Friday, October 16, 2015

Rabat arrival

Helpful hint: Read the captions of each photo in order first.  Then read the text.  Be sure to watch the linked video.
Libertad on left lining up to follow pilot boat in.
Note how low in water she is due to swell.

S/V BeBe is berthed at Marina Bouregreg in Rabat.  Technically that is not correct; Rabat is on the south side of the river.  The marina is situated in Sale on the north side of the river, which Google Maps translates to be "Dirty, Morocco" and I really cannot argue with that.  And that is part of the charm of this exotic location.  Living spaces are neat and clean but streets and paths, not so much.  I think this is typical in the Arab world.

Seconds later, note how high Libertad is now.

When departing Gibraltar boats must time both the tide there and the tide at anticipated arrival time at the challenging entrance to Rio Bou Regreg (pronounced BOO-ray-ray), the waterway for which this marina is named.  It was impossible to time together as desired on the day of our passage, so we got it as closely as possible only with the emphasis on arriving at Rabat during the correct tidal stage.  Otherwise, we would not be able to get in!

Lining up behind pilot boat, and trying to catch up
with him.  Head for the crashing water on the rocks.
There is an almost constant swell from the west here.  Could be NW or SW...but almost always present and from some westerly direction.  Which brings that swell crashing into the rocks all along this part of the African coastline.  When the swell exceeds 2 meters (a little over 6 1/2 feet) then the entrance is closed to boat traffic.  The swell was right on that line during our arrival and it was 'interesting' surfing those swells as they crashed into the rocks on either side of the narrow entrance.  An unmarked channel through that entrance is kept dredged to sufficient depth to allow most boats entry when swell conditions are not too bad.

Pilot boat in front is down.
Leaving Gibraltar we hugged the north side of the strait along the Spanish coast where the eastern setting current is supposed to be least.  We were able to motor about 6 knots until Tarifa but then our speed began to drop as the adverse current increased with the changing tidal stage.  We had wanted to go about 6 NM past Tarifa before turning south towards Morocco but that was not possible.  I got too impatient.  When boat speed got as low as 3.9 knots SOG then I just could not take that slow speed any more.  So I turned south earlier than planned and headed toward our first waypoint off the coast of Morocco.  Boat speed immediately increased to 5.2 SOG and that was much better!  Crossing the shipping channels in the strait was simple.  No ships too close in either direction.  Gotta love AIS!!

Pilot boat still kind of down there.

We motored all the way in calm seas and the swell increased as we progressed down the coastline.  There were many fishing boats but we were far enough offshore that these were never a difficulty.  Another Amel, S/V Libertad, also made the passage at the same time; but they stayed close to shore and later said the fishing boats were an issue for them to dodge.

Pilot boat higher now.
Libertad arrived at the 'hold' waypoint before us and waited there as we came in closer to shore.  The marina had provided us with this 'hold' waypoint and instructed us to contact them via VHF radio when 2 miles before that point.  Libertad could see us but we could not see them.  The haze was terrible and we could not make out their boat against the structures on shore.  They were unable to contact the marina by VHF but luckily had a working cell phone and made contact via phone.  The marina said to wait there at the 'hold' waypoint for their pilot boat to lead us in.  The pilot boat arrived in just a few minutes.  

While behind us Libertad is up one second.
The pilot boat stopped and spoke with Libertad and then came to BeBe.  The driver asked our draft and then told us to stay right behind him and follow him in.  I radioed Libertad and told them that the pilot boat wanted us to follow in his wake and for them to follow in our wake.  We had thought they would take Libertad first since they arrived first but they wanted the boat with the deepest draft to be immediately behind the pilot boat.  Bill was at the helm because I knew he might end up yelling at me if I drove it in during those conditions.  Better he do it himself as both of us had nerves on edge anticipating this entrance.  Then...if we broached...he could only blame himself.

And the next second Libertad is down.
Photos just do not show the conditions.
When surfing ~2 meter swell or waves it is imperative to NOT SLOW DOWN.  If you slow the boat you can broach...turn sideways.  That would be very, very bad in this situation.  As we came in I watched the depth gauge and Bill ignored all gauges; his eyes were glued to the stern of the pilot boat.  He did glance at the speed gauge at one point and saw that we were going 9.6 knots.  We were very close to the stern of the pilot boat; Libertad wisely stayed farther back from our stern.

BeBe headed in, surfing the swell.

Just as we entered the calm past the big swell, 2 guys on surfboards paddled straight across the river right in front of the pilot boat!  Wow!  Was that ever stupid!  The pilot boat obviously instantly stopped (and yelled at the 2 guys), but quickly accelerated again so that Bill avoided hitting their stern...barely.  I swear our bow was not more than 5 feet off their stern at one point!!!  This Nervous Nelly was glad to not be the one at the helm for this experience.

Once inside, total calm.

The little river wound around the old walled city of original Rabat.  Past the small wooden boats that taxi people back and forth across from Sale to Rabat all day long.  Then we were instructed to turn around and tie off at the Customs dock on the northern side of the river just outside the marina.  Libertad tied up behind us on this dock that was really too short to handle 2 boats our size.  They nestled their bow right up near our stern arch and their stern was left sticking out past the end of that short dock.  Officials came and cleared us in. 

Libertad nestled up to our stern arch at Customs dock.
Neither Bill nor I speak a word of French so filling out the clearance forms was challenging.  I consulted the book "French for Cruisers" by Kathy Parsons and it helped, but some of the words on the form were different than what were in this book.  For example, previous port on the form was called 'provenance' and that was nowhere to be found in this book.  With the assistance of one of the officials who spoke some English the task was accomplished in short order.  A drug dog was brought to the dock but remained to the side of our boat; never came aboard.  Maybe because our boat has a solid stainless steel life rail with no side gate, and lifting that big dog up over that rail would have been a real challenge for those guys.

"New" city of Rabat built around the old walled city.
That big wooden ship might be a restaurant.
We again turned around in the river and entered the marina.  Berthing was very easy despite the unhelpful information provided by another cruiser on Noonsite about the side pontoons having no cleats which made tying off interesting.  Why did they post that?  Each boat has a pontoon on each side.  The pontoons are short and, in fact, do not have cleats; but cleats are not needed because there is a very sturdy ring protrusion positioned on the end of each short pontoon through which boats run dock lines.  Simply run a line from your bow cleat through that ring and back to another deck cleat on your boat.  Do this for both sides. Repeat with a spring line.  Tie off 2 stern lines on the main pontoon cleats as normal, and the boat is safely secured.  Why that cruiser chose to post that note on Noonsite to confuse and worry others coming here is baffling.  File that as another cruiser rumor.  There is no issue whatsoever docking here easily and securely.

None of the photos I took during our entry show the true conditions.  Photos never do.  Just cannot capture the water movement in still shot unless with a professional quality camera.  But here is a link to a video of an Amel 54 entering here in conditions similar to what we experienced.  Except we entered on a rising high tide, just about 45 minutes before slack high tide.  This video was during a decreasing high tide; water was already flowing out to sea, as you can see by the water line on the rocks when the boat is at the Customs dock.  That outgoing tidal flow going against the incoming swell caused breaking wave conditions.  This is why we were adamant that our arrival must be either slack high tide or within the 3 hours prior to high tide.  The guy in the red and yellow vest on the boat in this video is the same guy who stood on the stern of the pilot boat and used hand motions to guide us in.

Video of Amel 54 Amelit arriving Rabat

When checking into the marina office we noticed a sign on the door stating that the port was closed.  They let us and Libertad arrive but were not letting any boats leave that day due to the swell conditions at the entrance.  I am not looking forward to leaving here!  

During our passage here Bill spoke on the VHF radio with a New Zealand boat en route to the Canary Islands.  Main purpose in speaking with that boat was to confirm our radio is still working correctly; it is.  The Kiwi said we must be the only Americans going to Morocco this year; everyone else he had met was going straight to the Canary Islands because worried about security issues considering today's troubled political problems.  Well...there are 3 American boats here now, so we are not the only ones visiting Morocco this year.  The first morning here Bill watched the security guards search the guys who were entering the marina to empty the trash bins.  They made those guys take off their shoes and shirts, empty their pockets and patted them down, lift their pants legs, and even looked inside their mouths and ears.  A thorough inspection before allowing them inside the marina.  There are both good things and bad things that one can take from this.  

There are 7 security guards spaced around the marina to keep out anyone who does not have a boat berthed here.  There are restaurants next to the marina and the guards constantly watch people on the walkway, blowing whistles if someone approaches any of the marina pontoon entry points.  Yesterday I heard a whistle blowing more and more urgently and loudly.  When Bill looked out to see what was going on, 2 local men had stepped onto one of the pontoon walkways and that angry guard was running toward them while continuing to blow that loud whistle.  When one of the men saw the guard he signed to the other man and they stopped in their tracks.  They both were deaf!  So that whistle did nothing to alert them that they were entering a prohibited area.  By the way, Bill cannot hear that whistle at all.  It would have no effect on him either.

All this has made me wonder if security has always been this tight in this marina.  We know several boats that berthed here for weeks or months during the past 4 years and not one mentioned this tight security.

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