|As you can imagine it was
without too many regrets that we left Malta and set sail for the 36 hour
trip to Kelibia in Tunisia. We had a tighter weather window than we
would normally like, but so long as we kept
our speed up we could just arrive in harbour before the weather and sit it
out in Kelibia. It would involve some motoring, but then what's
new. We would have waited for a better forecast, but we
were keen to be gone and it was now October and the
weather would become less reliable as the year progressed.
|Around about midday the following day we
could just begin to pick out the small white North African houses marking
the coast of Tunisia. Just a day's sailing and it looked a different
world. I know we've all been there on package holidays but arriving
by sea has a special feel. As we closed the coast and were beginning
to feel we'd been overly worried about the weather and needn't have rushed
quite as much, the storm hit - the log entry reads "All sails down v.
quickly. Northerly++", which I think says it all. Fortunately,
by this time we were only a few miles from the protection of Kelibia.
Kelibia, is very much a working fishing
harbour, traditional Arab craft along one side and around the municipal
fish market, large trawlers and commercial shipping along the other - and
there in the middle the "new cruising pontoon reserved for visiting
boats". Or at least it was probably there amongst a collection
of semi derelict yachts and motor boats, a few cruising yachts, and the
Coast Guard patrol boats - they all obviously had to be tied to something
in the middle. It wasn't clear to us where we were going to
find a place to moor.
|We needn't have worried.
As we drew closer we
saw a couple of locals on the quay waving at us. With much good-natured
sign language, some Arabic (all theirs), some French (again all theirs)
and a little Italian (ours - for no good reason than it was the only foreign
language we could come up with and it seemed to show willing), we found
ourselves moored three deep at a strange angle partly against a small
sailing boat and partly against a huge old wooden yacht that seemed to be undergoing
renovation. Later that evening we were to have another yacht moored
outside of us. One more and we'd be able to walk ashore in either
Customs, Police and Passport Officer all came aboard and
cleared us in. All good-natured and efficient with much smiling and
sign language and no hassle whatsoever.
The following day we set out to
explore. One of the harbour staff spoke some Italian so we got some
information from him, changed some money in the fuel station cafe
and set off in a taxi for the town. It's a pretty large place with
absolutely no concessions to tourism or to the English speaking world for
that matter. Our main priority was to find an Internet Cafe to check
on the weather situation - what we were actually looking for turned out to
be an Internet Centre. Not a major difference
you'd think, but the word "cafe" was to prove problematic in a
few days' time when Ramadan started. We did find a building full of
PCs mainly occupied by children, but this didn't have an internet
connection. We asked at the mobile phone shop, and the owner took us
by taxi to the only Internet Centre in Kelibia (kindness of strangers
again). One minor problem was finding our way back on foot to the
centre of town afterwards. Our next problem was trying to get the
taxi driver to take us back to the boat - a small confusion between il
port and la porte. Much Captain Pugwash type miming, but
ultimately the solution was more prosaic - we had a photo of the harbour
on our digital camera. "Ah il port"!
|Back at Il Port, we filled up with fuel and
on the advice of the pontoon keeper moved to a slightly less cockeyed
mooring on the other side of the pontoon. What about those large
fishing boats, we signed. No problem, he signed back. Obviously
they're not going out today we thought.
A few hours later the fishing fleet started their
Now, if you spend any time around cruisers you will
undoubtedly hear horror stories about fishermen. They go too fast,
they cut yachts up, they have rammed and even sunk yachts. Some of
these stories even have some truth in them.
Should we move then? Too late - the first of the
boats, a 60ft trawler with a single engine and peeling paint, in the most
constricted position had already cast off and was creeping towards our
stern. We then watched the most amazing display of seamanship as the
skipper (aided by a man on bow and stern with a long pole) performed a
multi point turn I would not have believed possible and squeezed out
between us and the bows of the other fishing boats. Much shouting,
much laughter and a big beaming smile and a thumbs up for us as he pulled
it off! Once he was out, it was like an uncorked bottle and the rest
of the fleet followed.
|The following day it was time for us to
leave. We still had 800 miles to cover and the season wasn't
getting any younger, but we'd enjoyed Kelibia.
|Next stop was Bizert on the north coast
of Tunisia, an altogether more modern and sophisticated place than
Kelibia, with a small tourist industry. Nice enough, but Ramadan
started the day we arrived so most things were closed - including all of
the cafes! As we left we had our only negative experience of our
time in Tunisia when the customs officer asked us for presents, but all of
our paper work was already stamped so he didn't have much bargaining
power. He was a bit persistent in a slightly wingy way, not in the
least threatening just a little squalid, and just took the edge of what
had otherwise been a very enjoyable trip.