Avoiding the ARC rally club in Agadir

Marina at Agadir, Morocco

I arrived at the marina in Agadir at 9:15 on the 8th of November to find another of those “build it and they will come” developments typical of southern Spain, with the difference that locals enjoy frequenting the waterfront cafe’s and restaurants. Must be a “hey look at me, I can afford to pay silly European prices for my coffee” thing.

Not to be confused with the main industrial and fishing port which is truly “another world”, the marina is clean and pleasant, the officials politely efficient and the comradely openness among cruisers delightful.

Upon arrival there are a few hoops to jump through, the most odorous being a search of the boat by customs, but Eileen passed despite the officials dismay at finding every available crevice jam-packed with provisions.

Biological fly and mosquito control

There were comments about needing to bring in a sniffer dog, but in then end, my enthusiasm to dig out whatever they requested was apparently enough to allay their concerns. Mind you, the white powder surrounding my store of salami and the vacuum sealed pre-cooked potatoes did raise a few questions.

Now I wouldn’t mind smuggling one of these extraordinary biological pest control devices (purchased locally), like some (obviously they must remain anonymous) others do.

It's another party on the Blue Boat!

With the red tape accounted for, it was time to get a feel for the place. First impressions, undeniably touristic. With a restaurant to cater for every nationality and taste lining the beach front, and a seaside promenade to rival any in mainland Europe, you could see town planners were working hard to attract the tourist dollar, and all in all it seems to be working.

However, none of this really interests me. I prefer socializing with other sailors and discovering what the locals do, to eating in restaurants with my invisible friends.

Fishing for cats?

So what are those marina officials in fancy uniforms doing when they are not searching through your boat? Well, this one evidently passes the time keeping the local population of strays well supplied with fresh fish! He told me that this ginger one was his particular favourite.

I met the very simpatico Greek and French crews of Troll, (seen here removing rust spots from their fine vessel), and Bajada (see link below). The odds are that I will see them again in the near future as they are considering taking the same route as Eileen of Avoca to Brazil. I hope so!

The enthusiastic crew of Troll

What I found especially interesting in Agadir was that I’d stumbled across this gathering of younger and more adventurous cruisers. Crews without a set plan or timetable, that were determined to avoid the formalized Caribbean “milk run” itinerary. Just have a look at this web site (in French but the photos tell the tale), to see what I mean:


I also discovered an unofficial underground sailors club than can only be described as the “avoid the ARC rally” crowd.

Up until now I’d only met a couple of entrants to this years ARC rally, but apparently most of the popular Canary Island anchorages (such as the one on Isla Graciosa), are so packed with ARC entrants that when the wind shifts and the yachts swing into their new position, everyone is in a panic.

Marinas are overflowing with “party crazed” (marina employee quote) ARC crews until the 21st when the 250 or so official participants and who knows how many unofficial “let’s tag along-ers”, leave Las Palmas in Gran Canaria.

My agoraphobic tendencies make me a shoe-in for  “avoid the ARC” club membership, so I’ve decided to time my arrival in Gran Canaria with the moment everyone else leaves!

I once had a boat in Africa!

Moroccan fishing boat

Four days is not a long time to be at sea, in fact, you are just starting to get into a comfortable rhythm when all too soon you are back near the coast weaving your way through yet another maze of fisherman’s pots and missing out on much needed sleep so as to keep clear of myriad other small craft. (Boats without active AIS or radar are invisible to my current array of electronic anti-collision sensors so it’s old fashioned eyeball power that’s needed for coastal watch keeping).

It took all of “day one” to find sufficient force in the forecast easterlies to switch off my engine, but better late than never… yes…no… maybe?

Below is an extract of the wind forecasts showing how easterlies accelerate through the strait of Gibraltar and on into the Atlantic. It was in this same acceleration zone that I tore my mainsail eight months earlier, so I know that what looks rather benign in a forecast can be quite severe in reality.

Winds accelerate through strait of Gibraltar

By “day two”, with two reefs in the mainsail and both foresails set, I made excellent progress (100 NM plus) due south. While shipping traffic was heavy, I had plenty of advance warning from my AIS receiver, so sleeping for several hours at a time was not overly risky.

It's not easy being green...

Lucky for me, because the cross-swell was causing me to turn a ‘whiter shade of pale’, and getting out of my bunk is always more difficult when I’m feeling sorry for myself.

So much for my newly formulated curry and beer seasickness cure theory! Still, I can’t complain too much because compared with others I’m only very mildly effected by motion sickness, but it still takes much of the fun out of sailing when you are not feeling 100%.

By “day three” the sea and my stomach had settled, but I was forced to switch back to fossil fuel power to encourage any significant forward momentum. By now I was following the northwestern coast of Morocco well clear of any shipping lanes, but that didn’t stop one behemoth from attempting to ram my little blue boat. Nothing that a timely call over the VHF couldn’t fix:

“Hello SKS Tiete, this is the small sailing boat Eileen of Avoca one mile off your starboard bow… Just calling to check whether you have seen me?”

Silence…., The AIS and my radar detector are now beeping incessantly. A few second later….

“Err Motor vessel SKS Tiete, I’m the sailing boat with the red sails right under your bow…”

“Yes sailing vessel… I see you now and am adjusting my course to pass by your stern…”

Large vessels must only keep a close watch on their radar screens, because the radio operator seemed completely surprised to see me with his own eyes. He even felt the need to advise me to be extra cautious around traffic lanes because I was almost invisible to his equipment.

How about that! Eileen of Avoca operates in stealth mode. So much for the fancy looking tubular radar reflector fixed to the top of my shroud line. No wonder I’ve been constantly forced to play dodgems with so many commercial vessels. I’m going to have to purchase one of the old fashioned bulky tetrahedral types when I return to civilization. No big deal, especially since I’m also going to have to lower the mast to fix my tri-light wiring. Grrr. Just what I need, not only am I invisible to radar, I’m without my sailing lights. Good thing the steaming lights are still functioning.

By “day four” the wind had returned (15 to 18kts) and Eileen was racing downwind at an impressive 6 knots. I had the whisker pole out on the stay-sail, two reefs in the tethered main, and the jib sail goose-winged. As the swell increased, Eileen of Avoca showed me how much she likes to surf and my GPS recorded speeds in excess of 8 knots! I didn’t get much rest.

A Moroccan dawn near Agadir

Just 15 miles off the western coast of Morocco near Cape Ghir, I decide to modify my planned itinerary and turn Eileen toward Agadir. Lanzarote can wait… Why? No real reason… Perhaps because it’s just another 8 hours away, or because I’ve never been to Morocco. Just looking at my chart is making me increasingly curious. So why not go and have a look? Agadir it is.

By 9:15am I’ve arrived in Africa and entered another world. This was definitely a good move and I’m looking forward to exploring this exotic town . I’m sure to dig up something interesting to photograph so stay tuned for my next report.

  • PS Just as an aside, I was surprised to find that I had mobile phone reception more than 20 miles off the Moroccan coast. Handy to know for anyone else wandering down this way.