Sailing to Morocco - Tips from a frequent visitor.
Morocco is an exotic location just a stone’s throw from Europe’s southern shores. Sadly many sailors have misconceptions about Morocco and consequently miss out on some fantastic experiences.
For yachtsmen who do not want to night sail it is easy enough to make one’s way south to any of the marinas close to Gibraltar from where a sail to a Moroccan port is just a matter of a few hours. A stopover at Gibraltar itself will enable boats to re-provision with UK delicacies and re-fuel with low cost diesel. Additionally a stopover of a few days in Gibraltar (outside the EU Customs Union) enables non-EU flagged vessels to reset their VAT temporary importation period of 18 months.
In the summer months the prevailing winds in the Straits are either Easterly (Levante) or Westerly (Poniente). This means that a crossing from Gibraltar is a fast and comfortable beam reach. There are three important things to remember when crossing the Straits. Firstly in an Easterly always expect up to 15 knots of wind more than forecast at the western end of the Straits and vice versa. The wind is “squeezed” by the high terrain on either side of the Straits and this causes the wind to accelerate as it leaves the bottleneck at the narrowest part of the Straits. Secondly in anything over 20 knots of wind with a spring tide running it is best to time the crossing to avoid a “wind against tide” situation. This will avoid heaped seas and make for a much more comfortable crossing. Finally the Straits of Gibraltar is one of the busiest shipping lanes in the world. Knowing your collision regulations and maintaining a good visual and radio watch is very important.
First entry into Morocco has to be via an approved “port of entry”. All of the following are approved ports of entry:
Atlantic Coast: Agadir , Asilah , Casablanca , El Jadida , Essaouira , Jorf Lasfar , Kenitra , Mohammedia , Rabat, Safi , Tangier
Mediterranean Coast: Al Hoceima , Marina Smir , Nador , Saidia
Additionally the shortest distance from Gibraltar to North Africa is the Spanish enclave of Ceuta. Much further East close to the border with Algeria is the other Spanish enclave of Melilla. Both enclaves can provide a gentler introduction to North Africa and both have land border access to Morocco.
After entry at one of the approved entry points you are free to visit other ports although you will always be required to complete some bureaucratic process. Crew and passengers need passports and the authorities will want to see the vessel’s registration document and her insurance cover.
It is important to note that vessels are not allowed to anchor off the Moroccan shore at night. All vessels have to be in port in the hours of darkness. This is a measure to combat smuggling into and out of Morocco.
Once you have completed the entry formalities you will be free to enjoy the exotic charms of Morocco. Morocco is of course much more than the marinas and heading inland to sample the markets (souks) and restaurants of Morocco are a must. It is a good idea to carry lots of small denomination Euro banknotes. These are preferred by local traders. It is possible to use most debit and credit cards to make purchases and withdraw money from ATMs. Make no mistake, the best deals are reserved to those who pay with Euro cash. The difficulty is knowing whether you have in fact got the best deal. Everything is cheaper in Morocco. In the souk you will soon learn how to haggle and negotiate the Moroccan way. Do not show any interest in any item if you do not want to provoke haggling session which usually starts with what may seem like a rhetorical question: “Tell me your best price”? Take plenty of money because there is so much you will want to buy. They will not only seem like good bargains but in fact are!
Morocco has a long and proud history and is one of the most successful economies in Africa. It is an Islamic country full of contradictions. For example some wine and beer is locally produced but many restaurants are “dry”. Respect for Islamic traditions will earn you respect in return.
I strongly recommend a visit to Morocco via Gibraltar. If you want to do the crossing in company you can join the annual Gibraltar to Morocco Rally on the 12th June 2015 and sail across in the company of up to 50 yachts for a gentle introduction to Morocco. For more information of the 2015 Gibraltar - Morocco Rally check out information postings at Facebook.com/boatshedgib.