The wind strengthened slightly, and there was a little less shipping than in the outbound lane. It wasn't so bad, this time we didn't feel so helpless, no longer just drifting in the straits waiting to be mown down. In one sense, windsurfing the straits of Gibraltar is no big deal, it's been done many times before.......sixteen windsurfers even raced across the Straits once, but that was all highly sanitised, perfect planing conditions so they could dodge the tankers, crossing in just twenty minutes with guide boats, rescue boats, navigation etc.(though they did complain about the sharks) , we - on the other hand - were tanker fodder!
We'd crossed worryingly close to no less than seven tankers in the outbound lane, but only two (plus a couple of ferries) troubled us as we traversed the inbound lane over on the African side. By the halfway point, the peaks of the Rif mountains were visible above the haze, but the African coastline obstinately refused to come into view. We navigated by the peaks, a kilometre or two above us, and inevitably sailed too far into the Med. That was wrong. We knew that after the first couple of beaches the mountains plunged straight into the sea, and we would find no sanctuary on the African coast. When the shoreline finally broke through the haze (and it wasn't till we were less than a mile and a half offshore), we realised that we'd have to beat upwind to find a beach and avoid both the mountains and a small town that would have inevitably meant a brush with the authorities.
Inshore there was a catabatic wind, accelerating down the mountains and out to sea, we hooked in and harnessed it, feeling great to be powered up after the limpid crossing. We were soon dodging the rocks in the shallows, and then.........ashore..........on a quiet beach with a just a few local young men playing football on the sand......Africa at last! We'd made it! (though we did, of course, still have to get back..............)
We'd chosen to land at this remote beach in the hope of avoiding the authorities. Afterall, we had not passed through customs, we had not been through immigration, we had no entry stamps in our passports (though we had actually remembered to bring them in our waterproof pouches). So, our plan was a lightening visit, jump off the boards, touch the African soil and then get the hell out of here, a brush with the Moroccan authorities was unlikely to be good, years earlier previous brushes with Moroccan had included my camera being confiscated and spot fines that amounted to little more than bribes to be left alone, and that was with all the paperwork in order.............................so, touch the shore, jump back on the boards and hot leg it out of here.
The lads playing football stopped when they saw us and came over to ask us questions in languages we didn't understand - this tiny bit of coastline is one the few parts of Moroccan where the French colonialists never really ousted the Spanish, not that these guys spoke Spanish either, pretty much Arabic or Arabic, but that didn't stop one friendly young bloke from trying. We took a few pictures with him, he took a picture of us, obviously the language barrers slowed things down a bit, well quite a lot actually...........long enough for a soldier in green uniform to somehow materialise out of the dunes.
Now we were stuck. He couldn't let us go till he got some answers and we couldn't answer him cause we had no idea what he was asking. He radioed his chief half a mile away in the village on the hill at the end of the beach, who he said was on his way. We needed to be gone. It was after five, how long would the wind hold, crossing those tankers with no wind didn't even bear thinking about..........and the daylight, it was bad enough out there in the fog, but the dark as well?! We kept asking to go ( more like gesticulating), but he kept pointing towards the town, and we understood that someone was coming, albeit rather slowly. For now we were not free to go.
After an eternity a guy in his thirties, wearing a football shirt and jeans, ambled along; the police chief. He was very nice and speaking a little, broken english quickly established where we'd come from and where we wanted to go. "Can we go home now, please?" "Yes, you can go home" he smiled. Relieved, we shook hands and said our goodbyes to him and the soldier whom we he told us was called Mohammed. Of course, by now another forty minutes had elapsed, and though we'd begged to be allowed to sail back out into the straits, did we really want to at 5.40 pm? We could only hope that the wind held.
And it did, by the time we were back in the outbound shipping lane we were reaching along, tantalisingly close to planing. This was much better, no longer were we bobbing around waiting for the tankers to come and get us, we were back in control and were able to follow a course, passing close behind their sterns - the closer we got, the bigger they were, the smaller we felt. There is an appreciable size difference between a container ship and a windsurfer!
We stopped in the exclusion zone between the two shipping lanes and took some photos. There are no buoys marking the limits of these lanes, they are just there - it was a wierd feeling, safely sat on our boards in that unmarked sea sanctuary, a ferry passing nearby on the African side of us, a tanker visible in the distance coming the other way on the Spanish side. We didn't hang around long.
The mountains of the Spanish coast were now in view, the wind building all the while, till suddenly we were planing, the masts pulled to the back of their tracks so we were sailing only on the last third of the boards and that was it....................at those speeds the rest of the crossing took minutes and we were back in Spain gybing downwind towards the massive oil refinery at Algeciras, hoping to reach Gibraltar........