The Double Feature – with intermission
We've been avoiding overnight passages quite successfully this season. While they are quite enjoyable sometimes, with the occasional treats of phosphoresence, spectacular starry skies and meteorites, the novelty does wear off. The one and two nighters are generally too short to settle into a good sleep pattern and we now of course have the extra crew who loves it... sleeps exceptionally well and is up early waiting to be entertained by us bleary eyed adults.... bless her.
So at the moment, we find ourselves 5 miles off the coast of Morocco in the Alboran Sea. It wasn't really part of the plan to be here. At least not at 4 in the morning. We had crossed to North Africa from Gibraltar a few days ago with the plan to avoid the bulk of the Costa Del Sol and to have a brief change of culture before we stop for a few months near Almeria.
All was going well. We stopped in Smir, which in spite of the amusingly off-hand Moroccan girls in the harbour office who made sure not to let the distraction of paying customers get in the way of their texting, was clean and safe and tranquil. The harbour area wasn't all that interesting for us apart from its setting at the foot of the beautiful Rif Mountains, but Beatrice was delighted to spend almost all our time there hanging around the Customs post, chatting with the officials and playing with Echo, their Alsatian puppy and trying unsuccessfully to stroke any of the numerous daggy stray cats.
We visited the city of Tetuan and were surprised by how relaxed it all felt and also by the fact that we appeared to be the only foreigners in the whole place. So, encouraged by this pleasant and relaxed start we decided to press on to El Jebha. We'd been assured by the police in Smir that it would all be fine but on arrival just before dusk we found the harbour stacked with fishing boats and the locals, including at least one armed official making it pretty clear that we weren't welcome.
In a mixture of sign language and broken Spanish, they seemed to suggest that we could anchor around the corner in a little cove, but the weather wasn't really right for the anchorage so we took a deep breath, switched on lights and pressed on.
Now, cruising along the North African coast at night does carry some concerns. The Rif mountains are the centre of Morocco's kif (marijuana) growing industry and a significant proportion of it seems to be shuttled across to Europe by boat. This, combined with the migrant smuggling trade combine to make this piece of water somewhat busier by night than we would have wished and was making the crew a little jumpy.
As usual, I took the first watch. So from 9pm through 'til midnight I sat out in the warm darkness. I didn't see many lights and whether this is because there were no boats or just that they weren't lit I guess we'll never know. Anyway, I plugged the hard drive into the navigation computer, cranked up “Bladerunner- The Director's Cut” and settled in.
Come midnight, after a few interruptions, I was still watching. We had hit an eddy in the normal East-going current that runs perpetually from the Atlantic into the Med, so our speed was down to below 4 knots. When I finally called the relief watch for our switch over at 12.30 I sensed a certain grumpiness at the lack of progress, but I wasn't going to let that stop me crashing out.... until 1.30 when I was shaken awake to look at the boat (lights) that had apparently circled around behind us and was now shadowing us, matching our speed. There was a slightly nervous half hour while we watched and waited, and wondered exactly what action to take if things went downhill. Happily of course it turned out to be just a fishing boat doing the apparently random stuff that fishing boats often seem to do.
So, it's now 4am and I'm up again with another 3 hours 'til dawn. It's looking like it's going to be a two film night.