Weather – The best time to go along this coast (I think) is in September, after the really hot weather, and before the autumn/winter weather sets in with its big Atlantic swell. The whole coast shelves slowly and is subject to rollers as the sea builds where the water gets shallower. If there is a large swell, DO NOT go towards land. We heard a bad story about a cruising boat that, during bad weather, tried to get into a supposedly all weather harbour (sorry, don’t know which one). At the entrance, they were picked up by a swell, carried down, and hit the sea bottom. The keel was driven through the bottom of the boat, they dismasted, the boat instantly sank, the wife drowned and the husband managed to swim ashore. If in doubt, for heaven’s sakes, STAY OUT!
Starting in Tangier, you need to consider the tides. The range is only about 7 ft max in Tangier, but increases to 10 or 11 feet at Casablanca. Several of the harbours have shallow entrances and/or are shallow once inside.
Charts & Guides – We used the Royal Cruising Club’s “North Africa” by Hans Van Rijn & Graham Hutt. It was accurate for the most part, but some places were out of date.
www.noonsite.com contains some new information but still is pretty sketchy. There were 5 of us cruisers going along this coast, and we formed a little radio ‘net’ each morning, and updated each other with information.
Formalities – Once you check in, the officials tend to want to keep your boat papers and/or passports until you leave.
Fees – Marina fees are payable at Tangier and Mohammedia (about 10 Euros a night). Harbour fees at Al Jadida and Essaouria (about 4 Euros a night). Depends on your length and/or gross tonnage
Baksheesh - No baksheesh was requested except the harbourmaster at Al Jadida, who is well known for this trick. He requested booze. We did not give it to him on principle, so that cruisers behind us would not be expected to give. We did ‘tip’ the young men who helped with our lines at Mohammedia 5 Dirhams each.
Bargaining – There are wonderful craft and rug markets everywhere and we bought lots of souvenirs. As you get further south it seems to get more touristy and therefore the shopkeepers are less enthusiastic about bargaining. We paid no more than ¼ and sometimes 1/10th of the asking price. Just walk away when you have reached your maximum and don’t let them pressure you to increase your last offer. The best towns for bargaining were Tangier and Asilah, and the worst was Essaouira.
The cost of living is very low, and we could get small baguettes or flatbreads for 1 Dirham (15 cents), a big bag of veggies for about 5 dollars, fresh eggs about 90 cents a dozen. A restaurant meal can be had for as little as $2.50 US for roast chicken and chips, or the local dish ‘Tagine’ which is a kind of stew (chicken or beef), a local fish lunch even less.
Language and Currency – The national languages are Arabic and French. Many people don’t speak much English but you can get by if that’s all you speak.
The currency is the Dirham. At the time 10 Dirhams = 1 Euro = $1.13 US
Boat Stuff –
Fuel– available by jug or pump or donkey cart, at all harbours, as there are many fishing boats to service. We fueled up in Gibraltar including all our jerries, so had enough to get us down this coast, so we did not need to check price.
Propane – Camping Gaz is widely available and dirt cheap. We made an adaptor so we could drain the Camping Gaz into our American-style tanks.
Water – Easiest to get at Tangier - available at the dock by their hose for a small fee. Reported by other cruisers to be drinkable.
It is also easy (and free!) on the docks at Mohammedia – by your own hose. There is no water shortage at Mohammedia so you can get all your washing done, and wash down the boat.
I would under no circumstances make water in any of the harbours – they are all very dirty and full of diesel sludge.
Repairs & Chandlery -
No facilities in Tanger, Asilah. Limited repairs and emergency haul out may be possible in Mohammedia and Essaouria. The people here are very resourceful, so basic mechanical and engineering work could be found I am sure. But there is no specific expertise on special ‘yacht’ things like refrig, electronics, canvas work and rigging.
Provisioning – Tangier, Mohammedia, Casablanca, Al Jadida and Essaouria are all big cities and probably have lots of supermarkets but we didn’t look. We were already all provisioned. There are basic fresh markets – fruits, veggies, fish, meat and chickens, eggs, spices, olives and dates - and bakeries in every town. We saw no fresh milk & some local soft cheese only. It is so cheap to eat out that you will not need to eat into your provisions.
Laundry – get out your buckets.
Fishing – 15 miles off the Atlantic coast of Morocco are reports of lots of good fishing – dorado (we caught a couple), tuna & marlin. Close inshore there are lots of floating and sunken nets – lit at night with strobes but very thick and hard to avoid. Sometimes there is a man posted there in a boat who directs you around the end of the net. There are nets marked with sticks & flags during the day, fewer in number, but keep a sharp eye out. The local guys in Asilah fish for shark a lot – so don’t fall overboard!
Note – most of the harbours here see very few yachts. There is very little room, and they exist primarily for the fishermen and cargo boats. If you travel in a group, make sure it is at the most 3 of you, or you really will overwhelm the ports with your numbers. We kept in touch with the cruisers ahead of us and moved when those ahead of us moved, so that there was room for all.
Tanger - 35’ 47.238 N / 5’ 48.322 W (dock) – check in no charge, keep your passports & boat papers & issue shore pass. Charge 75-100 Dirhams (9US) per night to go alongside to dock (put fenders very low) or other boats depending on space available. No place to anchor. Room for about 9 boats all rafter to each other. Water is extra, or no charge if small amount. No electricity.
Put up your yellow flag. The officials will come to you, usually within minutes, are very polite, professional and request no baksheesh. They don’t like it too much if you go and try to find them, so try to be patient if they don’t come right away.
ATM’s to the north of the harbour at the ferry dock – look for a white circular low-roof which houses the banks & money changers. Euros are also accepted most places.
Internet cafes are all over the place. Tourists are common here so (women especially) you don’t have to worry too much about covering up. But women probably will be more comfortable in long pants or Capri pants and covered shoulders instead of shorts and skimpy top.
Asilah –35’ 28.279 N / 6’ 02.114 W - 10 ft sand (anchorage). C-Map was close but not exact. The entrance is easy to see. Anchor within the harbour amongst the little fishing boat moorings (take out a stern anchor to limit your swing and keep you out of the ‘channel’). Or go alongside the wall if room, or raft up to 3 deep to the big fishing boats along the wall. If you give your neighbouring fishing boat a pack of cigarettes, you will have all the fish you want! This is a very small harbour – room for 3 yachts max to raft, and another 3 to anchor, I’d say. Try to arrive at high tide – we still saw 3 meters minimum in the entrance t mid-tide. The fishermen leave this harbour in the winter and go up to Tanger because the swell is too much even for them – so consider this if you arrive along this coast late in the year.
The officials will come to you, very friendly, no charge, no baksheesh.
The Medina (old town) is beautifully clean and attractively painted and decorated, with wider streets than the Medina in Tangiers. The people are fantastically friendly. There are lots of places to buy beautiful Moroccan crafts. Sailboats are a rarity (about 10 a year) and they really love to have you here. This is a big tourist town for the Moroccans and they are used to seeing foreigners. August is their big month, so for us being there in September it was nice and quiet, and bargaining was easy.
We saw no tunny nets between Tangiers & Asilah like the guidebook warned (but we sailed during the daylight hours), just lots of little fishing boats and the odd fish trap float within the 100 foot contour.
Asilah to Mohammedia – We heard reports from cruisers ahead who sailed the rhumb line from Asilah to Mohammedia (12 nm from shore, depth 200 m or less). Once the sun went down, the sea became was thick with fishing boats, nets and traps all lit with various colours of strobe lights. It was impossible to tell who belonged to which nets, and did not make for a happy time. One cruiser got tangled three times in nets. The fishermen in Asilah told us they fish up to 60 km (32 nm) from the shore.
Therefore, we stayed out at the next depth contour during the night – about 22 miles offshore – and the only fishing we saw were big, slowmoving longliners (which tended to fish in convoy), and a couple of big freighters – well lit and easy to avoid.
Mohammedia – 33’ 42.796 N / 7’ 23.943 W – 7-16 ft (dock). C-Map was accurate but the inner breakwall showing as ‘under construction’ does not exist. We had almost no wind and yet there was a 1 ½ meter swell as we neared within a couple of miles of the coast. I think this is normal along this coast. The swell seems like it can get huge, judging by the height of the breakwalls!
We approached the far southwest corner of the harbour, where the marina is. Someone came out in an inflatable and asked us how deep our draft and how long we wanted to stay. All in French – the people here speak very little English. 2m is the maximum draft they can take. If you draw more, you can stay depending on the state of the tide, but they don’t seem to want you to be here if you will be resting on the bottom – maybe a danger to other boats if you list? So they might only allow you to stay a day or two depending on the tide If a club member returns and wants his slip back, you will have to leave. They seem to know in advance so don’t worry, you will get warning.
The docks are bow-or stern to, with laid lines you pick up at dockside and run to the other end of your boat as a mooring line. There are dockhands to help and you feel like a celebrity – everyone is smiling and welcoming. But maneuvering is very tight and areas are shallow – just go slow and you will be OK.
A short walk to the security gate, we filled out a paper and left our passports and boat papers. The officials come back to the boat sometime (next day or so) with your passports back, they retain your boat papers till you leave.
There is free water, showers and electricity. 10 Euros or 100 Dirhams ($11 US) a night no matter what length you are.
If they have room for you to stay, Mohammedia is a good safe place to leave the boat for trips inland. Fez is 4 hours away by train and Rabat close by. The trains are very inexpensive, clean and in good repair. Renting a car is affordable and the roads safe.
Casablanca – We were headed into the port when we heard a call on the VHF from another cruiser. The Port Control really discouraged them from coming in, saying there was only an exposed anchorage outside the inner breakwater available, and recommended he go to Mohammedia instead. So we altered course back to Mohammedia. We also heard that another cruiser went in and stayed, but were not given a good reception.
The harbour is undergoing reconstruction and the Yacht Club is closed and being reconstructed. A sailboat can still go in there for shelter, but they are really a big commercial port and obviously not set up right now for small cruising boats.
El Jadida - 33’ 15.394 N / 8’ 29.956 W Anchored 9-19 ft (spring tide) Black sticky oozy dirty mud.
C Map is not accurate so be careful. The longitude scale is close but the latitude for the entrance is too far south on the chart than where it really is.
The entrance is 33’ 15.373 N / 8’ 29.750 W so you can check your C-Map.
We had 15 knots of NW wind and a 2 ½ meter swell out in deep water, but it did not get much worse inshore like we thought it would. I think it could be bad, though with a swell and high winds.
Approach at 220 degrees like the cruising guide says. North of the breakwall is all reef. South of the entrance is shoal. Once through the entrance, wave at all the young men shouting “Welcome” to you and come into the harbour itself. Head either a 90 degree turn to port and tie up alongside the big fishing boats on the west wall, or go to port 45 degrees, just past that west wall and anchor north of all the little fishing boats on moorings. Don’t go too far to the west towards the big walled fort – it shallows quickly, the bottom is rocky and it dries at low tide.
Go find the harbourmaster, customs, immigration and port police to do the paperwork. They are suspiciously, unbelievably friendly but I think they are for real.
Harbour fees are about 2.40 Dirhams (.26 cents US) per gross ton per day whether anchored or tied alongside.
It is a dirty harbour. But your boat is safe and sheltered here for you to leave and do land tours. Marrakech is a 2 hour bus ride and trains go to the other major cities. You are supposed to hire a babysitter to stay on your boat to ensure its safety while you are away. It makes me wonder about the safety of this port but I think it’s just to keep the kids from playing on your yacht.
There is a big supermarket, a couple of smaller ones, the usual Medina, fresh market and bakeries as well as the usual inexpensive restaurants. The old city in the Portuguese fort is interesting and has lots of little tourist craft shops. There were no tourists, so bargaining was easy.
Jorf Lasfar – The port police at Al Jadida could not say enough bad about this harbour. He told us it was dirty, smelly and the air is full of phosphate dust from the ships, and there is no town there or nothing to do ashore.
We did not go there because we did an overnighter, but a couple of other cruisers stopped there for an overnight anchorage (to shorten the distance to Safi) and had no troubles. Just anchored inside the breakwall for the night.
Safi – reports are that the harbour is better than expected, some excess bureaucracy to get checked in, but just go with the flow. The town is reported to be nice. We did not stop here.
Essaouira – The entrance to the bay, between the breakwall and the island as described in the cruising guide is good and deep. We entered with a 2-2 ½ meter swell and lots of wind, at dead low tide, and had lots of depth
Anchored outside the harbour breakwall at 31’ 30.380 N / 9’ 46.420 W
15-25 ft red sand mud. There is room inside the harbour itself for 5 or 6 boats depending on what other fishing or police boats are in there. The anchorage outside the harbour is fine, if sometimes swelly, and lots of room. Essaouria is the windsurfing capital of Morocco, so that tells you its usually pretty windy here. We had 15-20 knots all the time, and a squall of 30-40 knot southerlies for a couple of hours.
The town is interesting, and the specialty here is woodcarving. There is also interesting African art and musical instruments (like drums) sold here. But there are loads of European tourists, so bargaining is not easy.
Agadir - was reported to be unbelievably dirty, with the harbour full of sewage and about 500 fishing boats - yet major fancy hotels for the rich and famous there. Call on 16 to the Port Control and ask permission to come alongside the commercial dock for clearance. Charge 8 Euros a night. Can anchor off the yacht club. Leave the dinghy at the Yacht Club pontoon. Water and good provisioning available. We did not stop here.