Tunisia

 Up Retracing Steps II

 

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.
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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.

 

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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 direction.  

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.

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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 engines!

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. 

 

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Last updated 5th June 2017