Sunday, 17 September 2017

6 September Island tour day 2 and Sail repair

The sail loft in Hell-Ville had offered to complete our repair in a day if we could drop it off early morning. David was at the motorbike shop with the main sail when they opened at 7.30am. We'd organised the bike and paperwork yesterday afternoon so he was good to go and arrived at the loft as they opened at 8am.
He came back to the marina to pick me up for a day of island touring. Our plan was to circumnavigate Nosy Be in a clockwise direct, so turning away from Hell-Ville. We rode up the west coast with views out to Nosy Sakatia, turned at the NW corner and arrived at the turn off to Mont Passot. At 326m this is the highest point of the island with the road running past half a dozen of the crater lakes. There are resident freshwater crocs in the lakes and in some the animals are protected by a local fady. At the end of the road is a gate, a car park and a ticket booth. Guides are available to take you the last few hundred metres to a viewing platform and to show you the walks.
view from Mont Passot

ylang-ylang distillery

From Mont Passot we continued clockwise along the much quieter northern road. There are still potholes to avoid and areas without tarmac to slow down for. The vegetation is less altered here and the view across to Nosy Mitsio fine. We passed smiling faces, waving children, villages, a ylang-ylang distillery and the island airport with a very expensive private Lear jet parked outside.
ylang-ylang tree
Coming into Hell-Ville at just after 2 o'clock we had time for a leisurely lunch at Oasis restaurant. We made a quick stop at the wet market to buy fresh vegetables and were back at Profil sail loft at the appointed 4 o'clock to collect our sail. The lady who had been working on it all day hadn't quite finished so we were offered chairs to relax and watched her running, working the sail to finish.
We weren't in a hurry so it was nice to be able to see the repairs – they'd found more stitching that was failing, some small holes where the fabric rubbed going in and out of the mast, repaired the tear, restitched the seam and replaced and restitiched the leech line. We were very happy with the work.

4 September Nosy Be island tour part 1

Today was a short tour because we started late and discovered hiring a motorbike for a day is for The Day and not for 24 hours as we'd wrongly assumed.
The bike was the economy version with a 50cc engine and a seat of the ample dimensions for two 10 year olds. For two adult British people it was uncomfortable; David barely perched on the front, me barely perched on the back. Nevertheless we set off on the road from Dar Es Salam to Hell-Ville. The road had once been tarmac all the way, but heavy use, rain and no maintenance has left ruts, wheel grabbing potholes and areas of dusty sand.

police station

We called in to a sail repair loft to make enquiries about re-stitching our main sail. It's far larger than we expected, professionally run and ready to do the job. We'll drop the sail off in a couple of days.
Our first tourist stop was Lemurialand north of Hell-Ville to see different species of lemur and wildlife of Madagascar. There is also a distillery which processes ylang-ylang leaves for perfumes to visit at the same place. The distillery tour was short and informative. Seeing the lemurs (including ring tailed) and sifikas (white, dancing lemurs) in small cages didn't make for comfortable viewing. Our guide told us these animals had been brought from the forest and in six months they would think of this as home and be free to run around the trees.
In the park they had three giant tortoises from Seychelles, five freshwater crocodiles from Nosy Be, a small glass cage with a boa constrictor, two chameleons in a large run and sad looking red lemurs on an island surrounded by water. The free roaming lemurs were snoozing in the tree tops. It's a personal thing, but I felt guilty for paying to see wild animals held captive in cages that were too small. They'd been caught for people like me to pay to see and I had perpetuated it. I am not against zoos and wildlife parks per se. I've visited many where the animals comfort and sympathetic environment have been paramount. My reflections on Lemurialand are how I felt on the day.
Lemurs at sacred banyan
colonial architecture in Hell-Ville
Time to get off my high moral horse and back on the motorbike for the rest of our day trip.
We went back in to Hell-Ville to see the old colonial buildings, stop for coffee and cake at Oasis restaurant, before setting off to find the sacred banyan tree. Off the main road and a couple of miles bumping down to the sea we came to the largest, oldest (?) banyan tree in the world. We were told it was planted in the mid nineteenth century and has grown to cover 5 hectares. We paid our money, took off our shoes and were dressed in sarongs ready to enter the paths under the great tree. Our guide explained it was fady, or taboo, to enter leading with your left foot. It was right foot first. Under the spreading branches and arterial roots is a small shrine for offerings and red and white cloths. As our guide spoke only French I didn't understand why the sheets of colour. I did understand that the Queen of the Sakalava people comes here each year to make sacrifice of a zebu. Fortunately the lemurs are free to roam here.
The afternoon was late by now so we made our way back to Dar Es Salam and returned our small, but sure, motorbike, found a convivial cafe with cushioned seats and ordered a cold beer to wash away the dust of the day and rest our sore bums.

Wednesday, 13 September 2017

2 September Crater Bay, Nosy Be

Our next stop after Mitsio was an over night on the north east end of Nosy Sakatia. We dropped the dinghy to explore ashore hoping to find a restaurant but I think we are too early in the season and no-one was open for business. It was another delightfully quiet night and in the morning we watched the pirogues sailing up the channel between Sakatia and Nosy Be.
sailing dhows - no motors
sugar cane train at marina
I read that Nosy Be is the premier holiday destination in Madagascar with many hotels and tourist related industries. It also has a small marina / yacht club (only mooring balls) facility in Crater Bay which serves the yacht charter business. This is where we anchored outside the mooring field in about 10m. It was coming up to spring tides when there is a 3.5m tidal range.
Ashore the yacht club, Quay 13 48, serves cool, not cold beers, and food. The zebu steak with creamy green pepper sauce was tasty. And if you turn right out of the gates you are in Africa, a dusty, rocky, rutted lane leads through a builders yard, past houses where the ladies sell tomatoes, eggs, onions and fast food for half a mile until you reach a tarmacced road and the town of Dar Es Salem. Same name, different country.
Quay 13 48 restuarant

cargo carrying dhows

geese in the road

hand stitiching a dhow sail

The single road town is bustling; zebus pulling carts, bicycles, motorbikes, battered cars and smart four wheel drives from the smart hotels, clothes stores, expat restaurants, more clothes stores, shacks that sell everything, one relatively well stocked supermarket and ladies of the night (and day). There is also a small yacht chandlery run by an Austrian man called Roland.

28 August Nosy Mitsio

From our first stop on the west coast, Nosy Hao, we continued the short distance to Nosy Hara seeking better protection from the strong south easterlies to be able to drop the main sail and put up the old (spare) we carry. This was easy to do and I went for a snorkel with the Red Herrings – this is probably the healthiest coral I've seen since Raja Ampat! Mostly hard corals, some soft, and not as many fish as the Maldives, but not bleached. The water temperature is 27c.
What we didn't realise is that Nosy Hara and all the coast and islands to the north and south to Ponte Marulexa headland is national park and there is a fee of 55,000Ar (£14) per person per day, with a day running from midnight to midnight, to be within the park boundaries. The park rangers visited all the yachts to explain this. It was a short visit.
Further down the coast is Nosy Mitsio which has complimentary anchoring in a wide and sheltered bay. We had looked at the possibility of spending a night at Nosy Lava to snorkel or dive the next day. However, there was a strong swell seeping in from the west so we continued on
With Alba and Red Herring we spent four very quiet nights in Maribe bay. Inspiration Lady arrived from Mauritius on the second day and we had ourselves a party.
Polly meets a lobster

You can visit the new resort being built by a Frenchman, visit the small village and walk across the island or along the beach to the washing troughs which catch fresh water. The village ladies come here to do laundry and their zebu for a thirsty drink before sleeping it off on the beach.
Nosy Ankarea
One day we motored out to Nosy Ankarea, three miles west of the anchorage, for the day to snorkel. It was quite nice on the east side with lots of healthy corals. We anchored on a sand spit and returned to the safety of Maribe Bay for the night.
While we were in Maribe villagers visited in their pirogues to trade. We had two good size lobsters in exchange for t-shirt, shorts, fishing line and hooks, plantains for fishing line and paracetamol, coconuts for peaked caps and a pretty shell for two books. Our last visitor spoke English and asked for a dictionary. Unfortunately ours are electronic so I couldn't help out. However, he was happy with the guide books which had words add photos. For his young brother we had crayons and paper.

25 August Cap D'Ambre

Cap D'Ambre at the very northern tip of Madagascar has gained a reputation for being difficult; strong winds and big seas as the full force of the Indian Ocean comes in to contact with land, shallow water and strong currents.
tuna caught on the first day

The distance from Ile St Marie is about 350nm or two and something days. Our sail up the coast was in light winds from behind. Sometimes we sailed, sometimes we motored. When we were sailing on the first afternoon with the headsail poled out to port and the main cranked across to starboard, called wing-on-wing, there was a sudden wind shift putting the wind on the wrong side of the main and poof! A lateral seam at the bottom of the sail came apart and we now had a two piece main. Fortunately the only fabric damage was a 50cms tear close to the mast and the leech line snapped. We were able to furl it in to the mast and continued the rest of our trip on head sail and mizzen which is still a nice combination.
When we reached Cap D'Ambre on the third morning we had 20 to 25kts from SSE, 2 knots of current and 2m seas. Our rounding of this cape was much easier than we had been led to believe. Yes, the seas did get bigger as we passed from deep ocean to continental shelf, but this was only for 5 miles, then we were in to the shadow of the land and the seas became flat.
rounding Cap D'Ambre
The scariest part was a humpback whale surfacing head and shoulders out of the water next to our bow! Quick thinking by David to steer hard to port while not broaching the boat kept us from hitting it. The whale passed down our starboard less than 10m from us – close enough for me to wish I had a camera to hand.
Around the cape and while the seas were flat the wind had picked up to 30 and 35knots giving a fast sail down to our first anchorage behind the sand island of Nosy Hao, but while we had protection from waves the wind blew hard across the deck.

22 August Swimming pools, Ile St Marie

Before leaving Ambodifotatra we had to visit the Port Captain to pay our harbour dues and to obtain clearance to Mahajunga on the west coast of Madagascar where we intend to clear out. The costs were 35,000Ar for harbour fees and 30,000Ar for the sailing permit both with receipts and seemed official.
humpbacks fleeing tourist boats
villages are neat and clean
walking towards pools
We sailed north with a NZ Red Herring (Karen and Graham) who we first met in Mauritius. On the way we had many close sightings of humpback whales. At the anchorage on the northern end of the island the swell wrapped around the headland causing us to roll and making the beach landing with the dinghy interesting, timing was crucial not to get dumped in the surf.
We went ashore with Karen and Graham to walk a trail to natural swimming pools at the very north tip of the island and visit the lighthouse. It was raining lightly this morning, but it's only freshwater ,and the path was only slippery in places. We came out on to a road and continued on to the village who 'own' the swimming pools. The cost for a guide was inexpensive. He spoke good English and could explain the fady, or taboo, for visitors, no shoes and no gold being two. The pools are formed by a barrier of hard granite which the sea fills at high water. The local kids were loving it.
whale watching

Having fun in the pools

simple, tidy villages

We loved watching humpbacks breaching close to the shore and paddling in the pools.
On the return walk we visited the lighthouse, now beyond repair, a rusting tower.

We finished our walk back at the hotel where we'd begun at lunchtime. Lunch was the local dish of chicken in coconut; the sauce was tasty, chicken meat scarce.

18 August Pirate cemetery

We walked from town past the oldest Catholic church in Madagascar to the village which owns the island which is Pirate Cemetery. (The oldest church has been locked ever since the bells were stolen.)
We hired a guide to give us the tour which included not only the cemetery, but also an informed guide to the plants and trees; clove leaves, cinnamon bark, cashew and nutmeg trees .
David meets dinner - Zeba

Oldest Catholic church in Mada


Jules told us that from the sixteenth to the nineteenth century Ile St Marie was key a pirate island. It had a sheltered harbour in Ambodifotatra, easy access to the Indian Ocean trade routes and no law enforcement. All that remains today are their remains in a cemetery on a small mount overlooking the old harbour. There's a monument to Scottish Captain Kidd, once a privateer for the British and then a pirate when he disobeyed an order to 'donate' his crew to the navy. He was here for many years, but was executed in London, tied to a stake in the Thames river for three tides. If you were alive after the third high tide you were free to be tried as a witch. If not you were dead.
With the pirate graves are graves of the French administrators who arrived in the 19th century, sailors who died from malaria, friends who killed each other in a duel over a local lady and children of the settlers.

17 August Ambodifotatra, Ile St Marie

Four hundred miles of downwind sailing from La Reunion brought us to our first anchorage in Madagascar, Ile Aux Nattes at the south end of the larger Ile Sainte Marie. We arrived at 3am and with some moonlight, Google Earth imagery and charts that matched up to the radar we felt it would be safe to proceed in to the lee of the island to anchor. We dropped the anchor a safe distance offshore in 15m but it was rollys. The next morning we were able to move in closer behind the reef finding shelter from the swell in 5m of clear water over sand.

The wetter east coast remained constant with rain through the night and the following day. It was welcome providing Jackster with a needed freshwater rinse. Late in the afternoon of our first day we went ashore for a walk, without local money we couldn't buy a beer or a meal. Ile aux Nattes is a tourist destination, a little island with hotels and bars, diving on the southern reefs and regular humpback sightings. We heard the lemurs cussing loudly but we didn't see them.
After resting we moved 6 miles up the west coast of St Marie to the main town, Ambodifotatra, to clear in. The order of business begins with two withdrawals from the ATM. The maximum amount is 400,000Ar (about £100) per transaction. Second stop was the police station for immigration and visas – a two month visa costs 100,000Ar which we pay to the Commisarat and a 50,000Ar contribution to the police pension fund. The Commisarat office is located across the small bay at the fish harbour. The man there takes our passports, adds more stamps to the half page of stamps we gathered at the police station, and gives us a receipt. This is a legitimate cost.
Next to the Fat Controller, aka Customs, who has a shabby desk in a dirty room infested with flies. He asks for two crew lists, stamps and signs one, files the second in a heap of paperwork on fly desk and asks for 70,000Ar because "having a stamp means power" Previous boats paid 60,000Ar. We paid 60,000Ar.
Last stop was the Coast Guard who looked at our ship registration document and gave us an official looking receipt for 60,000Ar. We were now checked in and it didn't take too long.

Monday, 21 August 2017

13 August Leaving La Reunion

It was sad to leave Reunion and the wonderful people we had met in our time here, but the weather looked good for a fast passage to Ile St Marie on the east coast of Madagascar.
Our last week in the marina was spent on final boat preparations, final checks, weather checks, final shopping, last drinks with friends and an appointment with Les Douanes (Customs) for our clearance papers. There is no passport stamping in or out. With our Customs clearance paper, a passport and our ship registration document we were eligible to buy duty free diesel and petrol. The regular price for diesel was around 0.90 and we paid only 0.60 per litre.
With the last job done we cast our lines just after sun up on Sunday morning and motored out of the harbour bound for Madagascar and another chapter in our wonderful adventure.

4 August Hell Bourg

The thing to do on Reunion is hiking. We'd been south to the volcano, looked into Mafate cirque from the west side, now it was time to head to the east side of the island with the help of local friend Christine. When she heard we weren't able to rent a car because it is holiday season she offered us a lift on her way to work.
We left the marina at 6.30am with our walking boots and fleeces (mornings are chilly) and Christine drove us around the north and to the bus station at St Andre. We were early so there was time for a coffee and croissant at the morning market before catching the 8.15 bus to Hell Bourg, high up in the Cirque de Salazie. The journey on the bus was the first adventure. The road is carved from the edge of a gorge and winds up and up following the valley; to one side we had a rock face and on the other a steep drop to the river. There were waterfalls gushing from the rocks all along as the road took hair pin bends and crossed narrow bridges up to the town of Salazie and on to the higher town of Hell Bourg. We felt like we were in a ski village because the air is clean and cool and there is a lingering hint of wood smoke.
shrine at 3 Cascades

Cirque de Salazie

looking in to the gorge

Our first walk was up (what else but up?) to Les Trois Cascades, a good climb through the trees until we emerged on to a rock plateau with a stream babbling towards us and a white and blue shrine presiding above it. David 'Monkey Boy' climbed rocks to reach higher and found a further pool above the first, but we only found two cascades. What happened to the third?
typical Creole house
We walked back to town for our second walk which took us along the side of the valley for a full view of the cirque. This particular path is used by hill runners for their training. It rises 1,000m in 1km. Being neither hill runners nor in training we puffed our way to the half way point before returning to town for a nice coffee while we waited for the bus to take us back down to sea level. The ride down was just as good as the ride up and having someone else to do the driving meant we could both gaze out of the window like kids on a school bus.
From St Andre we took a bus to St Denis, the capital, changed and a then a bus back to Le Port and a short twenty minute stroll back to the marina.