Our destination in Tunisia was fluid and we finally elected to opt for a fishing village with the necessary officials for clearing in but with only basic provisions for yachts in preference to a concrete Marina further south near the holiday destinations of Hammamet, Monastir and Sousse. So it was that we fetched up off Kelibia, an entry in my Captains Mate app stated “We found Kelibia to be rustic but real Tunisia, honest and friendly” and this has influenced our decision – little did we know…

Even with binoculars, we didn’t distinguish the low lying Tunisian coastline until we were only 10 miles out when the fortress built on the only hill in the area and some of the coastline loomed into view.

Failing to raise anyone in Kelibia on the VHF, we entered the harbour which was absolutely stuffed with gaudily painted fishing vessels.

The advice was to raft up alongside the ‘pleasure’ dock but it was smothered in a multitude of small (12ft) speedboats all rafted out and a couple of official boats which shooed us away.

Nowhere to moor. The fortress in the background

At over 45ft, there was no way we could moor there. A seemingly friendly Customs official hailed us from his vessel and directed us to the travel lift bay explaining that this was OK as it was Saturday and the following day was a holiday.

Whatever is the opposite of inviting is the word to be used for the travel lift bay. It was crumbling with exposed rusty reinforcing bar sticking out threateningly from what remained of the concrete sides, I feared for my topsides so we fendered as best we could.

More rusty than rustic, the exposed rusty reinforcing bar threatening my topsides!

On top of that, there were no mooring cleats or bollards to secure to and we had to improvise using abandoned rope loops that had been passed through holes in the walls.

No cleats or bollards so we had to improvise.

We were joined by the customs official and an immigration official who took our passports. Rudimentary forms were filled in as the paperwork disintegrated under the copious perspiration. The Customs official said he could secure a place for us on the pleasure dock with electricity and water. He also said, nod nod, wink wink, that he could arrange for diesel at the preferential fishing rate. When the immigration official had gone, he took me to one side and demanded a fee of 50 Euros which he said he would share with all the other officials and then asked for a bottle of scotch for himself. I gave him the cash but not the scotch.

I found the bribery exceedingly unpleasant but I have to confess that it turned out to be money well spent as the 163 litres of fuel that we shipped cost 82 Euros which must represent a saving far exceeding the cost of the bribe. I just hope it is good clean fuel.

Having left our rusty berth to take on the diesel, we hovered off the pleasure dock waiting for the promised space to materialise. Isn’t it typical that in such a situation, everyone disappears and nothing happens. There was no alternative but to return to the travel lift bay and we moored so as to prevent being blocked in so we could make an escape in the morning.

Back on the smelly travel lift dock.

Our brushes with officialdom were not over and I was cornered by a chap from the Port Authority who demanded a fee (only 15 Euros as it happened) for our presence in the port despite having no facilities in the worst berth I have occupied in my life. On top of this, he demanded a bottle of wine! I found a small bottle of airline wine but he wanted more. Carl saw an opportunity to dispose of the remainder of the wine in the Famous Grouse bottle but even the official turned his nose up at this and settled for the miniature.

Having completed the formalities for ‘checking in’, it was necessary to ‘check out’ and the officials would not hear of doing the two processes in the same exercise – we would have to go through the whole procedure again in the morning!

Photos never paint the complete picture – this was like mooring in a refuse dump.

With the smell of dead fish and diesel, swarms of flies and with Carl and Tom having fed the stray cats some frankfurters from the fridge that they didn’t relish eating, we closed up, sprayed for the flies, ran the generator and AC for a while and with the life-saving fans, we all enjoyed a surprisingly good night’s sleep.

Tom feeding the scavenging cats.

When Kelibia officialdom finally emerged in the morning on this festival day we embarked on another long winded procedure but, a bottle of wine later, we were finally on our way.

Father and son following me to the Police Station.

Would we come back?

Certainly not for a 24 hour stay but the country has promise and I am sure that once officialdom is satisfied and with a smattering of French, one could have an interesting experience as the locals are certainly friendly.

On our departure, passing along the coast we saw the tourist side of Tunisia, the white beaches with loungers and sunbeds backed by large hotel complexes. What a contrast!

Tourist Tunisia.
Abandoned tourist construction presumably after the sharp decline following the Hammamet beach shootings

Carl writes:-

Arriving in Tunisia under motor and following a 36 hour ‘choppy’ overnighter made me cast my mind back to last year’s sailing adventure where Nick & I cruised leisurely from Barcelona to Marseilles. The daily routine had been arise eight-ish, cast-off ten-ish and motor along for about twenty-five miles before grabbing a mooring or buoy late afternoon and hitting the town for several cheeky cold-ones. En-route we took in the fantastic ports of Cadaques, Montgo and Cala Satuna. Man, you only miss things when they’re gone!

Disembarking this morning on what is planned to be another 185 mile overnighter makes me realise that this time, Captain Cook has sold us the dream and is delivering the nightmare.

Mindful of the fact that I need to be grateful for small mercies, I am released from the ‘below the waterline’ galley where I’ve been restrained for the last couple of days and initially think we’ve detoured to Syria and pitched up at one of the more desperate refugee camps. Cannes it ain’t. Thankfully, a fulsome and thoroughly enjoyable nine hours’ kip refreshes our senses and sees us all return to our old selves.

What is also becoming apparent is both the time and serious nature that Nick dedicates to this blog, not to mention the level of editorial control he exercises over the content. He is Paul D’acre to my Owen Jones. Each morning I am no longer awoken by the sound of the sea lovingly lapping upon Hejira’s hull, but the frantic tap-tap-tapping of Captain Kirk’s sausage-fingers on his laptop.

Following the completion of the next chapter of his proposed tome, wee Tom & I are, in a scene reminiscent of Charlton Heston on the slave-vessel in El Cid, then shackled to keyboard and not released before we have either finished our pieces, or passed-out through heat and exhaustion.

When complete, the subsequent sea-bound communication is duly posted with all the precision of David Davis’s TA military jaunts (soldiers’ f2f across the pinch point of a proposed ambush) and dispatched to an inbox near you. Please send help. Please.

Wee Tom writes:-

Fear ye not dear readers, your brave and illustrious deck-hand cum lifestyle guru is back after a particularly torrid 36 hours at sea!

After sharing my breakfast with the fishes I grasped the anti-sickness treatment that Captain Birdseye was waving at me tantalizingly. With quivering hands, I slapped on said patch before peering at the instructions. When I read ‘will take 5 to 6 hours to come into effect’ leaping into the inky blackness of the Mediterranean had never seemed more tempting! Against my better judgement I persevered and after what seemed an eternity and a short sleep akin to lying down in a ride at Thorpe Park, the seas becalmed.

With the prospect of a few days exploring the sights and sounds of Tunisia, things were on the up. As it turned out our stop in Tunisia was to be a fleeting one. With the two ‘Kevin the Teenagers’ on board engaged in low level, fatigue-induced bickering, the teacher in me once again decided to intervene. Luring Nick off the boat with a vague promise of WiFi and a beer led to rapid movements and off he trotted like a bloodhound after its favourite prey! As the looming hulks of rotting ships and piles of fishing detritus fell away to dusty streets awash with stray cats and children walking their sheep, it became evident that Tunisia (this part at least), was very much still a developing country.

Fun for all the family, take the sheep for a walk

In the blistering sun we engaged in a fruitless search for the Mines’ kryptonite but alas, the Holy Grail combination was proving hard to come by. After entering an increasingly seedy number of establishments that smelt of stale-cigarette smoke and mild hostility, I convinced Nick to settle for an OJ down the road. Mission apparently a success, we ordered and sat down. It was only then it dawned on us that we were bereft of the local currency, Doh! With our school boy French in full flow we somehow ended up with two ‘peach coolers’ free of charge. As our very own William Gates plonked himself down, booted up his computer and contently slurped his juice it seemed like the world had been put to right. Reintegration was now possible and my pastoral work here was completed – I’m expecting a promotion anytime soon! Over and out.

2 thoughts on “Baksheesh

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  1. Nick, I watched an old David Niven film last week – “Around the World in 80 Days” – now I’m not sure I see you as Phileas Fogg (maybe a bit), but I definitely saw some of (most of!) Carl in Jean Passepartout! Hope you’re enjoying the company of your stowaways!

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