Entering Essaouira is not for the faint-hearted or deep-keeled.
The channel is tiny and shallow but luckily well-described by the pilot book. As Essaouira is an active commercial fishing port, the only place for a sailboat is to tie up alongside the 30-foot Essaouira Sailing Tour boat, run by a very nice guy named Saeed and his English-speaking sidekick Omar. The wind rips inside the breakwater but the harbor is very protected.
After tying up we had to visit the Port Authority, the police station, and the harbormaster, to fill out slightly different forms in each office. Everyone was friendly and we particularly liked the guy from the Port Authority. The harbormaster kept the boat's registration, to be returned on our departure.
Essaouira is Morocco's windy resort town and a big draw for kiters and windsurfers, i.e. Nate. As soon as we had finished our official business Thursday morning he was on deck with a harness and board shorts ready to make moves. We did a preliminary wander through the market then headed to Explora, the windsurf outfit Nate had contacted from home.
The walk down the beach felt like traversing a desert, with wide swaths of sand, blazing sun and ripping wind. There were even a few camels to complete the picture. It's definitely not a sunbathing destination but a windsports paradise.
Nate organized a surf trip up the coast for Friday and a rental for that afternoon. Ben and I parked it in a cafe and spent the afternoon drinking mint tea and eating paninis and french fries. After feeling like the only tourists in the city of Rabat, Essaouira brought a strange onslaught of Europeans.
At the recommendation of our new friends from Explora, we ate dinner at Restaurant Beldy in the souk and were not disappointed. The tajines and couscous were excellent!
Friday Nate went north to Mouley for wave sailing and Ben and I went to explore the market, which is a World Heritage Site. It's a network of tiny alleys that connect big open courtyards, all surrounded by thick battlements and cannons. While Rabat's market if full of amazing pottery, Essaouira's is all about the woodwork. After careful searching and comparing, Ben found some beautifully polished wooden boxes with inlaid designs on their lids. I got a really cool leather bag and then Ben had to get one too.
Haggling in Essaouira is more intense and also more fun. The mantra of "no problem" is so ubiquitous we caught ourselves using it too. "I'll give you a democratic price" was another of our favorites and we joked that if the price was really democratic we would have out-voted the seller each time.
The fog rolls in thick in the evenings, leaving everything on the boat damp and requiring us to wear sweaters and sweatshirts to dinner. It reminded me of the poem about fog rolling into a harbor on little cat feet, especially apt in a place so covered in kittens. Walking through the fish market every time we went to the boat was interesting to see but left me wishing for a proper shower!
Saturday morning we did a final weather check then prepared for sea. There was a small system developing and we wanted to get out while we still could. We also had a new neighbor, a nice German guy with a catamaran, and we didn't want to take the pressure of another boat blowing us onto Saeed's boat for too long.
Apogee, in the center.
We told the authorities of our departure and put together a goody bag of cigarettes, wine and dirhams for our friends Saeed and Omar. I did one last market burn to get rid of the last of our dirhams and got some mint tea to bring home and a small leather duffel.
Ben, our friend from the Port Authority, Nate, Omar, and Saeed.
Morocco was amazing but we're happy to be headed somewhere we can dry out and not have to pay everyone we meet. So long Africa, Apogee standing by on VHF 16!
There were a few of books we found helpful in Morocco:
Lonley Planet Morocco by James Bainbridge, Alison Bing, Helen Ranger, and Paul Clammer. Lonely Planet, 2011. (This one had particularly helpful maps of individual cities!) Courtesy of Lonely Planet.
Fodor's Morocco, 5th Edition by Fodor's Travel Publications. Fodor's, 2012. Courtesy of Julia and Sam Thompson.
North Africa: Morocco, Algeria, Libya and Tunisia Including Gibraltar, Pantelleria and the Pelagie Islands and Malta, 4th Edition by Graham Hutt and the RCC Pilotage Foundation. Imray, 2011. Courtesy of the Cruising Club of America.