Why go cruising in North Africa? If you own a yacht and are considering sailing in the Mediterranean, then why not cruise the North African coast? Yes, it has some challenges, but if you’ve cruised the Spanish coast and the Balearics, you will know that coast has its challenges too – for example finding a mooring inthe summer months. It is quite different in North Africa.
Along the African coast, prevailing winds in summer months are generally from the easterly quadrant, and in winter months usually from the west. The autumn is a particularly good time of year for cruising this coast, when the winds are turning to the west and the air is not as hot and humid as in the summer – there tends to be more breeze and less motoring if you are a sailor. The wind direction better suits an east-going route in this season.
Tangier is the first port of call as you enter the Straits of Gibraltar approaching the Pillars of Hercules. It is a tourist trap and finding a berth is not easy. About ten miles south of the Straits is the development of Marina Smir, Morocco. Part of a fading tourist centre, it has plenty of space (even square riggers) and a decent travelift and maintenance facilities. If you’ve never seen a camel in a marina, then you might see one here. Fuel is very cheap compared to the EU.
M’Diq, is about 5 miles along the coast, with a local market, butchers and fishmongers.Alcohol can be bought, but with difficulty. It is a male-orientated society and public ladies’ toilets can be hard to find.
There are several small harbours within a day’s sail of Smir, but Smir is a port of entry. Ceuta nearby, and Melilla (120 mls away) are enclaves under Spanish control and part of the EU.
The Moroccans are not very keen on your anchoring – you really should get permission first in port.
Next to Morocco, heading east, is Algeria. Few people cruise there as there are political problems and the coastline is strictly controlled. You could take a leg up from Smir to say, Almeria in Spain.Hopefully, the situation will improve in the near future as I’d love to cruise there. Whichever way you go, there will be plenty of shipping to keep you on your toes.
Tabarka is the first port after you have passed Algeria, just 8 miles over the Tunisian border. It has a magnificent Genoese fort guarding its approaches. The marina, adjacent to the town, is somewhat run down, but the people are very friendly. Now you meet the ‘bakhsheesh’ culture – basically a ‘present’ for services rendered. For example a policeman will ask quietly if you have ‘something to present to him’. Cheap whisky or cigarettes – they can all be given. Avoid giving cash if you can.
Further along the coast from Tabarka, the marina at Bizerte has been closed for redevelopment, and should be open for the 2012 season, subject to the political issues. A friend visited in late2011, and told me that the baksheesh culture was still prevalent.
Next, Sidi Bou Said. It is close to Tunis, and the Presidential Palace is close by the marina. The ruins of Carthage are close by and well worth a visit – truly a great sense of history there. Tunis is only a short train ride away – a modern city but with lots of souks and a great sense of French colonial history.
This is not a ‘cheap’ marina, though costs in general along this coast are much less than in Italy . There are French-style supermarkets, and wine and beer can be bought.
Further south from the Gulf of Tunis are Monastir and Sfaxx. The Tunisians as did the Moroccans invested heavily in marinas, though some are not now quite as glossy as when new. Boatyard facilities are good and hauling out is much less expensive than in say Malta, so it is a good location to winter.Need a break from the sea? You can always take a trip into the Sahara on a camel!
I cruised this coast during my research for Cause of All Causes, Sicilian Channel and Sword of Allah. My research for these books also included Malta, Greece and Sicily – but that’s another story.
© 2011 James Marinero