Mohammedia did not improve with time, and after 3 nights we left as the sun was rising. Although our love for Morocco was undiminished, we felt a little wary of finding another port as disappointing as Mohammedia. With that in mind we decided to skip El Jadida since there didn’t seem to be much to see there, and head straight for Essaouira, which meant an overnight passage. The pilot book suggests not attempting to enter Essaouira port at night, so we were racing against the clock, trying to cover the 200 or so miles in less than 36 hours.
The winds were light to start with and from the south, but they soon shifted around and before long we had our code zero out again, making 6 knots with 8 knots of apparent wind, which made us pretty happy.
You know what made us even happier? Fish. We caught three large bonitos over the day, far more than we could eat the two of us. In fact, our plan was to freeze them, but they were so large, they didn’t even freeze. But we certainly had lovely fresh fish for dinner.
Our overnight passage was incredibly uneventful. In fact, the whole passage was uneventful, primarily because it was Eid and as such, the entire country including the fishermen were at home with their families eating sheep and celebrating. So it was all very quiet on the water, which was lovely.
We arrived in Essaouira about an hour before sunset, so we just made it! It was windy, blowing around 20 knots from behind, and as we rounded the harbour wall and the entrance came into view our jaws dropped. The small harbour was absolutely crammed with fishing boats, leaving a narrow corridor of water that we tentatively motored down. A mast came into view, and I was like, “Follow that mast!” There was no obvious place to tie up, and we were starting to have a quiet freakout, wondering what we were going to do. Our guidebook said to raft up to the orange lifeboat, but it looked a little tricky and we weren’t keen. However, behind the lifeboat there was a 30ft sailing yacht with a Moroccan man on-board, who spotted us and told us to raft up against him. We noticed that behind him was a 20ft sailing yacht also. We’d found the ‘marina’!
After a bit of stressful manoeuvring in the high winds and with huge wooden fishing boats looming nearby, we finally got ourselves rafted up and sorted. We couldn’t believe our surroundings. This place was mad!
As usual, the police and customs were quick to arrive and Nick went with them to get all the paperwork sorted. We were knackered, and were planning an early dinner (of fish) and then straight to bed. However, the universe had other plans. About an hour after we arrived the owner of the 20 footer walked up, coming back from town, with his two friends. We recognised them from Mohammedia, as three young Norwegian guys who are making their way towards the Canaries. They seemed friendly and so we invited them over for a drink, along with our new Moroccan friend, Bismail, the owner of the boat next door.
Before long, they’d spotted Nick’s guitar and requested a song. One of the guys had bought a drum from the market that day, and was keen to test it out, so he disappeared and came back with a guitar and a bongo drum under his arm. Next thing I know, there’s a little jam session taking place in our cockpit, complete with dance moves from the (now rather inebriated) Bismail. It transpired that two of the three Norwegians were part of a reggae band in Norway, and when they gave us a duet performance, I was blown away. They were excellent!
Unfortunately we were too tired to entertain them for long, and they’d not eaten yet and were getting hungry, so they clambered off the boat about 9pm and left us to it. It was such a fun evening, and it was a shame they were leaving the next day. The boat was owned by one of them, who had plans to sail to the Canaries, then down to Western Africa and onto Brazil. He was not very experienced, but his two crew-mates were far less so and we were impressed by the adventurous nature of these three guys. It’s one thing to cross oceans and sail to far-flung places in a boat like ours, which is not only comfortable but also has all the essentials- fridge, water maker, automatic steering, etc. But this guy didn’t even have an in-board engine, just an outboard which was mounted precariously off the back of his boat.
Needless to say, we offered them our two extra fish. The seemed inordinately grateful!
The next day we were keen to explore this new town, which looked so interesting from the fishing port. The town is very historic, dating back to antiquity, but the town itself is mainly 18th century and has a very European feel. Perhaps not surprising: the architect responsible for planning and designing the fortress surrounding the medina, as well as the kasbah itself, was French.
Well, it was love at first sight. The city has a real bohemian feel, and many of the tourists here are also of the more young backpacker with dreds and fishermans pants type, possibly with a surf board tucked under their arm. There are some up-market restaurants, but it’s mostly chilled-out Moroccan eateries, complete with bright cushions and silks, or eclectically designed cafes with reclaimed chairs and tables and live music being performed by guys with afros. We weren’t remotely surprised to be approached several times by shady-looking guys saying, “Hey… wanna get high? No? It’s fun. You sure? Okay, goodbye…”
We’ve loved just wandering around, getting lost in the little alleyways, and looking in all the shops and stalls. Everyone sells pretty much the same things we’ve seen in other Moroccan medinas, but it’s far more sanitised here than in Salé for example. Not a goat to be seen. Just plenty of leather bags, espadrille shoes and wooden jewellery boxes or carved animals. Of course, don’t forget the many, many carpet and silk shops, or those selling various argan oil products. But it’s all very chilled and friendly.
We originally planned to stay only a few days, but we’ve decided that we’re in no rush whatsoever to leave!