06 November 2018 | Richard's Bay, South Africa
16 October 2018 | Bazaruto
11 October 2018 | Katsepy Bay
07 October 2018 | Nosy Komba
03 October 2018 | Hellville
26 September 2018 | Sakatia Island
22 September 2018 | Cap d'Ambre
19 September 2018 | Ambodifototra
18 September 2018 | St. Marie, Madagascar
08 April 2018 | Fushi Finolhu
Mozambique to South Africa
06 November 2018 | Richard's Bay, South Africa
We are in Richard's Bay, South Africa. We arrived last evening about 2200 hours, well after dark. Normally we don't enter unfamiliar harbours after sunset, but this is big port with well marked channels and a very clear buoy system. Also, boats that had arrived before us reassured us that the international boat harbour was well lit and that docking at night would not be difficult. So once again with Joel at the bow, Kim monitoring our progress on the iPad and me at the wheel, we entered the harbour without issue, and a number of our fellow cruisers took our lines when we arrived.
We spent one week anchored off of Bazaruto waiting for a good weather window south. In this area of the world with it's challenging weather systems, patience is critical, and our long wait certainly tested ours. We spent most of our time onboard as the winds and waves made a dingy ride to shore like a saltwater shower! We did manage to get ashore twice, once for a cruisers' get together on the beach and another for a walk to one of the local villages.
By the time it was safe to leave we had accumulated a 'fleet' of 22 boats, and almost all of us left within an hour of each other, at about 11 am. We must have been quite a sight moving in single file down the inside channel off Bazaruto. No one wanted to miss the weather window.
The reason we all left so close together has to do with tides and sand bars. The Southern exit from Bazaruto requires going over two 'bars', the first of which was only 8 feet 9 inches deep (or two feet under our keel) when we crossed it at mid-tide. (How do you spell anxious?!). The second of these sand bars must be crossed 2-3 hours before high tide to minimize the effects of the ocean swell, and it takes about one to two hours to reach it after crossing the first bar, partially because of a 3-4 knot negative current. If you do the math this all means the window for getting through the channel and out of the Southern entrance is small, and therefore we left as a flotilla of boats.
Once out in deep water again (a major relief) we spent the first few hours heading East to Northeast, both to get out into the predicted Southerly current and also to get a better wind angle once we tacked and headed South. It did seem strange however to be sailing away from our destination! When the wind shifted a bit more from Southeast to East Southeast we tacked and finally headed towards Richard's Bay. The current was elusive but the direction felt better.
The rest of the 3 day trip was both benign and uneventful. We had times where the winds were on the beam at 15 knots, allowing a great sail, and other times when the diesel motor took over. The last 36 hours was calm and motoring was the only option. By this time a number of boats were worried about their diesel supply! Luckily, most of us eventually found the current, which gave us a 2 knot or more push. This allowed us to run our motors at lower speed and save fuel. Personally, we arrived with plenty of diesel to spare.
Today we will head for the immigration and customs offices to check-in to the country and then see if we can get a berth at the Zululand Yacht Club. We plan to catch our breath here, enjoy being tied to a dock, maybe go to a game reserve and once again wait for the next weather window to head South towards Cape Town.
24 October 2018
Our benign passage across the Mozambique Channel ended up requiring more diesel than we would have liked, and our 8 day wait at Bazaruto Island for favorable sailing conditions pretty much decimated our stock of fresh fruit and vegetables. But then suddenly, Thomas appeared out of nowhere. He drifted up to our stern silently in 'Black & White', his boldly painted dugout canoe. By the time he arrived we would have paid almost anything for the fresh papayas, bananas, and juicy red tomatoes he'd brought from his village.
Aside from the handful of locals hired by a fishing lodge, the majority of people on Bazaruto fend for themselves without any assistance. There aren't any shops there, so they don't really have much use for currency (but as is often the case, American dollars are welcome). Locals manage to grow whatever they can in patches of soil set between sand dunes, and cast hand made nets each night to gather enough fish to feed themselves. Those that can afford the trip across the channel to the mainland have access to much more, and Thomas, along with a couple of other entrepreneurial locals, saved the skin of some of our fellow cruisers by arranging to have their empty jerry cans filled with diesel so they could make it to the next port. Our experience with Thomas, and interactions with the friendly villagers and their adorable children on shore made us feel very welcome, in spite of our language barrier - which posed no problems at all (they speak Bantu and Portuguese).
So while a nasty weather forecast may have required us to duck into shelter for a while, it had a silver lining, providing us with a memorable experience at a remote Island off Mozambique.
(New images added to the photo gallery)
Five Days Across The Mozambique Channel
16 October 2018 | Bazaruto
Our plan was to spend a week or so heading down the Madagascar coast, stopping at a few islands and bays to explore, see more Lemurs and generally relax. Then I looked at the weather forecast for the next 10 days and realized there was a great weather window to head across the strait within a few days.
So, we spent one peaceful night in Russian bay, fully planning to spend a few more. But to take advantage of the weather we had to get down the coast to our jump off point, so after some deliberation we hauled anchor around 10 am and headed out on an overnight passage to Mahajunga where we planned to fill our diesel tanks before the crossing. We had an uneventful passage and arrived in Mahajunga just after 2 pm the next day. Mahajunga is located on the estuary of a large river so the approach was through rust coloured water, silted by the river outflow. It was also quite shallow but thankfully, the entrance was well marked.
The anchorage, behind (sort of) a breakwater was horrible with a huge swell and a lot of current, so we left Joel on board while Kim and I went into town (via Tuktuk) to get 80 litres of diesel and a few fresh provisions. All went well and we were back in record time, allowing us to head to a more calm bay (Katsepy) across the estuary for the night. We arrived just before sunset.
We talked to other boats who had similar plans to ours. Their plan was to head down the coast the next morning and stop for a couple of days at Baly Bay before crossing the strait. Initially we decided to do the same but on the way to Baly Bay we considered our options, and with the forecast looking good for the next 6-7 days we decided to give it a miss and head across the Mozambique Channel to Africa. Just ahead of us (12 hours) was a boat we had cruised with since Indonesia, and their decision to carry on made ours easier.
The traditional way to cross the Channel is to wait for a period where no Southwest “buster” is forecasted for a week. Busters are infamous for their strong winds and steep seas, so they’re best avoided. The typical route across the Channel is to head directly West before sailing South along the Mozambique coast where there is generally a Southerly flowing current. Many blogs in the past as well as the resident expert who spent many years cruising this area support this plan. A few others who crossed the Channel further south had regretted it due to adverse tide. We had a weather router who we had used successfully in the past, who recommended the southern route across. We decided to test his approach, which in retrospect this was a mistake, and rather than positive current for most of the passage, we had as much as two knots against us. So anyone planning this crossing should listen to the traditional knowledge and go directly West before heading South. We can confirm the alternate route will take longer and you’ll burn more fuel.
However, other than the current against us, we had a great passage, often on a beam reach with 12-15 knots of wind and relatively flat seas. This allowed a boat speed of between 6 and 7 knots. Often during the day the wind would abate, dropping back to 4-5 knots but allowing us to top up our batteries while motoring. By evening the wind would return, the diesel would be turned off and we would be off to another great overnight sail. This pattern continued over the 5 day passage with the wind either on the beam or aft (occasionally far enough back for wing on wing sailing dead down wind).
We arrived this morning in Bazaruto and are now officially across the Indian Ocean. Even with the current against us we averaged between 6-6.5 knots on the passage of 5 days and two hours. We are now tucked in behind the island of Bazaruto in a beautiful bay. The upcoming forecast suggests we will get to know it well as a window to head South doesn’t look likely for 7-10 days. Oh well, Kim has us well provisioned and we seem to have enough rum!
Reflections on Madagascar
11 October 2018 | Katsepy Bay
Natural, untamed, primitive and exotic, famous for its lemurs, vanilla, and ylang ylang, Madagascar seems somewhat primitive and exotic. Its enough from continental Africa to be isolated for millions of years, hundreds of flora and fauna here are unlike anywhere else in the world. Madagascar is dwarfed by the continent, but it's still one of the biggest Islands in the world, with 20 million inhabitants. Vestiges of French colonial infrastructure still exist in major centers but for the most part this independent country is relatively undeveloped and unspoiled. Much of the population lives just as they have for countless centuries fending for themselves, living off the land and sea.
The best cruising area is towards the Northwest, where the country's land mass blocks the strong trade winds, the water is shallow, and good anchorages are within a daysail of each other. The clean, clear water was perfect for swimming, and the landscape was great for hiking.
But in most places the poverty was striking. Even in the touristy Nosy Be area where scores of men hung around the port and along the wharf, clamouring to grab our dinghy line, insisting that they were the appropriate person to pay for watching and protecting our dinghy while we were ashore. One grabbed a small bag of garbage out of my hand and then demanded that we pay him to dispose of it. He actually hounded us for two days until he felt our (somewhat reluctant) payment was adequate. We were baffled when Jocelyn recanted his quote for his taxi fare and when Jimmy added an additional service fee after confirming the total cost for refilling our jerry cans. Was this a case of cultural misunderstandings and language barriers? Were we being hoodwinked? We weren't sure.
We felt more comfortable anchored in a bay in a more rural setting, where we could appreciate the natural beauty and felt far less likely to be hustled. But the level of poverty was underscored here too, when villagers paddled up to us in their small dugout canoes, sometimes with fruit ready for trade, other times just eager for a gift.
Our journey has taken us to many underdeveloped and developing countries, but in Madagascar in particular, I felt like we were privileged intruders. Our 'modest' cruising lifestyle seemed suddenly so conspicuous and lavish compared to the general population's meager subsistence living.
We covered a fair bit of ground during our brief visit to Madagascar. And so fortunately, we were exposed to a broad range of experiences in a short period of time - unforgettable encounters with wildlife both on land and sea, and memorable encounters with people from both ends of the economic spectrum. Extra time would have afforded us more than a mere glimpse of this fascinating country, but cruising season was closing so we were eager to continue on.
07 October 2018 | Nosy Komba
We were up early to siphon diesel out of our jerry cans into the boat's main tanks so we could refill the jerry cans when we were in Hellville picking up Joel. Anchor was up at 0730 and we had an uneventful motor back to Hellville (no wind), arriving in the mid-morning and anchoring between two of our cruising buddies.
First order of business was to refill our jerrycans with diesel. ‘Cool’ who with his partner Jimmy holds a corner on the market for dingy watching and services laid out the price per litre (3500 Ariary) and the transportation cost (20,000). This seemed reasonable so we had him go ahead with the cans to b delivered to our dingy later in the day.
We then headed out to supposedly the best supermarket on the island and were unimpressed both with the selection (better at Champion in Hellville) and the taxi cost (60,000 which we split with another couple). We made a short trip back to the boat and then I headed out to get Joel from the airport. The flight was only one hour late and Joel arrived with all his luggage! On the way back to the dock we stopped at the bank (a 100,000 ariary doesn’t go too far) and at the cell phone store to get Joel a SIM card and data.
The arrival back at the dock was a bit shocking. First the price arranged for the taxi by our friends mysteriously jumped from 50,000 to 80,000. Secondly Cool had forgot to mention his fee for the diesel delivery (30,000). Lastly another boy on the dock wanted 5000 for caring one of Joel’s small bags from the taxi to the dock (about 40 feet). All in all I was happy to get back to the boat with a few ariary left in my pocket! In fairness we are not talking about huge sums when 10,000 ariary is about $4.00.
Cocktail hour was about all Joel could handle after a 25 hour flight and he was asleep by 7pm. We were not far behind him.
The next morning we headed over to Nosy Komba where there is a small nature park with the famous Madagascar lemurs. After settling in to the bay we dinghied in and were quickly set up with a guide who took us to the park. We saw a variety of turtles, a small boa constrictor. a few lizards and finally lemurs.
The guide called out ‘Maki Maki’ a few times and suddenly the branches above us were filled with lemurs. The females are brown and the males black and a couple of the females had babies clinging to them. These gentle creatures are quite tame and were happy to climb on our shoulders to be fed bananas. Their small hands are very human like, except fur covered and only an inch long! You can barely feel their grip on one of your fingers as they reach for bananas. And boy can they leap! It is a bit of a sideways motion and covering 8-10 feet sideways seemed to be no problem. It is hard to decide whether lemurs or whales are the highlight of Madagascar. Such a tough decision!
After the tour we passed by the vending shops, picked up t-shirts and two beautiful wood carvings and headed to a local restaurant for refreshments. By this time it was getting late so we headed back to the boat. That evening we had the ‘pleasure’ of hearing our guide at his other job of DJ and karaoke king at one of the local beach bars.
The next morning we were up early as we planned a hike to the top of the island. This was maybe a little more ambitious than we had planned but the views from the top and the surrounding scenery made it well worth while. When we returned we found our dingy about 20 feet out from the shore as the tide had come in. Luckily we had tied it to a cement block, but it still required wading out to chest depth to retrieve it. This did however give me a good excuse for a swim when we got back to the boat.
Today we have returned to Hellville with plans to check out of the country here and then head down the coast towards our jump-off spot to South Africa.
To Hellville and Back
03 October 2018 | Hellville
We spent our first full day anchored off Sakatia relaxing, getting over the antics of the night before and getting boat projects done. I am still searching for the water leak but I think I am getting closer! It seems to be in the exhaust hose where it takes a 90 degree turn in the area between the lazarettes (not exactly a very easy area to get to!!). Repair will have to wait util South Africa. Kim spent her day planning provisions and meals for our upcoming passages. Glad that is not my job!
We had a whale swim by the boat in the morning about 10 metres off. Apparently it is quite common here but still an amazing event. Have also seen a few turtles.
The next morning we raised anchor at 0715 hours and headed off to Hellville, the largest community on Nosy Be. After a combination of sailing and motoring - in calm seas for a change, we arrived in Hellville harbour, anchoring close to friends we first met in Australia. We were immediately greeted by ‘Cool’ who in conjunction with Jimmy seem to have a monopoly on dingy guarding at the Hellville dock. He brought us out a stalk of bananas that we purchased for about 3 dollars. They are green now but in a few days we will have more bananas than we can eat as they all ripen at the same time!
After getting settled in the anchorage we headed into town with our friends, took a Tuktuk to the centre of the village and made stops at the bank, cell phone store and local cafe. We then headed to the market for fresh produce and stopped at the ‘super market’ for a few staples. By then we had worked up an appetite so we stopped for lunch and headed back to the boat.
The evening was spent having sundowners with two other couples on Exit Strategy followed by an early night. There is presently a music festival on here so we were treated to music that went well into the night.
Two days later we returned to Sakatia with a short stop in Crater Bay. Every morning sailing dhows arrive in Crater Bay from the mainland with loads of sand and palm leaves. We watched with amazement as men unloaded bags of sand, carrying three bags at once (60-80 kg) up from their beached dhow to a pile on the shore. This went on for hours and I expect is repeated daily. Tough work!
After a short walk around Crater Bay town and a stop for refreshments, we were back on the boat and off to Sakatia. As we arrived we were pleased to see friends on a catamaran we had sailed with from Chagos to Rodrigues. We spent the evening catching up, conversing in a combination of French and English, an interesting time!
Yesterday we finally got back in the water and were pleasantly surprised to find it not as cold as we expected. We did some snorkelling and saw a large turtle (1.5 meter diameter) and numerous fish around the coral. Call us spoiled but it didn’t compare with Chagos… but it was still great to be in the water again.
Today we went for a hike with two other cruising couples and then stopped at the local resort for lunch. We plan a quiet afternoon and then we are off in the morning to Hellville to pick up our good friend Joel who will be with us until South Africa.