Bye Europe, Hello Africa

Written by Pieter Jan on Dec 7, 2019 — 3 min read

From: Marbella, Spain
To: Tangier, Morocco

Marbella has a nice new marina. Marbella is probably a nice city. We needed to go on. The weather window was closing. Last day to get out of the Mediterranean through the Strait of Gibraltar.

The Strait of Gibraltar was formed some 5 million years ago, when the Atlantic Ocean suddenly and violently overflowed into the dried up Mediterranean basin. The water rushed down at a rate of 1000 times that of the Amazon river, down a 1 km drop, at over 140 km/h. The water in the basin started rising by 10 meters per day — a flood of truly biblical proportions. Within 2 years, the Mediterranean Sea was filled up again. The Strait had eroded down to a depth of 900 meters.

Currently, it’s the favorite place for Big Ships to hang out.

Big Ships ahoy
Big Ships ahoy

The Rock of Gibraltar rises up from the sea like a huge Monemvasia. It’s quite an arresting sight, were it not for the enormous amount of ships it the area. They demand more attention. At least the Rock is staying in its place.

Stay put! Good boy
Stay put! Good boy
The Rock has it's own weather system
The Rock has it's own weather system

To give an idea of the absolute navigational mayhem going on, I’ve included two screenshots of the AIS. We’re the red boat. Usually, there’s one other boat on the screen, maybe two. Here, we had at one point 5 simultanuous collision warnings ringing at the same time.

Around Gibraltar
Around Gibraltar
Around Tangier
Around Tangier

It was a bit nerve-wracking at times. I decided to cross the Strait while it was still light out.

Man the battle stations! It's coming right for us!
Man the battle stations! It's coming right for us!

Not only do you have traffic going in and out of the Mediterranean Sea, there are a lot of high speed ferries crossing, as well as ships turning left and right into the big harbors on either side.

Ferry of the 'blink and you'll miss it' type
Ferry of the 'blink and you'll miss it' type

On top of the traffic, the sea and the wind are also tricky. I thought we had the current flowing out during our crossing, but our speed was dropping from 6.5 knots to 2.5 knots. It turns out you never have the current with you when going westward. Sometimes there’s a little current against you, sometimes a lot. Something to do with the salinity level on different depths. We also encountered a big gyre that knocked us off course.

Other than that, the crossing was as easy as one could wish for: a gentle breeze from behind, swell going in the same direction as us, no big waves on top of the swell and somehow we dodged all traffic without having to alter course. Maybe they dodged us.

Rif mountain range ends at the Strait
Rif mountain range ends at the Strait

We arrived on the Morrocan side of the Strait at dusk. Dolphins followed us and played with Vite & Rêves for more than an hour.

I imagine the big bright letters on the mountside say 'Well done, dude'
I imagine the big bright letters on the mountside say 'Well done, dude'

At night the wind fell to nothing and we motored in the now calm seas to Tangier.

As part of a multi-billion dollar plan to attract yachties and cruisers to Morocco, there’s a brand new marina in Tangier. It’s actually the best marina we’ve encountered so far, even though it’s not completed yet. The marina people and even the police and customs officers are extremely friendly and helpful. During the clearing in process, I chatted with them about travelling with kids, family abroad, good places in town and we exchanged phone numbers. 10/10. Would arrive again.