Gladlee of Guernsey
April 1993 – May 1993
27th – 30th April 1993
Tabarka marina turned out to be part of a major local tourist development, thus the subject of much attention from politicians and senior officials. The marina director was clearly more occupied with PR than actually getting the place into commission, and he and the local tourism director lapped up Nigel’s pitch of updating the pilot (Oz Robinson’s letter of recommendation was taken off and photocopied): Nigel was even lined up to meet the Minister of Tourism, who was due to call in that afternoon. Bill and Linda of “Jubilee Lady”, who had wintered there, were less than complimentary about the set-up: the director wouldn’t listen to advice, and the harbour was inadequately equipped to cope with yachts (particularly in winter gales, which made the main quay untenable). Certainly the preparations for sinking permanent moorings looked horrendous, with totally inadequate chain and lines: Nigel said as much to the director (as well as rewriting the dismal translation into English of the marina’s welcome brochure) but didn’t have much confidence in the latter’s assurances that he knew what he was doing. Meanwhile the heavens opened for most of our first day, and the Tourism Minister lingered only for a few minutes as the rain beat down. Next day was brighter and breezy, so we went into the pleasant little town for a food shop, meeting the amiable “Saudi”, small shopkeeper who’d lived some years in England, and discovering some unfamiliarly good meat in the local butchers: we started to feel that we were back in rather more comfortable surroundings! After lunch we strolled up through pine trees to the top of the island, near the citadel, with lovely views across the bay and out towards the Îles Galite, from which we watched a French schooner returning – the family on board turned out to have been there for a week and brought glowing reports (they were off back to the island after restocking). Bill and Linda came over for a drink later, and after dinner we walked up to a hotel behind the village to watch England’s dismal World Cup draw with The Netherlands.
The weather still looked unsettled in the morning. Nigel made fruitless enquiries of the local diving club about hiring some kit so that we could take a look at the prop shaft, which had developed a rattle, while Julie finished off a large load of washing. Then into town, where we treated ourselves to lamb chops, a fillet of beef (to hang for a bit) and sardines for lunch. A stroll along the beach in the afternoon ( and tarry shoes as a result), then drinks on “Jubilee Lady” – and the next day was only more notable for our visit to the weekly market on the edge of town, where we picked up huge quantities of vegetables for next to nothing (one cheerful vendor insisted on our taking 2 kilos of chicory instead of the one we paid for – enough for a month or so for the two of us!)
1st – 6th May 1993 - With a more promising weather forecast we’d decided to head for Îles Galite – “Jubilee Lady” likewise, and they had left by the time we got going just after 08.30. With a light westerly wind most of the way we sailed on and off in warm sunshine, eventually overhauling Bill and Linda, who’d taken a rather eccentric loop of a course well to the east – we saw dolphins and an Audouin’s gull on the way, and the rattle from the ‘P’ bracket area, sounded distinctly worse. The French schooner was already at anchor in the bay on the S side of Galite, and we and “Jubilee Lady” anchored a couple of hundred yards apart on the other side: the weather was looking unsettled again, but the surroundings were certainly attractive. The small coastguard post ashore sent an inflatable out with a couple of bods to check our papers, and we were solemnly warned that we might accept, but on no account buy, fish from the fishing-boats using the bay (meanwhile Tabarka marina had been trying to contact “Jubilee Lady” by VHF – they hadn’t checked out with police etc. – and we undertook to pass on the message, which Bill predictably and correctly ignored (!) Swell picked up during the night, as the wind backed south.
The following day brought rain, wind and even thunder. The French schooner put into the tiny harbour, and we eventually followed, as much as anything to have a bit of calm water in which to check out the propeller (nothing obviously wrong, at first sight). Eventually fishing-boats started to put in, and we decided we’d be safer out at anchor: the issue was decided by an officious coastguard who announced that we shouldn’t have gone into the harbour without permission (“this isn’t a marina”) – Nigel gave as good as he got on that one, given that the CG hadn’t bothered to tell us as much the previous evening! Afternoon out in the swell was decidedly unpleasant, however, as we watched “Jubilee Lady” pitching badly close by and exchanged commiserations via VHF. After a roughish night first light brought showers and the odd gust, but the sea had flattened out and by breakfast-time we even had sunshine. After some hull-scrubbing in the morning we invited Bill and Linda over for a barbecue: the last of our chicken and steak, Julie’s coleslaw and Linda’s salad “mess”. Later we dinghied ashore and climbed up through the derelict village (originally settled by Italians from Ponsa) to the plateau above and across the saddle to the far side: cultivated land gone wild, with only a few cattle and sheep to be seen, fine sea views and some birds to catch Julie’s interest. The relatively good conditions lasted through the following day, and we had another pleasant run ashore, followed by more diving under the hull – rattle traced to rope cutter bearings and we managed to get a good deal of slime off the underside. Julie put fishing lines out and caught a couple of annular bream – not the most brilliant of eating fish, but they came out quite well on the barbecue for supper as the wind and swell picked up again: we had another bumpy night.
We were up early, thinking perhaps of leaving for Bizerte, but after some uncertain wind we watched a big ketch leave its overnight anchorage and make quite heavy weather of getting out of the bay: they eventually seemed to be making no better than SE x S, so we concluded that the wind was no good for us. The barometer was dropping, and by mid-afternoon we were getting gusts of over 30 knots across the anchorage: we put out the kedge, and the wind promptly dropped, with rain setting in. By late evening the wind had died completely, and the swell was rolling I again. Our fifth day at anchor was cloudy and showery again, with a strongish easterly airstream until mid-afternoon, when there seemed to be a promising shift round towards the west. Meanwhile our regular VHF chats with “Jubilee Lady” continued (they hadn’t managed to get ashore at all), and we discovered that while we were getting short of gas, they were a bit low on diesel – the logical answer was to swap, so Bill rowed a gas bottle across and took back a can of fuel. The omens looked reasonably good for the following morning, so we got the kedge in (and later premiered Julie’s chick pea casserole…)
7th – 9th May 1993 - Up at 05.00, the conditions a bit murky, with showers and the odd gust, but from the west – by 06.00 we were out of the bay and having a farewell chat with “Jubilee Lady” on VHF ( we were to meet again in Malta). Once we’d organised breakfast and taken stock generally we rigged up the whisker pole and set the genoa, making a steady 4-5 knots in WNW 4/5. Later in the morning we got a slight wind shift and managed to hoist and goose-wing the main, which took us another four hours and 18-odd miles under a clearing sky to Cap Bizerte. Here, as so often, we turned south for the port as the wind freshened, and we had considerable difficulty getting the sails down in up to 30 knots of wind. Arrived at the yacht moorings we were persuaded by the HM to try backing in to the quay, but in a fresh cross-wind and with stray lines about this proved disastrous and eventually several helpful bystanders dragged us off someone’s anchor warp and on to the empty outer pontoon: our first encounter with “Shelley”, from Hamburg. (Earlier we had encountered a marvellously playful school of four dolphins, the senior of whom had lost a large chunk out of his tail – they played round the bow for all of twenty minutes). A brief stroll into the pleasantly laid-out town identified lots of banks but no food shopping ( the only butcher we found had nothing worth buying), so we settled for corned beef hash for dinner. Apart from a curious disturbance from a hysterical (drunk?) lady on the quay, we had a wonderfully restful night, out of the swell which had made life so difficult at Galite. The following morning we ventured further into downtown Bizerte – pleasantly laid-out French colonial-style town, with wide streets and trees – to find excellent markets for meat, fruit and veg. And such an abundant selection of fish that we didn’t manage to buy any! Later we returned to take a load of wine and beer back from the Monoprix supermarket, and in the late afternoon we wandered down to the old fishing harbour and Kasbah – very photogenic but rather less salubrious at close quarters! We decided to stay an extra day (very reasonable rates), which was just as well, since Sunday brought a strong NW wind early on, veering towards E later and bringing a nasty chop across the harbour on to our pontoon. We passed the time of day with “Shelley”, busy re-varnishing their elegant wood topsides, and borrowed an adapter to tank up with water. Nigel put in some work on Morocco/Algeria cruising notes – a large batch ready for posting – while Julie concocted a delicious stir-fry from a bit of beef and the previous evenings roast chicken leftovers.
10th – 11th May 1993 - A calmer morning: we had an efficient outing into town for food shopping, cash and post, then set off at midday, only to run into an easterly breeze which obstinately refused to shift off the bow for the next five hours. Once round Cap Farina we had only a short distance to go to Ghar El Melh on a SSW heading, but the wind died anyway! Ghar El Melh proved to be a very basic fishing port on the edge of a lagoon, with an approach channel guarded by a very visible bar and with depths of little more than 2m – we were relieved to get in and moor across the end of a jetty full of small fishing-boats. “Gladlee” seemed curiously out of place, but the locals seemed quite relaxed about our tying up to their quay, and we felt perfectly safe. In the early evening we walked down to the edge of the lagoon, past what looked like allotments, and saw a little owl. In the morning we were befriended by a local fisherman who entertained us to coffee in the pub next to the fish hall, and we swapped cigarettes for an assorted bag-full of fish. With a light wind and hazy calm we coasted down to Cape Carthage, profiting from a wind shift from E to N just as it looked as we might have to tack – at 15.30 we gybed round the cape and promptly got a fresh breeze gusting over 20 knots as we got the sails in off Sidi Bou Said, losing a sail tie overboard in the process. Having picked our way past the shallows at the entrance we got conflicting instructions as we tried to manoeuvre into the reception quay with the wind blowing us off, and both of us were pretty short with the marina staff as a result. Nigel did not mince words with the duty manager later, but the general atmosphere was to prove unwelcoming and the berthing fees ludicrously high. At least there was mail waiting for us, but we spent a far from comfortable night on the reception quay with rain, wind and a considerable slop up our stern.
12th – 16th May 1993 - In the morning we moved to an inside berth, helped by a cheerful roly-poly boatman who managed to be agreeable and efficient (uniquely at the marina during our stay) while inadvertently highlighting the fact that the place was poorly maintained and managed – lazy lines unattached to ground moorings, electricity connected with bare wires into the back of the box, and so on. Amongst our mail was a letter from Michael, Nigel’s former colleague in Tunis and we arranged by phone for them to come round for a drink the following evening and take us back to their nearby house for supper. In the afternoon we wandered up towards Sidi Bou Said village, missing the short cut and getting caught in a torrential thunderstorm – as we sheltered under a tree a friendly young man emerged from the house behind and insisted that we take cover in the garage, then produced an umbrella and a jacket for Julie which we were to drop off on our way back (we concluded that he was probably the guardian of a small office, but none the less welcome kindness – we duly returned the rain gear, resisting offers of photos of our benefactor on board various yachts!) At the lower end of the village we found a “Monoprix”, and we also put films in for developing and a quick call through to London to tee James up for a connection from Michael’s house the following evening. We found the short-cut down – a rather muddy path, but with a nice view across the marina to the other side of the gulf.
Expedition to Tunis the next day, via the TGM light railway – a wide boulevard leads up from the terminus to the entrance to the medina, which proved about on a par with Tetouan for interest – two nice Turkish palaces (one housing an ethnographic museum) and the Grand Mosque were the main landmarks. There was a welcome absence of hassle, and Nigel managed to get a reasonably competent haircut. We wandered back via the central food market and fetched up at the square which serves as terminus for Tunis’s relatively new train network – here we found an excellent cafeteria which served us enormous portions of döner kebab and fresh fruit juice for about £5. Then took a train which deposited us some way short of our destination, the Bardo Museum: well worth the extra walk, with a fabulous collection of mosaics from various periods of the Roman occupation: too much to hoist in on one visit, but an unforgettable experience nonetheless. A little weary in the legs, we treated ourselves to a taxi back to the centre, where we were about to buy flowers for Fiona when Julie providentially remembered that they were off to Djerba for the weekend the following afternoon (we settled for cocktail snacks instead). Back to Sidi Bou Said, Michael and Fiona turned up for drinks on board, then took us back for an excellent informal supper and gossip, while our laundry churned round in their washing-machine and Nigel had good long chats with James and Jo. Fiona kindly picked us up early next morning to take us down to the market at La Marsa, where we splurged on such luxuries as steak, cream, mushrooms, ham, bacon and cheese (not to mention Mars Bars and Snickers!) – later we explored the upper end of Sidi Bou Said, self-consciously cute, but nonetheless attractive with its white houses and blue doors. The photos turned out reasonably well, given the shutter problem on Julie’s camera, but the beef proved less than brilliant despite the full-scale treatment with cream, mushrooms and Madeira.
Saturday morning saw us hike up to the TGM station again for a three-stop ride to Carthage, where we visited the museum of finds from Punic and Roman periods of the city’s existence – not a lot left to be seen of Carthage itself, mostly covered by the smarter suburbs of Tunis. Back at the marina we found hordes of promenaders on the main quay where we were berthed (this despite a prominent sign restricting access to boat owners!), so we spent most of the afternoon out of the way below decks.
Our friendly boatman had undertaken to get our gas bottles refilled before we left on Sunday morning, and we had an anxious wait until he duly showed up with them, then helping us with a slightly awkward manoeuvre to get off the quay (in the middle of all this the CA Honorary Local Rep and wife somewhat belatedly made their number). After a visit to the fuel berth we set off across Tunis Bay in a light NW wind, which later backed and picked up to F4/5, giving us a good sail up to and round Cap Bon, another major (if relatively unspectacular) waypoint on our journey. We had intended to spend the night in a recommended anchorage on the S side of the cape, but we found 25-30 knots of wind blowing across it and decided to press on for the dozen or so miles to the better shelter of Kelibia. The wind eased as sunset neared, and we approached Kelibia harbour just after dark, having sailed for the best part of eight hours – a rare treat. We berthed on the yacht quay opposite a big Maltese yacht “Conjo”, soon making the acquaintance of owners Joe and Connie, who invited us over for coffee after supper: Joe a colourful character, much travelled and engagingly talkative, while Connie, round and comfortable, smiled and said little, but seemed a perfect foil for Joe. We took an instant liking to them.
17th – 20th May 1993 - Next day there was space to move to the other side of the quay (the pilot suggested that ours was an occasional ferry berth), so we sat in the space vacated earlier by “Conjo” – just as well, since a large and noisy patrol boat came in later where we had been, making rather comically heavy weather of the docking manoeuvre. We had a long and fairly dull walk into the town, where there was nothing very remarkable except a good market, where we bought aubergines and strawberries before getting a shared taxi back to the port. The planned barbecue took a bit of time to get organised, and it was nearly tea-time before we sat down to kebabs followed by the traditional bananas, this lot flambéed in calvados.
Early in the morning we got a taxi to the Punic site of Kerkouan, on the shore a few miles north – a very attractive spot, with an excellent museum displaying pottery etc. (rather better than the selection on view at Carthage), the building set in a dazzling flower garden, and the ruins nicely kept if virtually unlabelled. We were particularly impressed with the large number of baths in private houses: it was obviously a very prosperous place. We finished our tour as the first coaches turned up, strolled the mile or so down to the main road, and hitched a lift all the way back to the port. Later a small Canadian yacht turned up bearing Ron and Karia, who came over for a pre-dinner drink: Karia rather naïvely pushy, but well meant, and Ron quietly friendly. Our third day in port featured another shopping trip into town (sardines for lunch after we’d discovered the fish market) and a walk up the hill to the massive fortress overlooking the harbour. In the evening it was interesting to watch the large fishing fleet leave, with smaller rowed boats hanging around to catch a line and take a tow out from their bigger colleagues (we never found out whether they got a lift back!)
With a forecast of ENE 15/25 knots we decided we might as well stay put (Kelibia was proving rather comfortable). A man from the Capitainerie turned up and charged us the statutory 6 dinars (or a little over £4) in harbour dues – valid for a week in any port, and he kindly dated it to run from the day the receipt was issued. The day turned out hot and fairly calm: we chatted to some Germans who’d turned up overnight, and when they left a boat-load of merry Poles drove in (Karia promptly organised them to invite her on board for a drink, while the unfortunate Ron disappeared below to try and fix their radio!) Julie baked a cake, and we put together a joint dinner with Ron and Karia on board “Gladlee”, also catching a bit of the FA Cup Final replay on the World Service.
21st – 24th May 1993 - Friday still looked quite settled, so we left at 08.45 after some rather erratic wind early on we finally got the engine off just after 11.00 and sailed gently southwards in ESE/F3, catching a solitary mackerel and spotting a couple of dolphins on the way. At 15.00 we squeezed into the entrance of Beni Khiar harbour, practically scraping the rocks off the east breakwater to avoid the shoal in the entrance, and tied up alongside the quay opposite a couple of picturesquely decorated tripper boats. It seemed like a typical small Tunisian fishing harbour, with plenty of activity to watch around the standard fish hall, where an auction was in full swing for an extraordinary varied catch. We wandered along the shore later and saw owls, before grilling Julie’s mackerel as a starter for dinner. In the morning we cycled into town past some rather unfinished-looking beach developments, quite a substantial little place, though with a surprisingly rudimentary market area. We found a chicken shop with the beasts actually on the hoof, selected our victim and watched it expertly decapitated and plunged into a de-feathering machine (like a hand-operated tumble-dryer) before beating a retreat to find bread. When we got back we were presented with a ready-to-cook bird, but still warm…. Julie went for another bird-watching wander in the afternoon – as promised in the pilot the fields between town and port were being tilled by camel-drawn ploughs. We bought an expensive but excellent sea bream (pagre) at the fish hall and barbecued it for dinner. Next morning was virtually windless as we motored down towards Hammamet, and we actually ran into fog banks on the way, but the haze had cleared by the time we anchored for lunch in the bight behind Hammamet Kasbah. In the event we started attracting small boys swimming out from the beach, so we left after a couple of hours and lunched as we drifted out of the bay in a light easterly. A mixture of sailing and motoring took us down to Hergla, Julie spotting some flying fish on the way, and we nosed into the more or less deserted small harbour (no people in sight, that is, but plenty of fishing boats) where we promptly ran firmly aground where the pilot chartlet showed 2.5 metres depth – Hergla had clearly silted up badly during the previous 3 years or so! After some fairly heavy revving (with the engine eventually overheating) we managed to force ourselves off and out of the harbour again, and Nigel tacked off the shore while Julie dived to check the cooling water intake and changed the shredded impeller.
Eventually all was well, and we set out to cover another 12 miles or so to Al Kantaoui marina. By the time we got to the area it was an hour after sunset, and there was no sign of any lights identifying the approach channel. Still, with luck and a good deal of help from GPS we negotiated our way round the shoals and got on to the approach bearing in time to pass exactly between the first pair of (unlit) buoys, from which it was a short distance to the marina entrance. There was no obvious place to tie up (and no-one to ask), but we found an alongside berth on the “Quai Hannibal” near the open but unoccupied office – Nigel grabbed a brochure which indicated remarkably reasonable rates for such an up-market place.
In the morning we made our number with the marina office and wandered round the resort complex, apparently quite a going concern, with lots of shops and cafés, and plenty of tourists about (not a few Brits among them, to judge by voices overheard on the quay). By midday the wind had got up and was producing an uncomfortable slop on the outer quays, so we moved to the almost empty new pontoons in the north basin, where we had calmer water and more privacy – and eventually electricity. We sampled ‘Brik au Thon’ as a late lunch, and had another stroll before pottering for the rest of the day. Julie premiered an open Italian omelette which was to become a regular supper dish over the next few months.
25th – 28th May 1993 - We left Al Kantaoui soon after 09.00 on a bright and hazy morning with a moderate ESE wind, which later backed helpfully to E so that we made Monastir with three well-judged tacks, averaging a creditable 4 knots through the water over 5 hours of reaching. The last stretch was a bit rough, but we sailed to within 200m of the marina entrance before getting the sails down and berthing tidily on the reception quay. The staff on duty were cheerful and efficient, contrasting with rather surly officials who appeared to demand our papers. We had made a point of flying our Royal Temple burgee as we came in knowing (from his letter in the club newsletter) that a fellow member, Dennis Hunter, might be there: so we had no great difficulty in identifying the very surprised Brit who turned up on a bicycle a few minutes later! Dennis suggested that we might take the vacant berth in front of his yacht “Astazou”, the friendly marina manager agreed, so we moved across there when the wind eased the following morning. Meanwhile we walked out to take a first look at the spacious streets of ‘new’ Monastir, the much-photographed and filmed ribat, Bourguiba’s elegant mausoleum complex and the compact and lively medina – a large and well-stocked food market, too, with a substantial Monoprix store next door. We spent most of the next day on shopping, laundry and cleaning, after which Dennis invited us out to dinner (in the course of which we discovered that he had converted to Islam).
The following two days featured an abortive attempt to visit the old city of Mahdia (we missed the train, and the only buses had left early in the morning), and a decision to sign up for a three-day “Land Rover Safari” round southern Tunisia, which we gathered was the cheapest and quickest way of taking in all the essential sights. We did get to Mahdia at our second attempt – a better choice, as it happened, since Friday saw the huge and colourful weekly market near the harbour. We sampled this after a walk through the old town, on its peninsula behind a huge defensive wall, reached by a single massive gate (or tunnel). We had an excellent cheap lunch in a ‘real’ Tunisian restaurant before catching the train back. Dennis invited us for a cup of coffee later, and Nigel made our number with two German couples on a Hallberg Rassy 42 – “Shiba” – who would be with us on the “safari” the following day. We had an early supper of slightly disappointing lamb chops, packed our bags and went straight to bed.