I must admit, I was a little bit scared of Morocco. Only thanks to Lena, we travel Morocco at all. She had spend several months of traveling through Morocco, hanging out with the locals. But this was back in the early nineties.
I was visiting Tanger in 1992 for ONE day. I found myself overwhelmed by the people, the smells, and the chaos. I could not enjoy the playful scams of the tour guides, shop owners and street boys. All these little plays they had designed to extract some Dirhams from tourists and travelers. The border crossing and customs declaration it self was great entertainment, performed by a dozens of Moroccan officers in theater uniforms in the old fisher harbor. The boat got first searched for guns and drugs. After it was declared clean, a gun man with a machine pistole was ordered in front of our boat. It was just ridiculous stressful, and not a lot of fun. In the evening we left Tanger already.
Today Tanger has changed beyond recognition. And I am more than twenty years older and much more relaxed. Tanger is still has the Medina with the scamming guides, but this time we could deal with it differently. Yes – we run in such a well-thought and playful scam. We got a little carpet – asking price was 350€, we closed at 50€. Probably still overpriced, but it is worth the experience.
Tanja Marina (Tanger)
Approaching Tanger is straight forward, and now I would do it even in 40kn. The breakwater of the Tanja Marina is sheltered by the breakwater of the fishing harbor. The reception pontoon is a floating pontoon, the marine staff helps with the line handling. Check-in is straight forward: Boarder police, customs and marina reception is in one building. After filling an entry form per person, the passports are copied and manually entered into their system, and returned immediately. Customs paid a short visit to the boat without a big search. There was no check performed at all for Vu, our dog.
Tanja Marina was used as deep water harbor before.The infrastructure is brand new (water, electricity, WIFI) – the staff is (without exception) in their early thirties, always friendly and helpful, but ‘learning the job’. Don’t expect any support from them while maneuvering into the berth. There is no Marinero with a RIB, don’t expect any help.
We don’t have a bow-thruster and had to get ARGO out of the berth using several ropes – against the wind. And I have not seen around any rigger, sailmaker, boat electrician or engine mechanic whatsoever. This applies to entire Morocco, as we learned later. Repairs are better done in Spain mainland or the Canaries.
The moorings are not well fixed to the ground and suspicious of dragging – be careful, double check before you leave the boat and use a lot of fenders. And be skeptical to your Moroccan fellow leisure mariners – our neighbor was bumping into our boat while backing up into the berth.
Once the boat is in the berth, it is save. The security standards are very high, cameras are all around and security staff is in the marina 24/7. It is almost impossible for a Moroccan land-lubber to get near the pontoon. Showers are clean and to Western standards. You can walk easily to Super Markets, bakeries, rent-a-car stations and – of course – the Medina. All the fun is compatible to the budget of a cruiser family: We paid for one week in the marina all inclusive 180€.
Coastal navigation in Morocco
Cruising at night down the Moroccan coast is different – compared to the Mediterranean – in two main aspects: tides and fisher boats. The harbors at the Atlantic coast can only be entered with high water (spring difference is about 2,50m). Tide southerly currents vary between 0,5 to 1 kn in the North.
The notorious Moroccan fisherman you will meet in the proximity of settlements well above 10sm offshore at night. The majority carry lights. But sometimes you might have a radar echo and hear the engine but cannot see any light. What I found special: I have not seen a single red or green side lantern. So you never know their heading or if they have their gear out. None of the 20+ fishermen we met at night carried an AIS. Using the radar from time to time is almost inevitable for coastal navigation in Morocco.
Fishermen with nets all around we only have seen very close to the shore. Their boys are visible in day light, but only the vessel carries a flashing light in white or red.
Marina Bouregreg is one of the two on the Moroccan Atlantic coast. The access to the marina is through a river, which makes navigation difficult. The approach is only possible in calm conditions; if waves are higher than 2m, the authorities close the port, even for several days. The pilot waited for us between the breakwaters, this is a service of the marina free of charge. The fairway is not marked at all, and there are old breakwaters, invisible during high water. Check-in was again friendly and straight forward for us, since we don’t carry drones or weapons.
The infrastructure is new as well. The boats are tied to swimming pontoons, so no moorings or the like. The marina is part of a western-style development.