We Love Morocco


From Mallorca in Spain’s Balearic Islands, to Morocco and then the Canary Islands, the crew of Mahina Tiare had one adventure after the next  (published March 2018)

As soon as our Leg 6 crew came aboard our Halberg-Rassy 46 Mahina Tiare, we departed La Lonja Marina Charter for lunch at anchor on the waterfront in front to the huge, 1250 AD Palma, Mallorca, cathedral. It was a magical scene. After lunch, we practiced Lifesling Overboard Rescue as we sailed to our evening anchorage, five miles to the west. Although it was Friday night, we found a secure place to anchor at Las Illetas and the next morning several of us went running along the waterfront.
After completing orientation, we set sail for tiny Isla Tagomago, 60 miles away and off the east coast of Ibiza where an evening snorkeling and a colorful sunset dinner rounded off a perfect day.

We completed the Marine Weather I class the following morning and then set off on the 165-mile passage to Cartagena, Spain, which had been by far our favorite stop between Gibraltar and the Balearic Islands on our last leg. Perhaps it’s the absence of tourists and party goers, or maybe it’s just the location and super helpful marina staff but Amanda and I really wanted to show our new crew this beautiful city.

Even though rain threatened our crew were each eager to explore the city and after visiting the outdoor Roman amphitheater they hiked all over the old town center. In the cool evening, Amanda and I again enjoyed wandering through the pedestrian-only marbled boulevards that were filled with families and friends out socializing.

Morocco has held a fascination for many years with us, fueled by the pictures and stories from previous expedition member Jack Hoopes along with Vickie Vance and Roland Olsson aboard Bella Luna. Both recommended Port Marina Smir, just 30 miles south of Gibraltar. When planning our 2017 expedition two years ago, getting to check out Morocco and Spain’s Balearic Islands were two of the reasons for leaving the South Pacific.

On the 165-mile passage from Cartagena to Morocco we encountered some of the most intense and fast ship traffic we’ve ever seen. Upon landfall, we spotted Marina Smir’s breakwater several miles off and, after calling them on the VHF radio, we entered the channel. After making a 90 degree turn just inside the breakwater, we ended up at the fuel dock where an attendant motioned us to tie up.

We were surprised by how few boats were in the large marina. Checking in was painless: first the marina office, then police/immigration who have a tiny office open 24 hours per day within the marina building. The police/immigration officer knew I’d earlier emailed the marina office about hiring a minivan and driver to drive our crew up the mountain to the city of Chefchaouen and while I filled out passport entry cards he rang a friend of his whom I spoke with on the phone.

By the time I’d completed clearance, our guide, Rachid, showed up, came aboard and learned exactly what we wanted to see. After we’d fueled two taxi vans with Rachid to take us to Tétouan, a large city with a vibrant medina, or ancient walled inner city. For four hours Rachid guided us through the medina, stopping to point out various sites with a special focus on old doors. We viewed shops selling a wide assortment of items, purchased fresh fruit and nuts at very reasonable prices and never once did we see any non-locals or tourists.

Rachid took us into a carpet shop owned by friends where after fresh mint tea and a flamboyant display of many carpets Lisa and Tommy fell under their spell and purchased two.

Rachid told us that Tétouan and Chefchaouen were places where Muslims, Jews and Catholics had peacefully lived, worked and intermarried since 1494 when the Spanish in Granada had expelled both Muslims and Jews. It was the last shopping day before Eid, an important Muslim holiday, and many people were purchasing and leading home sheep and goats to sacrifice the following morning.

We arrived back aboard MT elated but overwhelmed and exhausted and then Akmed, the camel, arrived. Mohamed, the camel owner asked if any of our crew wanted a camel ride, but we were content with just bringing the camel onto the pier where we were moored.

At 9am the following morning, Rachid picked us up in a nine-passenger van in which we all just fit and we headed up the mountains for Chefchaouen. But even before we were out of the marina car park, we came upon an assembly line of goats being sacrificed, hung up, inflated, de-skinned, gutted and parceled out – all in the marina car park!

The roads were nearly empty as we climbed up the Rif Mountains to Chefchaouen. Upon arrival, Rachid parked just inside the medina and led us to the Casa Hassan guest house. He had made reservations for us and introduced us to the owner. The guest house was newly renovated and comprised of four towers with rooms surrounding the open courtyard on the ground floor. We saw only a couple other guests and after getting checked in, headed to Aladdin’s Restaurant, also owned by a friend of Rachid’s, for an excellent Moroccan lunch on the canopied roof-top terrace, with spectacular views in all directions.

Several of us were exhausted and enjoyed siestas at the hotel, but Amanda headed back to one of the few shops open during the holiday. She had previously spotted some Moroccan jewelry and met an interesting guy named Fatah who is studying sociology. After chatting for nearly an hour, Fatah mentioned that he also offered to guide walks into the mountains. When Amanda returned to the hotel I suggested we make arrangements to meet him the following morning.

For sunset, we all headed up the mountain a short distance to the Spanish Mosque, built in 1920 during the Spanish occupation, but never used and perched on the mountainside overlooking the town. Here dozens of locals and tourists gathered nightly to visit while watching the sunset. Amanda spoke with an Australian mother and daughter who had been traveling around the country for three weeks, organizing their own travel and enjoying seeing the Sahara and many different parts of the country. Their travels intrigued us.

That evening we had an excellent dinner in Casa Hassan’s restaurant, located across the street from the guest house. The interior, like the hotel. was eccentric and very artistic; the kitchen had a glass wall and looked surprisingly modern and spotlessly clean and we were given our own little alcove. The food, service and prices were excellent.

We were all awoken by the 5 am call to prayer and I enjoyed yoga on a semi-private rooftop courtyard before wandering around the deserted streets. Breakfast was included and we all ate together in a lovely quiet and tranquil outdoor courtyard.

Upon meeting up with Fatah and his friend Assan, they took us to the water source where artesian springs pumped an impressive amount of water, some of which was piped for the town water supply, Some was sold as bottled water and some was funneled into two roofed public clothes washing buildings. For yet another amazing panoramic vista, we hiked up the back of the valley all the time asking questions about life in Morocco and their university courses.

Our tour ended at Fatah’s mother’s house where Amanda, Lisa and Peixi were invited upstairs to meet the women of Fatah’s family and Islam, his three-month-old nephew. Fatah was interrupter as his sister-in law Hajar hennaed Lisa and Amanda’s hand while his mother served Moroccan mint tea, lamb kebabs and layered cream cake. The Fatah family is Berber and Amanda, Lisa and Peixi really enjoyed their quiet time with the women and were surprised how friendly, relaxed and outgoing everyone was.

All too soon it was time to meet Rachid and head down the mountain to Marina Smir. As we approached the marina, we noticed multiple policemen and soldiers on every corner. Rachid explained that the king had just arrived at his summer palace, adjacent to the marina. There was a very impressive giant black powerboat anchored offshore and Rachid said the king loved jet skis and fast cars!

We thoroughly washed down Mahina Tiare, did laundry in buckets and I cleared out with the marina and immigration so we’d be able to set sail for Gibraltar at first light. Amanda and I look forward to returning to Morocco at a later time and spending more time ashore exploring. We were impressed with how polite, kind and helpful everyone we met was and the country’s rich history.

The 30-mile crossing to Gibraltar was a fast beam reach with a volume of high-speed ferry and commercial traffic that had us tracking and avoiding up to six vessels simultaneously. What a great learning experience!

I’d earlier heard back that Ocean Village Marina, where we’d docked several weeks earlier, had no slips available, so the day before I’d emailed Queen’s Quay Marina asking if they had space for us. Another option would have been sailing a mile further north, on the other side of the airport that marks the boundary between Gibraltar and Spain to La Linea, the new Spanish marina where Peixi had sailed many times, working toward her RYA Yachtmaster training and had several friends. As our goal was mooring MT close to the mountain, whose summit our crew were keen to hike up to, and to the amazingly well-stocked Morrison’s supermarket, we were pleased when, just as we entered the harbor, we got an email from Queen’s Quay Marina saying they had room for us for one night only.

Once we’d gotten MT secured stern-to with the help of twin mooring lines, we had lunch aboard and our keen crew took off, hiking the 1,300 feet up the Mediterranean Steps to the top of the rock and then down the mountain, across the airport border (between flight landing and taking off) and over to the Spanish side to check out Peixi’s favorite tapas restaurants. Meanwhile we headed to Morrison’s for our final shop of amazing fresh fruit and vegetables.

After showers, most of our crew returned to the Spanish side (45-minute walk) for more tapas. Amanda and I enjoyed a late night hike around town, checking out several new areas. The architecture was interesting, with no signs of graffiti or rubbish and the town was festooned with banners celebrating the 50th anniversary of the referendum when Gibraltarians voted to remain British.

Interestingly, customs, port and immigration clearance are obtained electronically by the marinas, making the inward and outbound clearance process quick and easy. We left at first light Monday morning, dodging the intense traffic, motorsailing into fresh headwinds until we’d crossed the channel and were heading down the Moroccan coast. By early afternoon the winds clocked allowing us to unroll the genoa and head southwest on a fast reach. The ship traffic was heavy and we sailed just inside the shipping lanes along the coast with the destination of Lanzarote, Canary Islands, 600 miles away.

We had brilliant downwind sailing and only one night did the winds peak at 30, gusting 34 knots with rambunctious seas. Even triple-reefed with only a sliver of genoa sheeted flat for stability our competitive crew hit low 10’s always trying to out-do the previous watch. Matthias earned the surfing record having hit an impressive 10.3 knots!

Highlights of the passage were a full moon that illuminated the towering seas, sunny warm skies during the day and celebrating Lisa and Tommy’s 31st wedding anniversary. Our near-surfing speeds and brilliant wind conditions held the entire way to the Arrecife, Lanzarote, harbor entrance with Dan calculating that we averaged more than 165 miles per day for three straight days.

We kept our speed up, hoping to reach the harbor entrance before dark, which we nearly did. We could just make out the newly-extended outer breakwater and thanks to the updated C-Map and Navionics electronic charts we very carefully and slowly motored down the well-marked fairway to the three-year old Marina Lanzarote. The very efficient marina office had a slip reserved and a marinero waiting to take our lines. What a surprise to be moored right in front of a fancy marina shopping center directly in front of Sunglass Hut! It only took our crew minutes to find a superb gelato shop owned and run by a Spanish sailor who makes his fruit-infused gelato on site!

Since we were two days ahead of schedule, we had a birthday celebration for Peixi,, who sadly had to leave the next day for a new job in Kazakhstan, at the most amazing waterfront tapas restaurant in nearby Arrecife before setting sail west to Playa Quemada, a semi-isolated fishing village where the goats and sheep vastly outnumbered the humans.

Amanda and I (mostly Amanda) worked hard at scrubbing the failed International Ultra antifouling paint off MT’s hull, readying to haul out and repaint just after the expedition ends.

Sunday we moved to Puerto Calero where we topped up fuel, filling all of our jerry jugs for the first time in years for our November Atlantic crossing and were delighted to discover moorage was free since we had pre-paid more than one month at Marina Lanzarote, owned by the same company.

Changing oil and transmission oil was one of our several end-of-leg classes, along with Cruising Medicine, Clearing Customs Worldwide and Leaving Your Boat in a Foreign Port.

After the Sextant Navigation class, Amanda planned to test our crew with a real-life overboard incident on our sail back to Marina Lanzarote, so “fell” off the swim platform as she was showering, giving Lisa an excellent training opportunity.

Before we knew it, we were back in the same slip, with crew checking on hotel and flight reservations and Amanda and I checking in with the boatyard. We learned they had been able to source Micron 77 antifouling paint locally so that problem was solved. We had only a few days to get MT hauled, painted an put to bed before we flew home to San Juan Island.

Up next, Leg 7 across the Atlantic.

Resources used on Leg 6, Palma de Mallorca to Morocco and Lanzarote, Canary Islands:


Cruising Guides: Imray Costas del Sol and Blanca, Islas Baleares, North Africa, Atlantic Islands (brilliant cruising guides, frequently updated),
Imray charts: M11, M12, M3, C20, E18

Electronic Charts: C-Map running on Rose Point Coastal Explorer
Navionics Silver running on both our lovely new Raymarine MFDs (multi-function displays), one at the chart table, and for the first time, one in the cockpit under the hard dodger

General Sailing Conditions: The passage from Palma de Mallorca to Morocco is subject to frequent changes in weather conditions. From Gibraltar to Canaries NE winds are generally predominant in late summer when many boats are heading to the Canaries in preparation for their Atlantic crossing.

General Anchoring Conditions: Morocco has some anchorages, but officials are very clear in expecting all visiting yachts to clear in first at a customs port of entry. The Canary Islands are frequently subject to strong winds and rolly anchorages. Marinas start filling up in mid to late September with sailors prepping for their Atlantic crossing. It is certainly worth emailing ahead of time for a berth reservation, even if your exact ETA is subject to the weather.

In Their Own Words….
Here’s our truly extraordinary Leg 6 crew

Dan, 64
I recently retired after 25 years in the software business (and 25 years before that as an architect) in Connecticut. My dad taught me to sail at an early age and enjoyed sailing dinghies until 2005 when we bought a 40-year old Pearson to sail on Long Island Sound. More recently we bought a 1983 Southern Cross 35 and have spent most of the last eight years upgrading all of her systems. This expedition has confirmed my love of the cruising life.

Marty, 62
I’m a builder from Colorado and have been sailing off and on for years, but didn’t start taking sailing seriously until three years ago. I joined John & Amanda for Leg 3 and sailing on Leg 6 I learned so much more.

Tommy, 59
I work in our family propane business in Nevada and Lisa and I have dreamed of sailing for over 25 years. We are keen water skiers have two ski boats, a Mastercraft and a Ski Nautique plus a Hobie Cat and we love being on the water, but ocean sailing is new to us. I’ll be retiring soon and doing this expedition has opened doors for us to be able to safely fulfill our dreams.

Lisa, 60
I am a yoga instructor in landlocked Elko, Nevada. Tommy and I want to discover exotic places in our own boat. We did this excursion to see if we are cracked up for blue water sailing. My experience is very limited: basic sailing course on Utah Lake (there really is such a place!), a BVI charter with friends and sailing our Hobie 16. We will now be buying our own boat to explore our wondrous world!

Peixi, 27
I’m an environmental engineer working in the energy industry. Originally from Tianjin, China, I moved to Montana when I was 16. Since graduation from university, I have been very fortunate to have worked in Texas, British Columbia, offshore Angola (where I was one of the only 10 females among 2000 people), and now Kazakhstan. My rotational work schedule has been flexible enough to allow me to travel the world on my time off. About two years ago, I started learning sailing in Gibraltar as a novice and immediately fell in love with the sailing lifestyle. I have since sailed 4000NM in Gibraltar region, Mediterranean, UK, and Antarctica. Currently I am preparing to obtain my RYA Offshore Yachtmaster with the hope of purchasing my own blue water boat in the next 3-5 years to continue exploring the world. This goal has led me to join Mahina Expeditions to learn more about practical sailing, various aspects of owning and maintaining a boat, and the true lifestyle of cruising around the world. John, Amanda, and Mahina Tiare III couldn’t have been a more perfect combo to take me a step closer to realizing my goal.

Matthias, 47
I am a telecom manager for local governments in Silicon Valley, CA. I enjoy sailing on San Francisco and Monterey Bays and love introducing friends to the fun of sailing. I plan to buy a catamaran in three years for living aboard and circumnavigating. I’ve enjoyed the adventure of learning on an open ocean passage in the company of like-minded new friends.

Leave a Reply