By the time readers get to see this article the 2019 Gibraltar – Morocco Yacht Rally will be underway. For the first time ever the destination for the rally is the brand spanking new Tanja Marina Bay facility in the heart of Tanger. Don’t despair if you can’t take part in the rally. Come next year or indeed head out alone as I did last November.
Whether you depart from the excellent and still relatively new Alcaidesa Marina at La Linea, as the rally flotilla will do, or from one of the two marinas in Gibraltar here are some navigational pointers.
Firstly select a period of neap tides for your departure from Gibraltar. Departing with a spring tide will make the passage so much more difficult. Plan to leave at HW Gibraltar. This should give you three hours of west going tide before it turns into an easygoing foul tide. The currents in the Straits of Gibraltar are complex but there is an overriding pattern of 3 hours of an easterly flow and then 6 hours west. In summer the current can run as fast as 3.5 knots as cool Atlantic water flows in to replace water lost by evaporation in the Eastern and Central Basin of the Mediterranean.
The winds in the Straits are predominantly east (Levante) or west (Poniente). One leg to and from Tanger is bound to be an upwind leg. In case of a Poniente be prepared to make a series of short tacks within the inshore traffic zone along the Spanish coast. If Levante then you will have a downwind run also parallel to the Spanish coast. Be sure to rig a gybe preventer as the hills either side of the Straits can “bend” the wind in subtle ways and catch out the helmsman. An unexpected gybe can be dangerous and even cause a dismasting.
The next question is when to head south for the Moroccan coast? The main consideration here is the traffic situation in the Straits. Always make a dash across when you see a clear gap in the traffic situation. The Straits of Gibraltar is one of the busiest shipping routes in the world. Large container ships and tankers are constrained by their manoeuvrability and their legal obligation to stay within the Straits of Gibraltar Traffic Separation Zone lanes. Remember that vessels crossing the TSZ lanes need to do so with a heading (not course) at right angles to the traffic lane. Use all the means at your disposal to maintain a good watch using Radar, AIS, hand bearing compass and your Mark 1 eyeball! I would recommend going past Tarifa in either a Levante or Poniente so as to make a fast beam reach dash direct into Tanger Bay. Be aware of the fast ferries that run between Tarifa and Tanger Ville (the port in the heart of Tanger itself).
I hope I have not discouraged you from sailing to Tanger. For a start you will surely be accompanied by dolphins and may be lucky enough to spot tuna, turtles, Orcas, Pilot Whales and maybe even Fin and Sperm Whales. Vessels in the western Straits are requested to not exceed 13 knots so as not to hit Sperm Whales. Keep a sharp lookout and reduce speed if you are a fast motor yacht.
What of Tanger itself? You will dock at the new Tanja Marina Bay facility. On arrival contact the marina on VHF channel 9 for instructions. It is a requirement to check in at the reporting berth to clear formalities before being assigned a berth. The facilities at Tanja Marina Bay are excellent, secure and the marina staff very helpful. The official bureaucracy is a little bit more tedious than you may be used to but the wait is worth it as Tanger city is about to reveal its charms.
When you leave the main entrance to Tanja Marina Bay (i.e. with the marina behind you) turn right walk about 500 metres before crossing the road and heading up a ramp into the heart of the old Souk. Inside the souk your senses will be assailed by the smells, noises and tastes of a millennial Arab bazaar. Bargain to your heart’s content your starting price should be at around 50% of the asking price! However, do not start bargaining unless you intend to buy. The souk traders are there to make a living not to provide entertainment!
Visit the American Legation Museum. The legation is an elaborate Moorish style building of stuccoed masonry. This complex structure contains the two-story mud and stone building presented to the United States in 1821 by Sultan Moulay Sultan The first property acquired abroad by the United States government, it housed the United States Legation and Consulate for 140 years, the longest period any building abroad has been occupied as a United States diplomatic post.
Tanger Bay beach is spectacular but it is nothing compared to the wide beaches bathed in Atlantic rollers on the western coast of Morocco. The best way to see these is to take a tour or taxi to Cape Spartel. There you will also be rewarded with a visit to the Caves of Hercules.
Tanger was a hive of spies during the Second World War and the Cold War. Its closeness to Gibraltar and its strategic position as the western gateway to the Med made it irresistible to the spooks. Its liberal and warm hearted inhabitants have been welcoming Phoenicians, Greeks, Romans and Arabs now it’s your turn to discover its secret charms.