Sailing is an ageless pastime because of the refreshing breezes of the Mediterranean, the soothing sound of waves lapping against the shore, and the exhilaration of being out on the open water. However, our most recent voyage, which departed from Mallorca and brought us to Bizerte, Tunisia, was more than just a trip; it was also a challenging examination of our capacities, the ship’s resilience, and our unwavering resolve.
As a result of flying the flag of Panama, Bagabonda is subject to intriguing legislation that requires it to depart European waters at least once every 18 months.
Sailing to Bizerte
We had been now working on this ship for over a year. We had methodically prepared it by changing the rigging, repairing the sails, adjusting the engine, and installing new electronics on the cutting edge of technology. After our first journey from France to Mallorca, we felt that we were ready to take on a far more challenging task. We would pass over the Mediterranean between the Balearic islands and Bizerte, in Tunisia.
Nestled on the northern shores of Tunisia lies the marina of Bizerte, a port echoing tales of grandeur halted in its tracks. Conceived with boundless ambition, the marina was designed to accommodate many vessels. However, unforeseen challenges and the unfortunate timing of global events like COVID brought its construction to a standstill. Today, the incomplete harbor is a poignant testament to what could have been, with numerous vacant spaces waiting to cradle ships in their embrace. Yet, providing essential amenities such as electricity and water amidst this somber backdrop was a welcome relief for sailors like us.
North African Administration
However, as with many international ports, Bizerte’s marina presents its own challenges, primarily in the form of rigorous customs and immigration checks. New arrivals, be they on leisure or business, are met with meticulous scrutiny. With an air of stern professionalism, officials delve into every nook and cranny of incoming vessels. Questions abound, ranging from the amount of cash on board to a detailed inventory of ship equipment. While thorough and exhausting, the process serves as a testament to the port’s commitment to security and regulatory adherence.
Yet, for those willing to navigate these formalities, Bizerte offers a unique glimpse into a city bursting with character, history, and untapped potential. Though the marina may tell a story of halted dreams, the heart of Bizerte beats with undeniable vitality and promise, waiting to be explored and appreciated by intrepid sailors and travelers alike.
Challenges and good crew
Even though our team was relatively small, we possessed a high level of expertise. It consisted of me, Ronny, a veteran sailor I’d met on a previous sailing trip in Croatia, and Bertrand, a veteran sailor from Germany. But Mother Nature had other plans for us as we set sail toward the end of June. The winds, which were irregular and hostile, would not cooperate with us in any way. We had to rely on the ship’s engine a great deal more than we had anticipated.
After then, there was the coast of Algeria to take into account. We were forewarned that the Algerian Navy has a very stringent policy about its territorial seas and will routinely turn away ships that they believe are approaching the coast at an unsafe distance. Their commanding voices could be heard booming over the radio and served as a harsh reminder of the rules they expected us to respect. The journey was with difficulties. As we got closer to a group of islands off the coast of Tunisia, the engine began to stutter and eventually cut out. But luck was on our side since the wind, even though it wasn’t ideal, allowed us to make sluggish progress toward our goal. The relief everyone felt when they heard the engine start up again in the morning was palpable.
The harbor gives off a depressing impression when you first arrive in Bizerte. A big dream was cut short in the middle of its development, and as a result, a desolate landscape of untapped promise was left behind. Nevertheless, we were fortunate in that the marina provided us with essential amenities such as water and electricity.
To put it delicately, our interactions with customs and immigration were conducted in a methodical manner. Their keen gaze scrutinized every square inch of our ship while they questioned us about our finances, equipment, and objectives. Their meticulousness was wearing, even though it was entirely understandable.
However, past the stringent checks lay the city of Bizerte, which had its own unique soul. Because of the merchants’ strict adherence to using the Tunisian dinar, acquiring the local currency was challenging. On the other hand, our dogged determination led us to an ATM and, eventually, to the essence of Tunisian cuisine. The French had an evident effect, as seen by the delectable dishes doused in velvety, decadent sauces and served to us. Despite some minor language barriers, the town’s residents were friendly and made everyone feel at home.
Despite this, the city showed signs of having suffered damage. The streets were filled with stray cats, many of whom were emaciated, injured, or pregnant, and all were narrating their own survival tales in silence.
Back to Mallorca
Following our stay in Bizerte, we embarked on the journey that would take us back to Mallorca. Because the winds were being disobedient and acting naughtily, our sailing skills were put to the test once more. On the other hand, we were successful this time by turning their might to our advantage. We set off first for Sardinia and then for the Balearic ISlands again, making our way to Porto Colom, which served as the culmination of a trip that was just as rewarding as it was challenging.
Ultimately, our brief visit to Bizerte was about more than just getting there; it was also about what we did once we arrived. It was about appreciating the voyage, regardless of how challenging it might be, even though it involved accepting the unpredictability of the sea, embracing a foreign land with all of its peculiarities, and, most significantly, cherishing the adventure itself.
Koen Blanquart is a strategy consultant, journalist, and author.
Wanderlust is one of his driving factors, and he shares his travels here on Boarding Today. Koen is also the skipper of SV Bagabonda, a sailing vessel making a slow circumvention of the globe..
Koen recently published a book on how to manage a remote team: The Suitcase Office.