| 9:30 PM local time, Saturday, November 02, (2130 Nov. 2 UTC) 28 28 N 016
14 W. Temp. 77, Humidity 67%, Cloud Cover 0%. At a slip at the Marina del
Atlantico, Santa Cruz, Tenerife, Islas Canarias (Canary Islands), Spain
Warm greetings from the crew of Maverick.
We sailed down the coast of North Africa from El-Jadida on October 24, and
called at Essaouira, another Moroccan coastal city. This was our favorite
city in that country, with a very busy fishing harbor where we could observe
traditional boatbuilding as well as the activities of the fishermen. I say
"traditional" but it's not as though there's some kind of school here of
interest to the nautical historian. It's how they still do it, using a
template or two but mainly just fastening planks by eye to the frames.
Tourists and locals are encouraged to come into the port and deal directly
with the boatmen for the huge variety of their catch, and there are a dozen
or so booths that will cook the fish to order on the spot. I wish I didn't
have to bring this up, but people here were friendly to the crew of Maverick,
as they have been throughout the Muslim world. We flew the flag just like we
do in every port we come to, in accordance with the traditions of flag
As we did in El-Jadida, we visited a local hammam in Essaouira, a public bath
based on the tradition of public bathing going back at least to ancient Greek
and Roman times. The ones we went to were a bit dingy and dimly lit, with
heated walls of ceramic tile. You change into a bathing suit at the entry and
are given a bucket or two. You go through a door and then into a series of
rooms, each one hotter than the one before. Taking water in your bucket from
the very hot and cold taps, you mix to your preference, and sit on the tile
floor and bathe. For an extra fee someone will bathe and massage you. I
passed on that. It was more pleasant than it sounds.
From Essaouira we made the two-day crossing to the Canaries, making landfall
on the small island of Graciosa on the northeast corner of Lanzarote. The
Canaries are volcanic islands at about the latitude of Baja California and
have the dramatically barren look of, say, Death Valley, with an ocean view.
Once you leave the sandy lanes in the town of La Sociedad near our anchorage,
the rest of the island of Graciosa is unencumbered by fences or any other
sign of land ownership, so you can wander to your heart's content. Although
the island has a remote look and feel, it has sophisticated markets and
restaurants, and a fast internet café.
After Graciosa we had a 150-mile sail to Tenerife, another one of the Canary
Islands. We left in a hurry to beat some big seas and strong winds that were
forecast, and the whole way we had 15-25 knots slightly aft of the beam with
three to eight foot seas. It was the best sail we've had since leaving the
Red Sea. We'll stay here for a few weeks and the Captain looks forward to a
visit from Theresa who will fly across the Atlantic, looking down at the two
or three boats already attempting the passage.
Some of our readers, particularly those whose plans include a cruise of
their own in the future, may be interested in the formalities with which a
voyager must comply as he or she travels from port to port. You've heard
about Byzantine regulations, bribes, and dishonest officials who have
absolute authority over the yachtsman. In most countries, in addition to
being held accountable for any damage the boat itself may cause in the harbor
as a result of dragging anchor or a mistake at the helm, the captain of a
boat is responsible for the behavior of his crew when ashore. In New Guinea,
a yacht was seized when a new crew member whom the captain barely knew tried
to buy pot from an undercover agent at a bar in town. The crew was arrested,
and the captain ended up shelling out about $5000 in legal fees to obtain the
release of his boat.
In general, here's what happens: As you approach the new port, you try to
raise the authorities on VHF 16 or another channel specified in the pilot. If
they answer, which happens about 25% of the time, you follow their
instructions. If they don't, you head into the harbor and start looking for
the customs dock or simply anchor until you get some more info, often from
fellow cruisers already there. Sometimes, as in Sri Lanka, where there are
security concerns at the port, the yacht's movements are controlled until
you've checked in, usually by armed personnel who come alongside in a launch
and then come aboard for the preliminary paperwork before you're allowed to
proceed into the harbor. In Australia, they patrol their waters with
overflights and the customs officials aboard the plane contact you on VHF
radio while you're under sail and ask for some details. Usually precautions
are a little less uptight, and you come alongside where instructed or anchor
and wait for the authorities to come to you, or go into their office.
You've hoisted your "Q" flag, which is solid yellow, on the flag halyard
beneath the starboard spreaders prior to entering the port. (The American
flag is flown from a flagstaff at the stern or from the backstay.) The Q
stands for quarantine, and technically the yacht is quarantined until
customs, immigration, the port captain, and sometimes other authorities are
satisfied, so either you can't go ashore or can't go any further than the
officials' offices. When formalities are completed, you replace the Q flag on
the flag halyard with a courtesy flag, which is a miniature flag of the
country you're visiting, and leave it there for the duration of your visit.
In most places you can get away without this (they're expensive, about
$15-$30 US), but we carry them for every country and the vast majority of
yachts do, particularly world cruisers. It's a traditional sign of respect
for the host country, and in some places they demand it.
The formalities consist of presenting a clearance from your last port of
call, the boat document, a crew list, passports, and very rarely, proof of
insurance, and filling out long forms for various officials. About one time
out of ten there is a search of the boat, usually cursory, but in Australia
rather thorough. Rarely, this is an excuse to confiscate cigarettes or
alcohol for the official's own use. In some countries, for example, Sri
Lanka, Indonesia, and Egypt, you can't get away without having an agent do
all the paperwork for you for a non-trivial fee, which includes bribes for
officials although this is not stated. You may be able to do it yourself
without the agent but it will be a major hassle that may take days. Though
I've heard of it, I've never personally known anyone who attempted to get
around the agents in countries where it's SOP.
So there are now ledgers by the dozens gathering dust in the offices of port
officials across the globe that contain Maverick's vital statistics, and
those of her crew.
Yet the process is less odious than you might think and not a major issue, in
my opinion. I wouldn't let it worry you, if you're heading out. It's your
first contact in the new country and most officials are as pleasant and
efficient as can be given their circumstances. In Europe the whole process
has mostly been abandoned once you check into the first EU country.
It is true that in some countries there have been major issues of compliance,
like Australia, where we had to haul out because of a tiny bit of growth on
the hull. And in some we have been hit up for bribes, like the time on the
island of Batam, Indonesia when we ended up in a bathroom handing over $30 in
US bills to an "agent." Egypt is a special case because every port has its
own fiefdom controlled by authorities who not only do not comply with any
written information, or even copies of laws that you may have, they change
the regulations from day to day depending on what they think they can get
away with. The problems we've had along these lines were all between
Australia and the Med, and they were more of an annoyance than anything else.
To put it in perspective, on the whole trip we've paid less for bribes, even
including agents' fees, than it would cost to replace a small self-tailing
winch, say $700. So as far as expenses are concerned, boat repairs are a much
larger part of the budget. Some people just can't accept it, and every once
in awhile it rubs you the wrong way. But it's a little easier to handle if
you know what to expect in advance, as you will, since you'll be in touch
with other cruisers. You could always stay home, you know.
In dealing with officials, you're called the captain, or sometimes, the
master, of the vessel. The first time someone addressed me as the master, it
was rather a pleasant surprise.
"And you are the master?" asked the customs agent.
Hmmm. "The Master," I thought. That has a damn fine ring to it. "The
Master." I paused to contemplate it. Contemplating turned to meditating, and
the meditating turned into a kind of mantra, as I repeated silently, "I am
the MASTER. I am THE master. I AM the master."
The official was drumming his fingers on his desk.
"Sir? Are you the master?"
I stood up and bowed from the waist, dusting the floor with my cap.
"I am he, sir, the very same," I proclaimed grandly.
The official rolled his eyes, which I thought was quite unseemly,
considering he was speaking with The Master.
I left the office in a reverie, contemplating my newfound self. I
resolved to immediately email Theresa, informing her of my new title and
advising her that hereafter, I was to be addressed as "Master," in a manner
not unlike that seen in the old sitcom, "I Dream Of Jeannie."
From the salutation of her response, which was sent back quite promptly,
I could tell that there was some feeling for the issue and that she was quite
happy to negotiate. "Listen to me, you miserable, festering little wart," she
began. You see! A counter-offer. The rest of the letter was admittedly
somewhat less conciliatory, but one must take an opening when it's given.
We're mature adults and we always can work things out reasonably. It was
finally determined that she would excise the word "little" from her proposal,
as she was persuaded by the powerful reasoning that I so often can bring to
bear, that my stature was a given and that pointing it out was a needless
redundancy. The poor dear. She is so enamored of me that I almost always
prevail in disagreements of this sort. I have very little reason to doubt
that down deep, when she's all alone, she always thinks of me as The Master.
But I digress. Departure from a country is, as a rule, the reverse of arrival
and is less difficult, although there are exceptions, particularly in Egypt,
where officials may withhold your papers as a bargaining chip until you pony
up various creative fees they feel like requesting, that differ from boat to
boat depending on what their astrologer says or how expensive your haircut
looks. They held up some people's departures on weird whims, until some boats
missed a weather window to continue up the Red Sea. This meant, after the
papers were finally complete, that the crew would have to extend their stay,
which meant they would have to check back in, which meant they would have to
pay the agent's fees and all other fees all over again-the alternative being,
heading directly out into 35 knots on the nose. They took the 35 knots.
Here in the Canaries, they don't give a groat about your papers. It's become
so much a part of our rituals that now I almost miss it. Nobody even cares
enough about our arrival to put us through a few hoops just to make sure
we're the actual heroes of the legendary Maverick that they've heard so much
about, and not some phonies. Perhaps I'll phone the US embassy, and demand to
be hassled by some local bureaucrats, just to make sure I'm really me.
Next report form this location: "And Your Bird Can Sing"