Saturday, December 24, 2011

from Cabo Verde

Sal, Cabo Verde - Happy Holidays!   It is Christmas Eve and we find ourselves so many nautical miles and a world away from last Christmas which we spent in Fort Lauderdale as we prepped our boat for the “big trip.”  One year ago we could not believe we were about to embark on this great family adventure and today we cannot believe time is flying by so fast.
It has been a long while since we have posted an actual blog, and for those “fans” (wink, wink) who have been waiting with baited breath, I will try my best to bring you up to speed.  This past month has been very unique and eye-opening since we have been in Senegal and Gambia, countries so different than what we have seen before.
After spending a good ten days in the Canary Islands for Thanksgiving and for prepping  the boat for more of Africa, we had a great, smooth 6-day sail to Dakar, Senegal.  Sailing into port we were greeted by smiling fishermen on their wooden boats wanting to give us some of their fish.  Beautiful rock formations jutting out of the water, some friendly dolphins playing at our bow, birds flying… quite a sight to see after being at sea. 
As we approached the anchorage we were thrilled to see our buddy boat, Mehari (the family with six children) who had left the Canaries a couple days before us and had already arrived.  On the shore we could see a throng of people buying fish off the fishermen, as well as kids playing soccer and even some kids riding bareback on horses down the beach.  Some of the buildings looked quite modern and nice….  But on closer inspection, once you go behind these beac front places, the picture is quite different:  trash in the dirt streets, goats and donkeys walking by, barefoot children wanting to sell their wares.
One of buildings is the “yacht club” where many sailors come for internet, food, drinks and general socializing and exchange of information.  The “yacht club” is a place where people can camp in tents, take showers, load up on fresh water, and there is even a kitchen if one would like to cook his own food.  Although the name makes it sounds fancy, the club is very modest.  Even so, the kids were thrilled to play with some other local kids there.
A short cab ride later we were in downtown Dakar where there is crazy traffic, lots of trash on the side of the road, and people walking by who appeared to be in real need.  We saw people rifling through discarded, rotten fruit.  One also sees women and girls walking down the street balancing bundles on their heads – something that Sofia just had to practice as soon as we got back on Begonia!  And of course, very aggressive salespeople trying to sell African statuettes and masks, etc.  We found that we could not even glance in the direction of anything or else they would start negotiating with you.  Many times these salespeople would place necklaces on the kids and say it was a “present,” which of course the kids would believe.  We were quite a target walking down the street!  Imagine a total of 8 children to trick!!!  We would then have to argue to get the necklaces taken off because we were not going to pay for them, even though the kids would keep saying, “No, Mom, he said it was a present.”  Someone needs to tell them that that type of tactic is not very good for tourism.
We were very lucky when we got back to the “yacht club” to find that the location had been chosen for a wedding reception.  What a treat to see all the guests arriving in their finest:  the women all in traditional dress, but super fancy and shiny.  The men in general just wore jeans and a nice shirt, but the women looked as if it were a fashion show.  Since Senegal is still Muslim, the men and women do not dance together, but nevertheless the dancing we did see was incredible.   Even the little ones had rhythym and were giving it their all.
The Senegalese are physically beautiful people who speak French and their local languages of which there are about 6.  I met some local women who asked me my age.  They guessed about ten years older than I am, and when I asked them, I was shocked to hear their ages.  They appeared to be about ten years younger than they really were!!!  
Years ago Senegal and Gambia were one country called Senegambia, and it was the main location from where the Europeans would take slaves.  We were surprised to learn that it was not just the white Europeans capturing the slaves but also local African tribes capturing rival tribes to sell to the Europeans.  The island of Goree, just across the bay from Dakar, was where all slaves would be centralized and kept before being sold and taken to the New World.  The island now houses a museum and is quite touristy with very colorful colonial buildings, local women dressed in African patterns, fruit vendors, musicians and lots of stray dogs!
It took a couple more stops down the coast before reaching Gambia, and we still wanted to experience a true African village.  Along this coast we did find some resorts tailored to the French.  We parked our dinghy at one of these resorts since we heard there was a village within walking distance.  The resort was beautiful with small cabanas, a swimming pool and friendly staff that indicated us how to get to the village.  Once off the resort property, we felt we were really in Africa… dirt paths, baobab trees, a haze and smell from the piles of trash that the locals burn, goats running by every now and then. 
I had brought a bag full of balloons to give to the children if we saw any and shortly after starting on our journey, we were approached by a group of about 5 boys.  They were thrilled with the balloons and in broken French and sign language they told us they would escort us to the village where we intended to have a local lunch.  Sofia and Benjie were a little shy when the boys grabbed their hands to walk with them.  As we got closer more children kept coming out to follow us, and soon word got out that we had balloons.  Children excited, and grabbing and pushing.  The original group of boys brought us to the village bicycle and invited us to ride.  One bicycle that the entire village shared, the one thing they could offer us in exchange for their balloons.  Very sweet.   We were naïve to think we would “eat lunch” there though… in a village where no currency other than the barter system was even used. We saw the women trading yucca for watermelon or beans for potatoes.  And these women were all dressed again in these beautiful African dresses. 

As sailors it is always a little nebulous when you arrive at some of these countries what the appropriate procedure for checking into the country is. An arriving sailing vessel must visit Immigration, Customs and Port Authority - not all located in the same building of course – why make it easy when it can be made complicated and bureaucratic?   Our arrival in the capital city, Banjul, is no different.  Sebas got “dressed up” in long pants and a collared shirt, recommended in our cruising guide, in 95 degree weather and was gone from Begonia for about 3 and a half hours trying to sort through everything.  He was met on shore right away by someone who was going to “help him at no charge,” and first was taken to Immigration, which was basically a 10’ x 10’ room with six immigration officers dressed in official uniform sitting around 2 desks.  Right away you think well, if there are six people here, then the paperwork is going to go very fast since there are not many boats doing this process.  You could not be more wrong.  Of course, Sebas complained, and then was yelled at and soon shut his mouth when he realized he could possibly be thrown in jail never to be seen again!  Or at least this is the Hollywood version of events going through his head at that moment!!  Afterward, he then was taken to a very unofficial looking office with a desk, but no file cabinets, no uniform, etc. and was asked to pay 2,000 dalasis, or USD$70, with no receipt in return.  Sebas refused.  We ended up having to take a cab back into Banjul the following day to finish the paperwork.
It was refreshing later that first night to arrive to our anchorage at Lamin Lodge.  This lodge is a sight to see.  Run by a German man named Peter who was originally a cruiser and ended up settling in Gambia 29 years ago, Lamin Lodge is a modern day version of Robinson Crusoe’s treehouse.  Made of rustic wood trunks, some of which had been carved by a local artist, the lodge is yet another great gathering spot for cruisers.  “Lodge” is a misnomer, as one really cannot stay the night there as there are no rooms to rent.  What is there is an open-air place to sit, where food is served and where monkeys roam freely trying to steal food off your plates.  There is not one ninety degree angle in the structure, but this just adds to the lodge’s charm.  There is no electricity here either so if you want to stay on past dark, the workers will light a lantern for you.  The nearest town is Lamin, about a 45 minute walk through the countryside, but do not forget your flashlight since it is pitch black!  The anchorage is extremely peaceful here and the environment is very inviting.
Banjul and the ride there is another story.  Just throngs of people selling on the street everywhere.  We never understand if the vendors really sell since there is so much competition.  For every one vendor selling watermelon or goats or whatever, there are about one hundred more lining the same exact street. Buses are jam-packed with people, people on bicycles all over, taxis driving really fast with squeaking brakes, and you are constantly wondering when the next car accident is going to be because everyone tailgates and gets alarmingly close to everything.  I spent one trip in the front seat of the bus/van next to the driver playing “air brakes” and just squeezing my eyes shut tightly!
Everything just takes longer in countries like these and we found that we quickly grow impatient where the locals just look at you like, what is the problem?  One day going into the city to go to the supermarket, turned into a 5 hour odyssey.  Nothing is easy.  First we had to walk 45 minutes into Lamin from the anchorage to get to a bus, then we had to negotiate the bus, then find an ATM to get money, only to find that the ATM does not accept your card, or is empty or whatever, then you must try another one but it is extremely far away and is another 30 minute walk, then by then you are a little hungry and look for a place to eat where you will not be struck by a stomach illness, only to find that one of the guys in the group has a severe peanut allergy and unbeknownst to him while his meal did not have peanuts in it, his food had in fact been stirred by the same spoon that had peanuts on it.  Unluckily for him, his ears and mouth swelled like a balloon, he had a rash all over his body and was shivering.  We took him quickly to a local pharmacy where they gave him a shot while the rest of the group went to the market to buy some food. 
Fruits and veggies are not sold at the market but by street vendors, so after negotiating the prices with them we loaded all our bags, only to realize that when it came time to pay, the price negotiated had been “forgotten” by the vendor and we were being charged more.  Thus, some arguing, and finally taking all the fruits and veggies out of our bag, giving them back and storming away with the vendor yelling behind us.   Then of course we wanted to check internet only to find the electricity had gone out on the block, but there is nothing left to do but wait the half hour before it came back on otherwise you would not be able to find internet any other place that is convenient and close by.  We were exhausted after this first day and ended staying an extra one because we still had not bought fruits and veggies nor water. 
WATER is a main concern in Gambia.  I have not before thought so much of our need for water, since thankfully (luckily?) it has always been available to us.  Even this past year living on Begonia, we have been very conservative with our water but have always agreed that we did not want water to become an issue and to feel free to use it for a shower if need be – even a “military-style” one.  There was always water available at the next port we would visit, so even if we had to pay for it, it was an expense we had budgeted for.
However, our experience in this part of the world is that water (drinkable for us and usable for washing clothes, etc) is so scarce in the remote areas that we really have needed to watch our consumption.  Having been anchored on the river close to Lamin Lodge we assumed there would be a faucet or hose like there have been in other places, but the Lodge gets its water from the village where there is one spigot for the entire place.  Everyone, including the lodge, goes there to fill up five gallon or so barrels and transports it to their home. Filling our 600 liter tanks on the boat takes two trips to the village and all afternoon.  Once all the water arrives at the lodge, Sebas then has to take it by dinghy to the boat to fill the tanks.  With all this effort, it sure makes you think twice even if you want to brush your teeth!  I have been using and reusing the water, so for example, to wash dishes we have been using the river water to wash it first pass and then we do a final, quick rinse with our clean water.  I had to wash some clothes and reused the soapy water to wash the bathroom.  What we have in our tanks now is supposed to last us through our time up the river where there are no facilities whatsoever.
The entire country of Gambia is just the river, which was carved out of Senegal by the British.  People in Gambia therefore speak English along with the same 5 or 6 local languages spoken in Senegal. The rest of the stay then in Gambia was up the river, where we did about 3 days up to find the hippos.  We also wanted to visit some local villages on the shores thinking we wanted to donate some school supplies, books and clothes.  Up the river far away from the city, life is quite different than the city.  Here you see mud huts, women washing clothes in the river, many, many men fishing and women working in the rice fields. All along the river we were approached several times by fishermen or children who would row up to us to ask for something to drink, or and on many occasions just empty plastic water bottles.  I guess they would use these as buoys for their fishing nets, or as receptacles to carry water from the river. They would be out in the beating sun with no protection nor clothing and by the end of the trip we were literally taking the clothes off our backs to give away.  They did not ask us for this clothing, we just assumed thet needed it based ion the clothes we saw them wearing.  Sebas was left with only three t-shirts.
In one village we were greeted warmly by a swarm of children and one man who took us to see the head of the village. The leader was an elderly blind man who kept asking for pain relievers.  A group of women started singing and dancing for us and even some of the little girls got into the act and tried to get Sofia and Benjie to join in, to no avail.  Our kids were so overwhelmed by the attention and kids trying to hold their hands and touch their hair.  Some of the kids in the crowd were very brave while others were a little scared of us.  We gave the village bags of clothes, books, paper, pencils, markers, crayons, rope, tools, just whatever we could.
A word I that obviously comes  to mind in this part of the world is: DISPARITY.  It is so apparent the vast disparity in “wealth” between Senegal and Gambia with Europe or the US or any other place we have visited.  Is it fair to have 15 pairs of underwear each when there are hundreds of children walking the streets with none?  Are we really helping the community by giving away all these goods?  Of course, by our standards, this area would be considered “poor,” but who are we to say that our society and way of life is better?  If you look at the very basic human needs:  water, food and shelter… these are covered.  The people we met were not starving.  There is an abundance of food available to them.  Just walking down the street you can pull a mango off the tree and eat it, or go to the community rice field and get rice.  Water can be taken from the river, which is water that the locals are used to drinking and using for chores.  They have huts or houses, and we did not see homeless people in these villages where the community takes care of everyone.  They have what they need on a very basic level… so by bringing them  newer clothes and school supplies, etc. are we creating a new need that they may not have had before, thus tainting the way they see things?  Is it arrogant to think we are going to make a difference in their lives, when in reality maybe they made a difference in ours?  There is definitely a lesson to be learned here…. 
We finally reached the hippos, which was a treat.  We we warned by several people not to get too close since they can charge at you so our experience was mainly through binoculars.  Still it was nice.
We culminated our visit to Gambia back at Lamin Lodge where we had to again meet up with Juliano, the crew member we picked up in the Canaries. 
Now we are in Cabo Verde and I hope to write another blog about our experiences here….
Again happy holidays!
Our friends on Mehari

St. James Island- Gambia
People coming to visit on the river
Handy fresh water!
Lunch at lamin Lodge- Gambia
Coming back from a concert in Banjul, feeling young!
Good freinds for ever
Karlita dancing with locals
Scroll down left panel to see prior postings!
FOUNTAINE PAJOT ATHENA 38 CATAMARAN FOR SALE – After our wonderful experience, BEGONIA is ready for its next sailing family – with or without children!  Please contact for more information.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Senegal in Pictures

Saloum Delta, Senegal - Only a six-day sail from the Canary islands but a whole world away!  Senegal is a beautiful country with beautiful people.... it is easier to show you by pictures...  ENJOY!

Scroll down left panel to see prior postings!
FOUNTAINE PAJOT ATHENA 38 CATAMARAN FOR SALE – After our wonderful experience, BEGONIA is ready for its next sailing family – with or without children!  Please contact for more information.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011


Las Palmas, Gran Canaria, Canary Islands – When visiting this capital city, you would never guess you were on an island in the Atlantic Ocean.  Las Palmas is a metropolis – population 400,000 - and once you leave the marina area, you will find yourself strolling down tree-lined boulevards and perhaps getting stuck in a traffic jam.  The “island mentality” does not seem to exist here – especially when visiting the posh Spanish super department store “El Corte Inglés” that sells everything from a leg of ham to automobile parts.  It almost feels like New York City!

Anchored here since last Thursday we have been very happy to meet up with some friends we’ve met along the way – friends who are participating in the ARC (Atlantic Rally for Cruisers) and have come here for the big departure to cross the Atlantic Ocean.  The ARC was started about 15 years ago by an avid sailor named Jimmy Cornell with about 15-20 boats interested in making the trip en masse.  He has travelled around the world a few times, has written some books and decided to create a rally for people to cross the Atlantic all together.  One has to pay to participate, and in return has a transmitter that is constantly giving your position back to the organizers while you cross, radio nets and weather information, an inspector that comes on your boat to see what you might be missing and make sure all the boats are in proper working order.  All boats in the ARC must have a specified list of things onboard to participate, such as a certain type of life vests with harnesses, certain type of life raft, certain type of flares, etc.  Most of all, the ARC gives its participants the peace of mind that someone is looking out for them.  Jimmy Cornell sold off this organization many years ago and now the ARC has as many as 300 participants!

The launch of all the boats was an impressive site to witness.  Music playing, the community out en force as all the boats in the harbor were waiting to take on the Atlantic and reach their final destination of St. Lucia in the Caribbean.  Many of the crew were very professional, all in the same clothing: a “tight ship,” so to speak.  Others were dressed in costumes.  There were sailboats large and small and everyone was in a good mood; everyone except the local businesses, that is, who had enjoyed a large influx of business for the last few weeks leading up to the departure and now hear only crickets.

Those of us not participating in the ARC and anchored out in the harbor decided to have our own celebration on the beach later in the evening.  There are some who feel the ARC can be a little competitive about how big one’s boat is, or how much one has spent on electronics and the latest gadgets, etc.  So, some have named the rest of us the SNARC (= So Not the ARC).  Very funny!  We personally feel though the ARC is a great opportunity for those who may not have a lot of experience to feel more comfortable knowing that someone has their back if they get into any trouble.

The rest of the time here in Las Palmas we have been provisioning, getting our vaccinations and anti-malaria medications, and getting the boat up to snuff before departing to Senegal the day after Thanksgiving.

Prior to Las Palmas we spent about a week on the island of Tenerife with our dear friends Dani and Pablo who flew in from Ireland.  Poor guys had to wait longer than expected for us to get there since we had done an overnight sail the night before to be in Tenerife before their 10:30am arrival.  With no wind all night, we ended up arriving instead at 5pm!  Dani and Pablo were worried since they had been waiting all day and there was no real way to get a hold of us.  They finally saw us only because they were coming back to the marina with the idea to ask for where there was a decent hotel to stay in the area.

Although the weather was not as warm as expected, we still managed to get into the water, spend some time on the beach, sail, eat, drink and be merry.  A funny moment was when we dinghy-ed onto the beach where we did not realize some good waves were crashing down on the shore.   There was silence as we rode the crest and then tumbled down onto the sand and all the nude sunbathers looked on as we lay like beached whales cracking up. 

Tenerife, despite what images this name might conjure up in your head, in our humble opinion, was not the picture of island perfection.  Instead, the parts we visited were miles and miles of condos.  Many of these developments are left unconstructed, so all you see are cement skeletons of buildings.  The restaurants were mainly British.  Not so many “tapas y cañas” (tapas and beer)… lots of pints fish n’ chips.

We did rent a car one day to visit the “El Teidei,” the tallest mountain in the Spanish territories, at 3700 meters (about 10,000 feet).  It was raining and freezing up top and we were not at all prepared for the weather.  There is a tram that takes one to the very peak, but it was actually closed since it was cloudy with zero visibility.

Despite their attempts to return to the cold temps of Dublin all tanned, Dani and Pablo had to accept the fact that the weather was not on their side.  But it still was a good time had by all and we are extremely grateful to have had them visit us.  We are grateful to have such close friends and hope to see them again real soon.

This coming Thursday is Thanksgiving and the sailors have organized a potluck dinner to celebrate.  It will be a good celebration and good-bye to Las Palmas.  We hope everyone has a good Thanksgiving!  It is a good time to count all our blessings.

NEXT STOP:  Dakar, Senegal; leaving this Friday. Estimated passage time: 6-7 days.

Scroll down left panel to see prior postings!
FOUNTAINE PAJOT ATHENA 38 CATAMARAN FOR SALE – After our wonderful experience, BEGONIA is ready for its next sailing family – with or without children!  Please contact for more information.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Drama from Al-Maghreb to Las Islas Canarias

Tenerife, Canary Islands – What would this sailing adventure be like without drama?  Morocco was all about drama in the fact that the landscape, culture, people, language, way of life, etc. was all so foreign to us.  However, we didn’t realize until later that leaving Morocco would also be filled with drama.

Now, I could certainly tell you the simple version that we left the port with some pretty big waves, met some local fishermen and got a little seasick, but that would be boring.  I am convinced you would prefer to hear the version with DRAMA….
We had been kind of “stuck” in the marina in Rabat for two straight weeks as we awaited a good “weather window” but mostly because the marina authorities kept closing the port.  This meant, no boats could come in and no boats could go out.  At first we thought this might be a ploy for the marina to generate more revenue, but the real reason was the wave height and conditions coming in and out of the marina.  As I may have mentioned in the previous blog, the marina was located at the end of a river that feeds into the ocean with no protection.  When there are large waves at the mouth of the river, there is no way for boats to come in or out safely without either crashing into rocks or crashing into the bottom.  We had to see this for ourselves and took a walk toward the ocean one day only to see waves about 20 feet high just crashing relentlessly into the cliffs, etc.  This of course was a hey-day for the surfers who were out en masse, much to the dismay of all of us sailors stuck back at the marina.

Catamarans having shorter depth than mono-hulls do not have to worry as much about water depths so on a day when the waves calmed down a bit, all the cats in the harbor rallied together to convince the authorities to let us leave.  We even had to make a statement on video camera stating that we are leaving by our own free will and will not require help from the marina and that the authorities are not responsible for any damages, etc.  We did all the exit papers and had the requisite dog onboard looking for illegal substances and we were ready to go.  Thus five catamarans –four of them French plus us - left together on the same date for the 3-4 day sail, all of us bound for the island of Graciosa, the furthest northeast of the Canaries.

I should rewind just to mention that I normally put on the anti-nausea patch the night before we are to leave so the scopolamine gets into the system with enough time.  However, since there was so much uncertainty about what ay and time exactly we would leave Rabat, there was no time really for pre-preparation.   There is also the issue that these patches are expensive and difficult to find outside the US so I am very careful not to be wasteful and did not want to put one on if we were not in fact leaving.  This of course has an impact on what will happen later…

So, back to leaving the marina… we were the second boat in the pack of five, so we were able to watch the boat in front of us leaving the river first.  That boat was lead out by the marina authorities in a powerboat.  It did not seem bad at first, until we saw a huge wave (about 15 feet) come upon them… they went up, up, up and then just disappeared DOWN, only their mast to be seen.  Once we saw this I was wondering if we should turn back, but the captain assured me there were only “one or two bad waves” as we were exiting the river and then things would be fine. The fear is of course that the boat would not make it above the crest of the wave, and the wave will crash on top of our boat.  When the boat is climbing the wave, it sure feels you might not make it… but Begonia did!  But not without us holding our breath through the three waves we climbed and went surfing down.

Once out into the ocean we felt invigorated and ready for the sail.  However, the Atlantic is famous for a funny “roll” where the waves hit from side to side instead of front/back.  This rolling motion is what makes many people seasick and almost right off the bat poor little Benjie and I started turning a little green.  We felt this motion all down the coast of Portugal as well, and I gather we will feel it again after leaving the Canaries to the west coast of Africa.

About an hour into the sail, I heard Sebastian jump up and shout an expletive as he realized we went right over fishing net.  He has good reflexes and was able to shut off the motor just in time, but still the net was caught in the sail drive underneath boat.  This net had been strewn right across our path and went for a good 100 feet.  The Captain quickly asked for a knife and started to get ready to jump in the water as I noticed there was a motorboat coming very speedily in our direction.  The other four cats realized we were having trouble and kept calling on the radio.  In broken French I tried to explain what was going on but was not sure they understood.  I had been calmed to know the fishermen were on their way to help only to be surprised when they started yelling at us in Arabic and almost ramming their 15-foot wooden motorboat into Begonia.  Obviously cutting their rope is not good for their business, but truthfully there was no marker for us to have seen their net:  no buoys, no lights, no flags, nothing.  They were very angry – irate, perhaps?  Yelling, gesticulating and ramming.  Sebas went crazy yelling back as we both were trying to push their boat away from ours before they did irreparable damage. 

At some point everyone calmed down, the fishermen kept their distance and Sebas jumped into the water with a mask.  Important note:  when jumping into the water with the boat at sea, always, always use a harness because the boat is still moving, even without the motor running, and one could easily get left behind.  We learned this the hard way as Sebas struggled to get back on.  Good thing he’s a strong swimmer!  As soon as he was onboard, Sebastian put the motors full throttle and we took off as the fishermen continued yelling.

It was a very tense situation and as we took off, I sat down and tears automatically started coming.  Then I looked up and saw Sebas getting the bear mace ready (one of our friends from Evanston, David, an avid hunter, gave us a canister of mace to ward off bears to use for protection, just in case we were in an emergency situation).  Sebastian is usually quite calm in difficult situations so when I saw him do this, I became very nervous.  “What are you doing???”  Then he answered, “They’re coming after us!” Oh my goodness!!!  Of course, everything is running through my head and the fact of the matter is, in the US we are so brainwashed when it comes to this part of the world that I was imagining the very worst.  Very luckily, the fishermen gave up on us and decided it was more productive to try to fix their net than come after us, although some sailors claim the fishermen purposely create conflict out on the water to force people to give them money, etc.  We were very lucky nothing else happened.

Poor Sebastian was wet, freezing cold and salty after jumping into the water and just wanted 10 minutes to run down and take a hot shower.  Of course, as soon as I stood up to take the helm, the nausea set in and I was done for.  I couldn’t even sit up. Shortly afterward poor Benjie came out into the cockpit and got sick too.  He and I spent the entire night laying down in the cockpit passing the bucket back and forth to each other.  Sebastian had to do the night watch all by himself - all salty and cold!  The sea sickness is an inner-ear problem but fear also plays an important role and I think all the variables contributed in this case!

Benjie was still sick on the second day and that’s when you wonder if you’re doing the right thing as a parent.  Making your child suffer.  I mean, this trip was our decision, not his.  We were very thankful when he became his active self again later that evening.  Sofia was as cool as a cucumber and watched movies all day long!  Needless to say, we did not do any homeschooling during this trip.

The entire first night was extremely stressful as we were trying to avoid the nets in the dark (no moonlight even).  After a while our pack decided to sail in a line so the first one could lead the way and we could follow a clear path.  However this became stressful too when one of the French cats behind us was so close it almost ran into us.  AND we kept getting approached by different fishermen’s boats.  In half Arabic half French we did not know if they were trying to help steer us around their nets and lead us in the right direction or if they were mad or asking for money or what?  The only thing they did say in English though was, “Cigarettes?  Whiskey?”   I thought Morocco was a Muslim country and they were not allowed to drink?!

The rest of the trip was uneventful, just uncomfortable with the rolling and I was able to help out a bit more with the watches.  It took us three and a half days and three full nights and we arrived to the anchorage in Graciosa at about 3 in the morning in the pitch black.  Using all our senses and a good flashlight we realized we were the second of our five boat pack to have arrived.  We finally anchored and had a good night’s rest.

The Canary Islands are a set of 9 islands located 50 miles off the coast of southern Morocco and are part of Spain.  This is a customary stop for sailors in the Atlantic and as mentioned in the previous blog, the Atlantic Rally for Cruisers (ARC) meets here in November for all boats to leave together on the 21st to cross the Atlantic.  The islands are very arid and volcanic and the highest mountain in all of Spain is here on the island of Tenerife.  Spanish is spoken with a very different accent here than on mainland Spain.  It almost sounds as if they are Venezuelan!

When we woke up in Graciosa we were pleasantly surprised to see a beach and volcano staring down at us and our first order of business was to get off Begonia and climb to the top.  It was nice to get off, feel the sand through our toes and take it easy while waiting for the others in our pack to arrive.  The day after, the anchorage was flooded with all the other boats (mono-hulls) who had left Rabat a day after us.  After comparing notes and sharing stories, we came to find out that most everyone had a very similar passage to ours… problems with the nets, Arabic yelling fishermen, rolling waves and sea sickness.  One French boat had the entire family sick (two parents and three kids).  They claimed to want to head back to France and cancel the rest of their trip.  A Norwegian boat that also got all tangled (worse than us) and chased down by fishermen harassing them (worse than us).  So, after all, we did not have it that bad.

Graciosa has a cute little town, but it is really primitive, like the pictures you see from the Algarve, or Andalusia from the 40’s and 50’s.  White washed houses, colorful fishing boats, streets covered in sand, outside cafes, etc.  But no ATM and no real market and we were in desperate need of cash and fresh food…. So we planned on heading down to Arrecife.  However, we left sooner than we thought since the wind picked up and all the boats were rocking back and forth.  So much for a good night’s rest:  as soon as daybreak hit we were lifting anchor and so was everyone else in the area.  Mass exodus of sailboats.

Arrecife is a town in Lanzarote that has a municipal/free anchorage that butts up to the town, which is bigger than Graciosa. It is very cute save for the homeless junkie type characters wandering the streets.  This does not keep the tourists away (mostly Brits) but it is a shame and quite surprising that this type of “urban” problem can be found even on a small Atlantic island.

More drama in Arrecife when one day I was down below with the kids cleaning up and Sebastian had just taken off in the dinghy to get the alternators tested.  He was concerned we might have a problem and took the motors apart to take out the alternators.  Of course, Murphy’s Law… I looked out the window and thought “Boy we’re getting a little close to that other catamaran…” when I heard a man’s voice outside yelling, “Hey, you’re dragging!” (“Dragging” means the anchor is no longer holding and the boat is drifting/floating in the water).  Once he said that it seemed that all of a sudden Begonia started really moving since the wind picked up and we were on the loose!  I was running to bow and stern, to port and starboard tying on fenders so our boat wouldn’t not scratch so much as it bumped into things.  Luckily others in the anchorage there quickly realized we needed more help and soon I had four men: two onboard with me and two in their dinghies pushing and pulling and guiding Begonia so it would not ram into the wall.  Unfortunately without the use of our motors, it was more difficult than it should have been.  Our anchor cannot be lifted without the motor being on, and of course you cannot control the boat without the motor, so the fact that Sebas had just taken everything apart make it an extra challenge.  But after about 20 minutes, we had the boat tied up safely to the wall.  Imagine the Captain’s surprise to come back on the dinghy and realize Begonia had moved! 

I was so grateful to all who helped that we went around passing out bottle of wine to each of them.  This type of help is common among sailors and the idea is to always “pay it forward.”  So that same day as Sebas and Benjie were taking a dinghy ride, they came across a French mono-hull with those onboard gesticulating madly at Sebas for help.  Their boat had gone too far into shallow waters and had grounded, so Sebas took a halyard and with the dinghy motor pulled and pulled the boat until he got them unstuck.  They also were very grateful.  Later on in the week, Sebas helped yet another boat who was coming into the anchorage with a broken motor.  So, MacGyver used our dinghy again to help push them into the anchorage.  Always pay it forward!

The next place we visited was another city in Lanzarote called Playa Blanca.  Same sailing crowd, different location.  However, we did finally meet up with a boat called Imagine.  This is a boat from Chicago – a couple with three kids – that has been sailing for three years.  They were sailing west through the Med while our friends in Tinfish were sailing east.  Those two boats met and Tinfish introduced us by email since Imagine would be catching up with us soon.  We tried on a couple of occasions to meet up with them in Spain and Morocco but we were always on different schedules.  We finally met them in Playa Blanca… only to realize that they are friends of friends in Chicago and we had met them about 10 years ago!!!  We even had been to their home and had gone out to dinner with them.  Jane was even in my same book club for a while!  What a small world!!!

All in all… even with drama, we are still have the time of our lives and enjoying meeting new friends.

NEXT STOP:  Tenerife, Canary Islands to pick up Dani and Pablo who are flying in from Ireland.
Contemplating becoming a surfer when I grow older...

Chopping off of the hair:  Phase I

Benj reunites with his buddy....

Love those arabic designs...

Having some typical mint tea in Rabat the day before leaving...

Five cats lined up and going through immigration prior to take-off...

Not feeling so great.... it is best not to even move...

Sofia reading to her bro hoping to make him feel better..

At least the sunset was beautiful...

View of volcano on Graciosa Island in the Canaries, the day after arriving...
Scroll down left panel to see prior postings!
FOUNTAINE PAJOT ATHENA 38 CATAMARAN FOR SALE – After our wonderful experience, BEGONIA is ready for its next sailing family – with or without children!  Please contact for more information.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Here's Looking At You, Kid!

Rabat, Morocco - I have been dying to use this famous Bogie line from "Casablanca," even though we never actually visited Casablanca.  I am hoping that just by the mere fact that we are in Rabat, very close to Casablanca, it counts!

Here almost a week now, we arrived after a very calm, yet foggy 20-hour sail.  In fact it was so foggy leaving Gibraltar, we decided to take a little 3-hour break in Tarifa, Spain before making the cross over the Gibralatar Strait.  The Captain was a little stressed to cross over one of the most major waterways leading into the Med with zero visibility.  Of course, having a radar would help, but we don't!  I was not scared until out of the blue a German sailboat was almost upon us and we all did a quick 180.  It was a good idea to wait it out...

We arrived in Rabat at dusk, just at prayer time.  A beautiful fortress laden canal leads you to the marina, lights just starting to turn on and prayers emanating by loudspeaker out of the main mosques in the city.  It is beautiful music/prayers and we hear them about 5 times a day.  While we do not pray, it does make us stop and take note.... a good break during the day.

This marina is a bottleneck for many of the sailors planning on going back over the Atlantic to the Carribbean.  Since there is a specific season - or window of opportunity - all the boats are basically on the same schedule after each being at different places in the Med for the summer.  There are French, American, Norwegian, Canadian boats here... all with the same itinerary:  Canaries, Cape Verde and cross over.  Each has minor variations on the same theme.  There is a group rally called the ARC, which is a group that one has to pay to belong to.  All boats leave the Canaries together on November 23, so many of the boats here in Rabat are headed to make it for the ARC prior to their departure date.  We have met yet another buddy boat - MEHARI - which is a family of 8 (yes, parents with 6 children ranging from 17 to 1!).  Their catamaran is the size of ours and they happily have been co-existing for almost three years.  Their little baby was born while they were in Israel.  Mehari has the same idea to try to go to the Gambia as well... so I think we will be boating together for the next couple of months at least.  We feel more comfortable if we are not alone in certain parts and two catamarans together makes both Captains feel a little better.

The marina here is quite chic and while in America we have the sense that all the women are covered from head to toe, we have found here in the big city - the capital  - there is a wide variety of how people are dressed.  There are modern areas of town, as well as structures from antiquity that are quite well maintained.

A few days ago the 12 of us (Mehari and Begonia) took a five-hour train ride to Marrakesh.  The ride in itself was an experience, with so many kids trying to get on a crowded train car.  Little by little the locals gave us some space and Miles, the little baby, was a hit among everyone.  In this culture it is common for the women to simply pick up a baby without asking permission. … so at least Miles’ mother had a break and didn’t have to take care of the baby throughout the trip.

The landscape we passed through is very similar to some parts of CA or AZ… in fact, in Marrakesh, some parts even reminded me of Scottsdale!  Once there we met the requisite camels, and went to the main marketplace.  That marketplace is a mixture of sounds, smells, noises… so many stimuli all in one place.  It was a sight to see.  And if you show even the remotest interest in something, the vendors will immediately try to bargain with you.  Everything here is negotiable…. I mean everything… taxi rides, meals, camel rides, water to drink, etc. 

The idea was to stay at a local youth hostel.  Great idea… but the directions for how to get there were very vague:  “from the main square, find the building with a tin roof and go down that alley until you see the pig feet vendor, then make a left to the next alley, until you see a bamboo-covered ceiling, etc.”  Needless to say we got lost for about 2 hours.  A little stressful as it was getting dark, we were with 8 very tired children and there are people galore walking by, pushing, motorcycles passing through very tight spaces at all speeds, bicycles, horse-drawn carriages all while vendors are shouting at you trying to sell. Sebas and I just held onto a kid each and navigated through the (organized) chaos.  There is so much for sale, much of the same products over and over (snake charming services, dancing monkey entertainment, little leather camels, Aladdin-type shoes, lanterns, henna tattoos, etc.) that one has to wonder if all of it sells.  It seemed like years of inventory. 

When the alleys started to get darker and a little more remote, and the people thinned out, we thought it was a better idea if two of the guys went to look for the hostel and we waited for them to come back for us.  We finally made it, only to relax, freshen up and then go out again to eat at an outside “restaurant” at the square.  I kept thinking of Tio Max how he would have loved the chicken, lamb and beef skewers there.  On the way home after dinner, we were able to find the hostel just fine and realized the first time we had done a huge circle within the labyrinth that are these alleyways in Marrakesh. 

The next day we visited the home of a Berber family.  These are an ethnic group here in Morocco that had been known throughout history to be very barbaric with the Arabs.  There is an entire colony in the Atlas Mountains and they have now clicked into the tourist trade by opening up their homes and serving tea.  The particular family we visited had three generations all living together in one mud home.  They had two cows for fresh milk that lived right in the house with them, which the kids really enjoyed plaing with.  They served us the typical spearmint tea, fresh butter, fresh honey and homemade bread.  The bread here is similar in flavor to a baguette, but is shaped in a round shape. 

After this visit we went to some waterfalls a little higher in the mountains and climbed and climbed.  Can you believe that up the mountain there are also vendors selling their wares?  They coud find any random steep incline and make a stall out of it.  On the way back down the mountain we did eat some lamb, chicken and beef cooked in a “tagine” – a clay conical shaped pot that is put directly into the fire.  Delish.  By the time we arrived back in Rabat to the boat, it was past midnight and already Sofia’s 8th birthday!

Sofia had been a little concerned these past few months leading up to her birthday about whether we would be sailing en route to somewhere or stuck without other kids on her big day.  She was very thankful to have her new friends celebrate with her and decided to have a “World” theme to the day.  So, the kids dressed in international garb and we had yet another get together on Begonia.  I made some cheesecakes and since the theme of this entire trip is to “Be Flexible,” we used our imagination, and put 2 of the cakes together to make the figure 8 - perfect!  Sofia was thrilled too to hear from family and friends back home who sent her warm birthday wishes.  Thanks for thinking of her!

We have been very pleasantly surprised by our visit to Morocco.  It is a beautiful country with very happy and warm people.  Having been here over a week now, awaiting another “weather window,” we feel we have gotten a good taste of the country.

NEXT STOP:  Canary Islands, leaving Tuesday or Wednesday of this week for this 3-4 day sail.

Foggy Strait of Gibraltar

Zero visibility

Captain taking a catnap after his early morning watch shift.

Entering Rabat canal

All of us with the water vendor
The Captain with the water vendor -isn't he hot in that outfit?
They said the water tasted like coffee
Playing hide and go seek
Admiring ancient relics
Benjie has a new friend
Beautiful tilework
Scene at the mosque
With Levi

Getting dark, lights welcoming us
Entrance to Rabat medina
Buying fresh dates - We're addicted!
Hassan, tower of biggest mosque in Rabat

Sofia and friends
"Window shopping" at the medina
They sell interesting things at the medina
Tha baby is very popular with the ladies
Kids on the train to Marrakesh
Scene from train
Scene from train
Are we in Scottsdale?
Playing with palms in the desert
Just HAVE to do a camel ride while in Morocco
Too close?
This pottery was to die for
Snake chamers
Tea vendor
Henna vendor
Isn't that the bamboo ceiling we were looking for?
Has anyone seen the youth hostel?
The princess on her 8th
Kids from around the world...
Very happy to get Kammie the Camel.
Here's looking at you, kid!
Happy Bday, Sis!

Scroll down left panel to see prior postings!
FOUNTAINE PAJOT ATHENA 38 CATAMARAN FOR SALE – After our wonderful experience, BEGONIA is ready for its next sailing family – with or without children!  Please contact for more information.