09/30/2014, Nosy Kalakajaro, Madagascar
Once again the land and sea breezes failed us as the morning found the skies over Madagascar to be overcast. This retards the land from heating up so the breezes did not kick in during our short, 4 hour motor 20 nm down the coast.
As we coasted along heading south we spotted different pods of whales as they breached in the distance. One pod came within 500 feet of Leu Cat when they breached and it was a thrill to watch them. The lifting of their tails as they drive down is so dramatic.
This time we have dropped anchor behind the first of a group of islands called the Radama Islands. Called Nosy Kalakajaro ("nosy" means "island" in Malagasy), it is a beautiful little island of sandstone that juts out of the sea with white sandy beaches. To our surprise, there is a fishing village here and we watched a group of little children laughing and playing along the beach and in the water. Later in the day a large dhow sailed up and anchored just off the beach.
The water is crystal clear and at first we were anxious to hop in and finish cleaning the hulls. However, we spotted 5 large jellyfish floating by so we decided to wait until our next anchorage to do the deed. We could have donned our stinger suits but we have gotten spoiled these last few months and decided to test our luck tomorrow. Also, the island which we hope to sail to tomorrow is known to be a good snorkeling place so we will be highly motivated to don the suits if jellies are around there also.
As the day wore on the overcast skies over Madagascar broke up and by 1600 the sea breeze had kicked in and were blowing a nice 10 to 15 knots. We have hopes the wind will be better tomorrow and we can actually sail.
Our weather window prediction is still holding for starting the 3rd of October. It looks like we should have light winds (10 knots) on the 3rd, building to 20 knots on the 4th and easing to 15 knots on the 5th. After that, a blocking high moves in south of Cape of Good Hope and there should be a number of days of very light winds. Thus, we may end up motoring a lot once we get over to the African coast. If that is the case, we should still make a decent speed as we hope to ride the Agulhas (also called Mozambique) current. In October, it can reach up to 4 or so knots of strength but is usually in the 2 to 3 knot range. It goes all the way down to the Cape. While it is great to ride during calm weather, one needs to get out of it when the lows bring the winds up from the south. When that happens, the wind blows against the strong current creating large, steeps and very dangerous swells. We have been told that it is best to go seaward of the current and just heave to as the winds and bad seas along the current tend to last only 12 to 18 hours. It is to avoid this situation is the reason that we are watching the weather patterns so carefully.
Our position behind Nosy Kalakajaro is at 13° 57.093'S: 47° 46.634'E in 53 feet of water. The bottom is supposed to be sand with some mud.
09/29/2014, Baramahamay Bay, Madagascar
Before we weighed anchor this morning a local fisherman with his small grandson paddled up to our boat in his dugout outrigger. He spoke some English and told us his name was Paul. Besides fishing, he was also a local guide and offered to take us on a tour of Russian Bay and the lands surrounding it. He even had a little photo album which contained pictures and explanations of some of the things to see. Alas, we did not have time for another tour so we respectful declined. Since his grandson was not wearing much, I offered him a tee shirt since we carry a big bag of children's tee shirts just for this type of occasion. Paul gratefully accepted and asked if we had any milk for the little one. We also give him a carton of milk since we had some to spare. We said our goodbyes and then weighed anchor leaving this beautiful bay.
The skies were overcast today and thus, there was no land breeze and as the day wore on, very little sea breeze. We were able to fly the head sail but with just 5 or 6 knots of wind, it only offered a ½ knot of assistance to our engine. We were only going about 20 nm so we really did not care.
We enjoyed our leisurely stroll down the coast which was filled with long white sand beaches and green colored hills. We passed by a few islands that looked inviting to the seaward side. It was very scenic.
Around noon we turned into Baramahamay Bay, which is where the Baramahamay River empties into the sea. We went about a mile or so into the narrow bay and anchored just passed a little fishing village and were surprised to see our friends of S/V Solar Planet anchored here. We first met Sven and Kristen in the Maldives this past April.
Once we were secure, I took the dinghy over to say hello and they invited me onboard to have a German beer. How could I refuse?! They had arrived here yesterday and confirmed that the village still sells honey to the cruisers that stop here. Our East Africa Pilot book is rather dated (1998) and talks about this village selling honey back then. After sharing weather window information I ran back to Leu Cat to get Mary Margaret and we headed off for the village.
The village and people were all very poor but using our very broken French we discovered the thatched roof, stilted hut where the honey was kept. There was a family there and the elder gotten out a liter sized plastic water bottle filled with honey. Sven said he paid just a $1,000 Ariary for a small bottle of honey but we had nothing smaller than $10,000 ($4 US) so that is what we gave. He had a big smile on his face when I give it to him and so did we knowing how poor they were. We just have $30,000 Ariary left and I am not sure we will have any more chances to buy anything before we head across the Mozambique Channel.
Tomorrow, we will just be going around 17 nm to one of a group of Islands called the Radama Islands. The weather still looks like a cross of the channel can be made starting either October 3 or 4th.
Our position is 13 46.777'S: 47 54.077'E, we are anchored in 32 feet of water in mud.
09/28/2014, Russian Bay, Madagascar
We tossed off the mooring lines at Crater Bay this morning around 0900. The winds were very light, which is typical for the early parts of the morning here. The winds are dominated by land and sea breezes so close to the island of Madagascar. A land breeze is a wind that blows from the land out to the sea while a sea breeze is just the opposite. They are a daily response to the preferential heating and cooling of the land. The water temperature stays about the same while the land heats up during the day and cools off at night. When the land heats up, the air rises over the land and the air over the ocean gets sucked into replace it. Thus, in the later part of the morning and especially in the afternoon, the sea breeze kicks in. As the land cools at night, the air over the land cools while the air over the warmer water now rises and the air from the land gets sucked out to sea forming the land breeze. I mention this only because at this time of year, especially along the western side of Madagascar, the land and sea breezes are what we will be sailing to as we make our way down the coast. We have found the land breeze to be very weak while the sea breeze kicks up more as the day wears on and the land gets hotter.
We left Crater Bay with only 5 knots of wind and it started out just off our starboard bow so we motored for the first hour. However, Mary Margaret noticed that it was shifting a bit and slowly building so when it hit 7 knots and was 30 degrees off our bow we unfurled the head sail and motor sailed. It increased our speed about a knot.
It took us 3 hours before we were inside Russian Bay and it was noon when we anchored. It is simply lovely here. While one other boat is anchored here, and there is a small village on shore here it really feels like we have the whole place to ourselves. The vista is one of hills and mountains, all covered in green vegetation. There are only a few small fishing villages around this nice large bay and when it got dark, we could only see three small points of light marking where oil lamps were lit in someone's thatched roof hut, miles away.
After lunch and a game of cards, we spent an hour cleaning the hulls. They were especially dirty after spending almost three weeks sitting in Crater Bay. I cannot remember the last time we cleaned the hulls but they sure needed it. Tomorrow, after we get to our next anchorage, I will take the hookah out so I can clean the keels. I was just too tired to do that today.
We wish we could spend more time here and explore a bit but it looks like a weather window may be opening up starting October 3rd. I am anxious to get a bit more south before we start our run across the Mozambique Channel so we will press on tomorrow. Our next anchor is only 20 miles down the coast so I should have time to finish cleaning the hulls.
We anchored here in Russian Bay in sand mixed with weeds in 44 feet of water, our position is 13 32.146'S: 47 49.893'E.
09/27/2014, Crater Bay, Nosy Be, madagascar
We have decided that tomorrow we will be casting off the mooring lines to start our sail down the Madagascar coast. It will be our first step toward crossing over to the African continent and heading down to South Africa.
Our first step will just be a baby one of only 14 nm. Our destination will be Russian Bay which is a bay within the headlands as you leave this bay. We wish to anchor there so we can clean the hulls which need it after sitting here in Crater Bay for the last three weeks.
I read that Russian Bay got its name when a Russian warship, the Vlotny, mutinied in 1905 on its way back from fighting in the Russo-Japanese war. The crew was mostly Uralian and after seeing how beautiful the bay and the women were, they decided to stay. They turned to piracy until their coal ran out and then over the next few years were decimated by malaria and other diseases. The last of the crew died in 1936.
We have started our weather window watch now. We need to watch the low pressure centers as they form in the South Atlantic Ocean and then move across the Cape of Good Hope. They create havoc across the Mozambique Channel, which we need to cross to reach the African coast. Once there we need to keep an extra careful eye of these lows as they bring gales up the coast and blow against the Agulhas Current. When that happens, very steep, short period waves set up and can be dangerous. We plan on sitting out these gales in different anchorages as we head down to the Cape.
Right now a doozy of a low is forming in the South Atlantic and our plan is to keep to the Madagascar coast until it blows by and then make a dash across the Channel to Africa. Depending on how far south along the Madagascar coast we get before we make our mad dash, the crossing should only be 320 nm or less which would only be about two days of sailing.
The picture attached to this blog is of the fishing village that is in front of us here in Crater Bay. I took this as I went to buy some baguettes for our passage this morning.
09/26/2014, Crater Bay, Nosy Be, madagascar
To continue from where I left off...
In 1958 a referendum was held in which Madagascar voted to become an autonomous republic in the French community of overseas nations. This was just the needed stepping stone that finally lead to full independence on June 26, 1960, with Tsiranana as president. Only a few French advisors were left in ministries, but there was no mass exodus of the many thousands of French residents, and the life continued much as it had before.
Ten years later, Tsiranana was having problems and losing favor. The Merina were strongly opposed to continuing French influence and wanted to try socialism and establish Soviet links. The economy was in terrible shape and it seemed the only way Tsiranana could stay in power was by rigging elections. After brutally suppressing a southern uprising he was forced to hand over power to General Gabriel Ramantsoa, commander of the any.
Many of the ties with France were then eliminated and new ties with the USSR and China were established. The French farmers gave up and left with disastrous results on the economy. A series of coups followed with Admiral Didier Ratsiraka coming to power in 1975 and making a number of radical reforms. All ties with French were severed, most businesses were nationalized and Madagascar turned to the USSR for financial and military support. The last of the French residents fled, and with them went many of the country's technical skills. The West reacted to these changes with universal condemnation and with Ratsiraka's fear of his South African neighbor he strengthened his personal guard and installed anti-aircraft guns in the palace gardens. By the way, none of this was told to us by the tour guides as we visited the various places in Tana, the capital.
Madagascar's main export at the time was rice but when Ratsiraka reduced the price paid to rice farmers, they in turn were reduced to subsistence farming instead and exports plummeted. In fact, Madagascar became an importer of rice and the people were going without since they could not afford its price.
The result of this was massive riots which peaked in 1985 when hundreds of dissatisfied youths trained in Kung Fu (don't you love it!), clashed with the government run paramilitary youth, leaving dozens dead. The break up with Soviet Union in 1989 prompted Ratsiraka to do a quick turn around and new relations were formed with South Africa and some of the other western countries. Ratsiraka clung desperately to power for the next three years despite coup attempts, demonstrations and strikes that brought the ailing country to a halt.
In 1993, after a number of troubled elections, Professor Albert Zafy was elected president bring an end to the 17 years of rule by the Ratsiraka dictatorship. However Madagascar's economy failed to pick up and in 1996 the national assembly voted to impeach Zafy. He stood down to enable a new presidential election to be held.
In an election at the end of 1996 Zafy was defeated by his previous rival, the military dictator, Admiral Didier Ratsiraka. Legislative elections in May 1998 also gave control of the national assembly to a collation headed by Ratsiraka's party, AREMA or Avant-garde of the Malagasy Revolution.
The wheel of fate had come full circle from Ratsiraka's forced departure from office in 1991. But Madagascar's economic problems barely improved in the interim, and the island suffered devastating damage from two cyclones early in 2000.
The Dec. 2001 presidential election between incumbent president Didier Ratsiraka and Marc Ravalomanana, the mayor of Antananarivo, proved inconclusive and a runoff vote was scheduled. But Ravalomanana claimed the election was rigged, and in Feb. 2002 he declared himself president. In response, Ratsiraka proclaimed martial law and set up a rival capital in Toamasina. Madagascar in effect found itself with two presidents and two capitals. After a recount in April, the high constitutional court declared Ravalomanana the winner with 51.5% of the vote. Ratsiraka, after first refusing to accept the outcome, fled to France in July, and Madagascar's six-month civil war ended. In Dec. 2006, Ravalomanana won reelection with 54.8% of the vote.
New turmoil began when Andry Rajoelina was elected mayor of the capital in December 2007, defeating the president's candidate. Tension peaked between the two in Dec. 2008 when Ravalomanana, becoming increasingly autocratic, shuttered a television channel and radio station owned by Rajoelina. Rajoelina then staged weekly protests that grew increasingly violent. In Feb. 2009, Ravalomanana fired Rajoelina as mayor, and the opposition protests intensified, prompting Ravalomanana to submit power to the military in March. After a bitter power struggle with opposition leader Andry Rajoelina, the former mayor of the capital, Ravalomanana resigned as president in March 2009. He handed power over to the military, which in turn transferred control to Rajoelina, who then suspended Parliament. Rajoelina was 35 years-old at the time, making him the youngest president in the country's history. In August 2009, the two sides agreed to a power-sharing deal. However, the agreement was never implemented as supporters of Ravalomanana and Rajoelina bickered over the details and Rajoelina withdrew his support of the deal in December.
In November, 2010, Military officers, who had overthrown the government in 2009, claimed to have done so again by deposing of President Andry Rajoelina. Rajoelina responded by declaring on television that he is still in charge. He told reporters he was "not bothered by declarations from a handful of people."
In March, 2011, Rajoelina reappointed Camille Vital as prime minister of a transitional government, aiming to end a two-year political and economic crisis. The reappointment came after Vital and his government resigned because 8 of 11 political parties signed an agreement to form a new administration that would take the country to elections in either late 2011 or early 2012. Vital has been asked to form a new cabinet for the transitional government. The country has been in economic and political turmoil since Rajoeling replaced Ravalomanana, which led to Madagascar's suspension from the African Union and the South African Development Community. Aid from various donors has also been suspended.
In Oct. 2011, Prime Minister Albert Camille Vital and his government resigned. Omer Beriziky was named the new prime minister. Beriziky took office on Nov. 2, 2011.
On Dec. 2013, Madagascar held another presidential election. The presidential elections were a run-off between the top two candidates of an earlier round, Jean Louis Robinson and Hery Rajaonarimampianina. Rajaonarimampianina won the runoff, receiving 54% of the vote.
Rajaonarimampianina took office on Jan. 25, 2014. He previously served as Minister of Finance. He has been the CEO of Air Madagascar since 2011.
As you can see, the political turmoil caused by historical power grabs by the various players has caused Madagascar to remain a poverty stricken country and it has a questionable future going forward.