our bags and find some dinner. Easy enough, right? After asking 6 people for directions and getting 8 different answers, we found someone who offered to walk us “directly” there. Without him, we would probably still be looking for the place, as it was located in a narrow street, off of another narrow street, off of another narrow street…..…you get the idea. Is there something wrong with a street sign or two?

This is the door to our Hostel....Pretty small opening
from the street view...but great place!
The youth hostel was an oasis. The owner Mustafa, had a big pot of mint tea on for us as we arrived and was extrememly proud to show us around the rooms he’d arranged for us up through the 2 floors and roof terrace of the hostel. It was very quaint and felt like we were sealed off from the chaos outside. 

Our dinner: Chicken Kebaps and Lemon Olives
plus other yummy stuff
We rested a bit and then headed of again into the madness, and found a great street café, set up for serious volume with bench seating, and stacks of skewers of chicken, beef and lamb. We had plates of cous-cous, lots of grilled meat and veg, loads of fresh round Moroccan bread and were pretty spent after dinner. We did OK the second time finding our way back, and drug the extremely tired kids back to the hostel, had some hot showers, and crashed into our bunks, while the lobby in the courtyard below was filled with conversations and music. We had a tour planned early the next morning, so we didn't stay up late, the kids were asleep in about 2 seconds, and we weren't far behind………..:)   

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Marrakesh Express pt.1

Once we got settled into the marina, we wanted to make a trip inland and see some Moroccan sights. First stop was Marrakesh! We buddied along with another family boat we met in the marina, a family of four from Chicago on a boat called Begonia. The father Sebastian, is originally from Argentina, and the mom, Carla and their kids, Sophia (8) and Benji (5) are living for a year aboard. They had sailed from the Caribbean earlier this summer and have spent their time in Portugal and Spain / Gibraltar. They are on the same path we are on, though Morocco, the Canary Islands and hopefully, Senegal/Gambia and crossing the Atlantic in December also. It is always great to hook up with other families and we planned the trip to Marrakesh together.

So, after an early morning stroll to the train station, we were all aboard the early train (well, early for people travelling with 8 kids!) and took the 3 hour train ride South to Marrakesh. For starters, the train was an experience all in its own! It was clean enough (except for the bathrooms, more later) and it is basically a hallway with little cabins on one side, each seating about 6-8 people. You kind of just cram in wherever you can and with all of us we wound up spread over 3 cabins, mixed in with Moroccans off to someplace or another. The Moroccan people are just beautiful and extremely friendly. Rachel and I were in one cabin with the little girls and Miles, who of course, is just a magnet. There were 3 ladies in our cabin and they instantly had him on their laps and were feeding him something or another, doting on him. Miles just soaked it up like a sponge and was doing his little devilish grin, looking much smarter than only one year old. We were soon all passing around snacks we’d brought and one of the 3 spoke English, so we soon learned about them, and had 2 invites to come to their houses for a meal. It was a lot of fun. The bathrooms on the train, however, left something to be desired in the way of cleanliness. The bathrooms we’d seen so far, had usually been a porcelain hole in the floor, with raised places to stand over the hole, and no toilet paper, just a faucet near the hole and a bucket. I guess you need to be a little creative to make the components provided get the job done. Well, the train had a hole also, right down over the track, and let’s just say the people earlier had not been careful in the bathroom at all. It was a bit stressful for poor Lily and Zoe, but they managed, and it certainly makes you appreciate some things we usually overlook.
Arriving in Marrakesh, we were a bit disoriented as we got off the train, not knowing where the main downtown was or how to get there, and I’m sure easy prey for a tour guide. Naturally, one spotted us looking clueless and offered his services, basically a glorified taxi ride into town, stopping at some sights on the way. It was reasonable and not worth hasseling to find our own way and he called up a van “he knew” that could fit all 12 of us and we were off. Driving around the outskirts of Marrakesh was very impressive. It had a lot of upscale development and in the desert surroundings, reminded us a lot of Arizona, particularly Scottsdale! Even with a couple of golf courses, and not what we’d expected at all. Closing in on the old city, however, was a quick trip back several centuries and we could see the old city walls, with Moroccan sweeping arched entries and as the streets got increasingly crowded and chaotic, we knew we were heading into the heart of the city. Our new friend the tour guide, offered to pick us up the following morning, and take us on a trip up into the Atlas mountains, stopping at a Berber village, having tea with a Berber family, and hiking to some waterfalls. We knew we didn’t want to spend our whole time in Marrakesh just shopping and wandering, so we agreed to the trip the next day, arranging a time and place. Then we were off to wander the downtown, and headed into a truly unique experience…… 2: 

Friday, October 21, 2011

Rabat, Morocco

We are in Morocco, after a pause for repairs, and have arrived in Rabat, about 125 nm from the Gibralter Straight. The trip down was pretty uneventful, not a lot of wind, and a pretty relaxing 36 hours.

The only place to lay up in Rabat is in a marina, up a narrow river from the ocean. The entrance is important to enter when the tide is high, because of the chance of grounding on the sand bar. We knew we weren't probably going make the high tide in late afternoon, so that meant we were going to have to enter in the middle of the night, around 0200. I had been calling as we approached, to notify someone we were coming, but couldn't get an answer until we were almost in the river!

Finally a dinghy came out and escorted us into the marina, and even though it was the middle of the night, we had to go through the whole customs and and immigration deal. They also normally bring a dog on board and look for illegal substances, but with our life-nets, couldn't get the dog on and instead two guys came on with flashlights and looked in all the cabins, counting the kids (probably not a bad idea with our crew - Rachel and I might start doing that :) 

We got situated into a slip and very quickly went to sleep, looking forward to exploring once we'd slept!

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Two propellers again!!

We're in Morocco........kind of. We're in an area call Cueta, which is on the African coast, but is actually owned and controlled by Spain. So, it's technically still Europe. But, they have a travel life here, and looks like as good a spot as any to get the ongoing propeller saga dealt with.
 Between losing the propeller, finding it again in the bay, ordering the 'missing link' spacer, and finally getting the right tools everything together to get the boat hauled out and repaired, we think we're ready!

We tried to think of everything to have on hand to avoid delays in the sling of the boat lift. Drill charged, new sharp stainless drill bits (for the piece broken off in the shaft) a tap and die set in a "worst case" of having to drill the whole thing out and re-thread the hole, everything. Knowing full we couldn't guess it all, but I guess that's the adventure :) we were as ready as we could be.

While we were waiting, we were able to replace our batteries in the 'house bank'. We have two battery systems on the boat, starting batteries, for the engines, and a bank of batteries to run things whenever the engines aren't running, which is most of the time. Things like refrigerator, lights, instruments, everything electrical, all run off these batteries. The ones on the boat now are almost 4 years old and just not holding a charge anymore. So, it was a two-birds-with-one-stone and all that sort of thing at the boatyard, and another huge check-mark for the never ending To-Do List. :)

There was another big boat ahead of us and it took them most of the day to get it on blocks and get the hoist freed up for us, so we ended up staying the night in the slot, waiting until first thing in the morning. We took a trip into town and hung out at the park, and the kids made some friends, they had a decent little shower room for guests, and us and the night guard were the only people there after 6 pm.
Next morning, they came down with the lift, and got the slings underneath, and began the hoist up. Thankfully, everything went really smoothly. Levi and I did end up having to drill out the entire broken bolt and re-tap the hole for a new bolt, but after that, it all 'smooth sailing' pardon the pun. We did put it all back together with very liberal amounts of LocTite thread sealant, just to be sure we don't do this again.

A big thanks to Peter, an English bloke who was a marine engineer in the boatyard, for advice, help, the LocTite, stories, and some chuckles. I hope you like land life, although the sea is always bekoning..... :) 

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Crossing "The Straight"

Last week we'd finished our time in Spain and it was time to move on. We had a couple of boat projects to wrap up, one of which was fuel filters. Not very glamorous, I know, but these babies were filthy! We must have run low on fuel a while back (I think somewhere near Rome) and sucked in some really fine dirt from the bottom of the fuel tank. Well, like most engines, diesels don't like dirt in the all, and I was really glad we got things sorted. We have 4 filters all together, and we changed or cleaned them all, bled the system, and were ready to leave the marina, and head out to anchor.

The advice we'd gotten was to leave Gibralter 2-3 hours after high tide to make the best of the water rushing in and out of the Mediterannean. If you think about it, the entire Med either goes one of two ways: through the Straight of Gibralter, or trickles down the Suez canal in Egypt to the Red Sea. So, there's a lot of water moving through here, and the straight is only 8 miles across!

The high tide was at 0300 (am) and so we planned to leave at 0600, which is still about two and a half hours before sunrise. It's a sketchy enough proposition during the daylight, as there is an unbelievable amount of tankers and container ships coming in and going out of the bay, and dozens more sitting at anchor. We were leaving in the dark, and wouldn't you know it? a thick layer of fog had settled in right as we were leaving the mouth of the bay. While the Straight is pretty narrow, 8 miles, it means the ships are funneled into a small area, and with fog and the early dawn, the visibility was down to almost nothing.

We are using AIS for collision avoidance, and I can tell you, we were staring at that little screen until our eyes were watering! It has a tiny circle on the screen, and you can set it for 2 mile radius, 5 miles, etc. We had it set on 5 miles and never saw less than 10 ships in our circle the whole crossing. All we could hear was fog horns announcing that they were getting close and our 'mini radar' to confirm. All of the sudden, they would appear out of the mist, and like huge metal ghosts, silently glide by and dissapear again. 

"Tense" is I guess the right word, not panicked, but certainly alert. The good news was it was very calm seas and we had a school of about 40-50 dolphins with us most of the way. It was like they were looking out for us, and that seemed to make it better. There were so many clustered in front of the boat, swimming and jumping, we could hear them squeeking to each other and it was really cool. Even though it was chilly and wet on deck from the fog, everyone was outside at dawn to see them all. 

Of course, as we neared the other side, at around 1000, the fog was gone, and we slipped right into the bay where the boat is going to be hauled out for us to fix the propeller. 

The whole day felt like the old video game of 'Frogger' and we were really glad to be tied up to the slip, waiting for the lift! 


Friday, October 14, 2011

Corrida de Toros (The Bullfight!)

Last Sunday, Levi and I had a uniquely Spanish adventure:

We'd been trying to find a local bullfight event for Levi's birthday and we found one about an hour and half back up the coast from here. It was in a seaside town/city (300,000) called Fuengirola. So, we rented a car and headed up there, hoping to find tickets. They wouldn't let us order or purchase before hand, you had to be at the bullring, so we headed out in hopes for the best. 

It was a pretty incredible experience! We made it up to the town and hunted around for awhile to find the bullring. It is in an older section of downtown and not a lot of signs to get us there, so it was good practice using our Spanish and trying to narrow down where it was. 

Once we'd found it, thankfully, there was no trouble getting tickets. The ticket booth was open, although of course, the cheapest tickets (30Euro) were already 'sold out', so we only had to pay another 5 Euros each for ours. You can buy either 'Sol' (Sun) or 'Sombrero' (Shade) tickets and the price doubles to sit on the side not facing the sun, but we figured the sun would set halfway through the event and we'd have at least some shade. 

We had a great authentic meal at a bar/restaurant next to the bullring, completely lined with posters and framed photos of bullfighters over the years. It was really a cool spot, hanging out on the terrace with the locals and tourists eating and drinking, waiting for the event. A few locals were hanging out at the bar, sipping their beers and trading lies. 

It was a leisurely meal and we wandered to our 'seats' (our spot on the concrete steps) and waited for the start. 

The whole affair uses a lot of tradition and there is a full brass band playing along with the event and the different phases of the event. Without going through the gory details, and culminating with the killing of the bull, it as at the very least a pretty amazing peek into the Spanish culture and history. 

Of course, none of the bulls left the arena alive, and we were both a little shocked at the bluntness of it all. We were a little quieter on the ride home and glad we were NOT bulls in Spain. 

Certainly not a day either of us will ever forget!


Thursday, October 13, 2011

Provisioning Phase I

Lily with a few boxes of cereal bars
We started the daunting task of provisioning for the Atlantic crossing coming up and have had a lot of great advice from cruisers who have crossed other oceans. That is one of the great things about cruising, it feels like a family who is 'all in it together' and you see people from all walks of life helping each other out.

There is a great store here, not far from the marina. It's a French chain called Carre-four and it's similar to a Super WalMart. Basically, obscenely large. If you purchase more than 150.00 Euro, they offer free delivery, boat-side. I wish they offered an unpacking service :)

Maggie displaying the receipts
We easily crossed the E150 line on two separate trips and now have been squirreling away food and drinks in all corners of the boat. Literally, ALL corners, and cabinets, and beds. We have granola bars and cereal boxes in all our cabins, the bathtub is over-filled with 2 liter soda bottles, UHT milk by the cases, and canned fruit, sauces, rice, flour, tuna, 20 packages of tortillas, etc, etc, etc!! We anticipate one more shopping like this in the Canary Islands at the beginning of November and we should be ready, at least food-wise for the next few months afterward.

We thought, at the worst case, we won't need to shop for some things for a while in the Caribbean. Maybe wishful thinking, but it helped us justify a third cart on our trip to the store. 

Now Mehari is sitting a little lower in the water, and once we top up with fuel and water, we'll need some strong wind to get us moving! Just kidding, the 'station wagon of the seas', is ready for the next adventure!

With glossy-eyes, and a lot lighter in the wallet, 


Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Gibralter wanderings

Emma and 'friend'

We made a few trips across the border into Gibralter from the marina in Spain, and really had a great time on this little corner province of the UK.

We took a trip up to the top of the mountain, and saw the infamous apes, saw some caves converted into a concert hall, the Great Siege Tunnels from 1779, and the quaint downtown with it's endless shops of duty-free booze and watches. I mean, does the world really need this much booze and this many watches? I can't believe all the shops survive.
There are other plenty of other shops such as toy stores and music stores that are fun and it's a cool place to wander around. It feels a bit like a miniature London without the fog. The most important thing is they have Cornish meat pies, and our ancestry from Cornwall, England instilled in us (or me at least) a deep love of 'pasties' Very tasty!

Miles wishing he was just a little older ;)
We also found a bowling alley and went bowling with the family from s/v Imagine. It has been several years since any of us bowled and we had a lot of fun sliding around, trying not to throw too many gutter balls! Lily and Zoe had never seen a bowling alley and were NOT excited, up until they got their shoes on and saw what was going on. Now they can't wait until the next time, whenever that may be and they were talking about it for days afterward. 

From the Rock, 


Wednesday, October 5, 2011

The Rock!

Hello All-

We are now in Gibraltar now and are glad to be not moving for a while!! We had a problem with our propeller in Ibiza, our propeller actually fell off, (luckily in shallow water) so me and dad snorkeled around the Bay and found it!!! So I swam down, 30ft and got it!!  

We tried to get it fixed in Ibiza town, but couldn’t fix it, so we headed over to the main land.  We made land fall after 140 miles, in Cartagena, Spain and stayed there for a couple of hours, and then headed on to Gibraltar,(250 miles) it was a bit rolly for both days weather was about a force 8 (25 to 30 knots of wind with waves.) but we made to Gibraltar in 2 days, ready to get off the boat.

We will be here for a week or so and then head on to Morocco!!


Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Gibralter sites

Gibralter has been a pretty amazing stop and we're really glad for a week of NOT moving after a few pretty long sails. The most recent sail left us all a little frazzled, we wound up in a Force 8, which means we had 30-35 knots of steady winds and very large seas. Some waves were at least 20' +, a few even crashed over the whole decks sending small waves of seawater through latched hatches. Not fun. We lost about 15 dishes after one wave sent all the plates and cups out of the cupboard and all over the floor at 7:00 am. It doesn't start getting light at this latitiude until around 8:00 so it was a bit of crawling around in the dark, picking glass out of the rugs while we were rolling around.

We ended up had steering the last 16 hours, because with large swells, especially from behind (thanks goodness to on the nose!!) it shoves Mehari's back end around and the autopilot just cannot compensate for that adjustment. 

The good news: it was easily the worst conditions we've sailed in, and the boat performed really well. Also, it wasn't that rough for days and days, but really bad for maybe 6-8 hours before it finally "calmed down" to only 20 knots! It was kind of a relief seeing how Mehari (and the family) did and while no one was having much fun, we managed to make light of it and had quite a few laughs just being drenched, cold, tired, and hungry. 

Needles to say, we were very glad to pull into the Gibralter bay and the sea flattened right out and we motored the last hour up to La Linea (the line) Marina at the border of Spain and Gibralter. so, for a week or so we'll be exploring and shopping as this might be the last place to do some big provisioning before the Atlantic crossing. The trick will be NOT eating the food we stock up on. It might be a real challenge when we can't get to a stoe right away in Morocco or the Canary Islands. 

We'll post some pics soon of the last few weeks.