23 April 2017 | Ascension Island, South Atlantic
20 December 2016 | Richards Bay, South Africa
26 November 2016 | Richards Bay, South Africa
29 October 2016 | Moramba Bay,Madagascar
02 October 2016 | Russian Bay,Madagascar
28 August 2016 | Grand Bay, Mauritius
15 August 2016 | Port Mathurin, Rodrigues
18 July 2016 | Port Mathurin, Rodrigues
22 June 2016 | Cocos Keeling, Australia
07 June 2016 | Cocos Keeling Island, Australia
21 May 2016 | Cocos Keeling Island
01 April 2016 | Krabi Thailand
28 March 2016 | Phuket Thailand
10 March 2016 | Khao Lak, Thailand
28 February 2016 | Phi Phi Don, Thailand
16 February 2016 | Phuket Thailand
12 February 2016 | Phuket
22 January 2016 | Phuket Thailand
31 December 2015 | Phuket (poo-KET), Thailand
Stuck in Ascension
23 April 2017 | Ascension Island, South Atlantic
Let me start by apologizing to all my faithful readers, I've let my blog lax for quite some time now, and I am sorry. It has not been for a lack of interesting doings on our part. On the contrary we have been having a grand time. Here's a quick synopsis and I will try to get back to it and write proper blogs soon. We have been back to Kruger National Park with David's brother, spent a week surfing on Muizenberg Beach near Capetown South Africa, well Zack and David surfed, it was too cold for me! We sailed around to Namibia and had a lovely time there. Thanks to Mary Hellen for sending us a bit of cash which we promptly spent, rather frivolously on sand boarding and renting quad bikes to drive around on the sand dunes with. Zack had his own quad bike and totally rocked it, no fear at all. On our way to Namibia we anchored off of Dassen Island in South Africa and found ourselves in a huge pod of whales. There were about thirty very close to us and another thirty or so that we could see in the distance. We were so close, basically surrounded by them that the fish smell was overwhelming. It was amazing and we spent about 2 hours sitting and watching them. We left Namibia with plans for a quick stop in St Helena and then home. Our autopilot gave it up 3 days out of Namibia. Three days is a fair investment into a passage and we decided to carry on hand steering to St. Helena. It may not sound so bad, but trust me, it is horrible. Seven days of steering is a lot, 24 hours a day someone needs to be at the wheel. Zack, as always, was great, taking 10 to 15 minutes every hour or so, and even longer on occasion. He steered for an entire hour once so I could make him some nachos. We made it to St Helena and were able to source the parts we needed. It was difficult to find someone to send the parts to Ascension Island which was now going to be our next stop. We contacted some old friends from the yacht Galavanter and they volunteered to sort it for us. We haven't seen them since New Zealand, and they were ready to help. One of the reasons I love this cruising community, everyone is always there to help each other. David did find a company to ship the parts directly so he ordered them and had them sent to Ascension. No problem, a plane comes in from the UK twice a week, so 5 to 7 days and we should be back in business. We had to hand steer to Ascension, 6 days. Not so bad and certainly better than the 30 it would take to reach Trinidad. So here we sit, 23 days later, on Ascension Island. Two days after we arrived on Ascension we learned that the airport was closed to large planes due to runway damage. There has been one small plane but our part was not on it. It is a small part so we had big hopes. Nobody knows when the next plane will arrive, but definitely not this week. We met Tom on a catamaran passing through. David speaks to everyone we meet in hopes that they may have the spare parts we need. Tom had planned to put in the same steering unit we have and had spare parts. He came over with the exact belt we needed and promised to come over with the rest of the unit. He did, but the one piece we needed off of the unit was missing. So here we sit. What we need is a small cog of specific dimensions. We brought it in yesterday to see if we can get one manufactured. It's a long shot as there is not a machine shop here. The Harbor Master took the part and said he will try to make one for us, but no promises. So, that is our update, we may be here a while. The people of Ascension could not be nicer, so that is good. The landing to get onto the island is a nightmare so we have spent a lot of time on the boat. The water is lovely but there are sharks everywhere, most in the 2 meter range. We are not swimming! We did watch turtles laying eggs and baby turtles hatching and making their way to the sea, where most are promptly eaten by the sharks cruising the beaches. There is a large public pool here and we have been several times. Zack has met some of the local kids and had some good kid time. We will keep you all posted on our progress here and if anyone is planning a visit to Ascension Island let us know so you can bring the part we need. Laugh if you will, but this was the actual suggestion of the local post office. Cheers!
Safari in South Africa
20 December 2016 | Richards Bay, South Africa
I have been procrastinating the writing of this blog for a week now, there is just so much to write about I don't know where to start. We are in South Africa which will be one of our last stops on our 5 year around the world sailing adventure and are trying to make it a final "hurrah" and thus have been on a bit of a splurge. The first order of business was a safari. In South Africa the safari options range from budget South African, drive yourself and cook your own food types to all out luxury holidays. We opted for the first. Who knew you could simply rent a car and drive yourself around a game park? Well you can and we did. We joined forces with our friends Will and Karen on Chantey to share a car and costs and lots of fun. We rented a mini van named it the "Pope Mobile" and we were off on 2 weeks of adventure. First stop, the grocery store, where we bought all the essentials for a 4 day trip to St Lucia Wetlands and Imfolozi - Hluhluwe National parks. We did buy a family Wildcard pass which allows access to all SAN Parks for a one time yearly fee. It was $275 but paid for itself in 4 days. Our first day we stopped at the Empangeni Cheetah Project. It is not a SAN park but it was very reasonably priced, as is most of South Africa. It is a rehabilitation project for Cheetahs and also has a breeding program. It is fairly small and the tour is about 90 minutes. You walk around in a group with a guide and he educates you about the various cats. They have African bush cats, serval, caracals, and of course cheetahs. You take turns patting each one and taking photos. It is well done and the animals seem well cared for.
We then headed up to the St. Lucia Wetlands, again not a SAN park but inexpensive. We booked into our hotel, had a swim and rest and then walked up to the pier to take a hippo tour. There is a river that is just full of hippos. Numerous boats go out several times a day and you can get very close to the hippos. As we were sitting on our boat waiting to depart David recognized some old friends of ours walking down the dock. It was the crew of Belissima, a French boat we had met in the Pacific. We ran out and said our hellos. They were booked on a different boat, but the guide said they were welcomed to switch and come on our boat. People in South Africa are very laid back and genuinely nice. So Remy and Sylvie joined us and we were off to see the hippos. It's a 2 hour tour which basically involves driving around and watching hippos in their natural habitat. We saw some yawn and push each other but they are not all that active of an animal. We did see a couple of crocodiles and some great bird life.
The next morning we were up and off at the crack of dawn. We wanted to arrive at the Imfolozi park gates by 6 am for the best animal viewing. On our way to the gates we saw giraffe, and water buffalo, this was going to be amazing. It was! Imfolozi is a "big 5" park and it did not disappoint. The park was green and lush due to recent rains, and the landscape was beautiful. When checking in the staff warn you about the camps and instruct you on the proper safety protocol. The camps fences are only effective at keeping out the elephants. You need to be careful when you bbq or hyenas will steal your food, do not even leave your food to go for a beer. The speech seemed designed to scare the foreign tourist and add the allure of danger to your safari. It did nothing to scare us. Our first night was in a safari tent. We had not expected much as the prices were very reasonable. Karen on Chantey had made all the reservations so we had no idea what to expect, I did the food, more my skill set than booking stuff online. The tent was fabulous and the best accommodation we had on the entire safari. It was a hardwood platform with a tent, no ordinary tent, it had 2 full size beds in it, a bathroom with shower off the back and a sperate kitchen tent with everything you could ever need on a vacation. The grill, or braii, as it is called in South Africa was off the porch in the yard. After a day of driving around viewing animals a big bbq cook up is just perfect. I was in the kitchen getting stuff together and Will got the braii going. He was having a good time of it and David had gone for some beers. He came out and unfortunately he did not have his camera with him. Will had a plate of meat in his hand ready to put on the grill and was totally oblivious to the hyena just 10 feet away from him. I guess the safety speech had more merit than we gave it credit for. The hyena was easily shooed away and we had no problems with it, although it did come around several times. Our drives around Imfolozi were amazing. Basically there are numerous roads in the park, some paved and some dirt. You have a map and can drive yourselves around between the hours of 5 am and 6 pm. There are also game drives with rangers but we did not try that option as it was a bit pricey. Imfolozi is famous for its rhino breeding program. We saw lots of rhinos, especially the endangered white rhino. We also had a great giraffe encounter. The animals are literally on the sides of the road. Some are in the bush and you do need to look into the scrub but lots are right out in the open to see. Giraffes are especially easy to see as they stick out of the bush, being so tall. Impala are everywhere, to the point that we no longer even stopping for them. We saw lots of zebra, wildebeest, water buffalo, monkeys and baboons. The highlights were getting stuck in the middle of a herd of about 30 elephants. We were surrounded by them! Huge elephants and tiny babies! It is wild, you are just driving down the road and you see an elephant and so you stop to watch and here comes an entire parade of elephants crossing he road! Total magic and a bit surreal. The animals seem resigned to the cars driving around and don't pay you much attention at all. You do need to be somewhat aware and keep some distance, but we never felt threatened. We had pulled over to watch 2 big rhinos on the side of the road. We were filming them and were very focused. I looked up and a third rhino came out of the bush about 3 feet from our car. He just walked by to join his mates, no big deal. I think we caught some of this on our first safari video which is on you tube.
We spent a night in Hluhluwe Park which is actually attached to Imfolozi. Karen had rented us "Rondavels" for the night. Rondavels are traditional African huts with a thatched roof. These were concrete replicas but did have thatched roofs. They are cute and well done, but the circular shape does seem difficult to furnish. It was raining on our day at Hluhluwe so our braii was a bit damp and we all ate inside our little rondavel to stay dry. Still lots of fun. We drove around Hluhluwe for the day which was lovely. We had many more animal encounters but although we were really looking we were unable to spot any of the big cats. Imfolozi is about an hour and a half from Richard's Bay where our boats were docked, so we headed back to avoid the weekend crowds, check on the boats and provision for the next part of our adventure, Kruger National Park.
Kruger National Park is about a 10 hour drive from Richard's Bay, but you cannot come to South Africa and not see Kruger. It is the oldest game park and an icon. We decided to break up the drive with a stop at Roarke's Drift, a famous Zulu battle ground. It was about a 5 hour drive through some beautiful country. Roarke's Drift is in the middle of basically nowhere, down a long dirt road that leaves you wondering if you are lost. Strangely there is an extremely fancy resort there, like thousands of dollars a night fancy. There is nothing around so not sure who stays there, maybe some extreme history buffs. We did find the sight and the museum. It was small but well done, giving credit to both the Zulu warriors and the British soldiers. We viewed the battle sight and an hour later we were back on the road. Unless you are a big history buff, this one could have been a miss. It didn't really live up to the reviews.
Kruger, on the other hand, did live up to the reviews! We saw multitudes of animals. There are lots of different camps at Kruger and we spent 2 nights at Crocodile Bridge, 1 night at Lower Sabie, and 1 night at Oliphants. We had brought all of our own foods but most everything is readily available at the camp stores. It is a bit more expensive, but not ridiculously so. We did all of our own game drives again. With wild animals it is all about getting out early. The camp gates are locked at night and at Kruger they open at 4;30 am. So we were up and out at the crack of dawn each day. It is absolutely worth it. We saw all sorts of animals and most of our footage on the safari videos comes from these early morning drives. The animals are far more active in the early hours and tend to just rest in the heat of the day. We saw lots of impala jumping around and head butting each other. They were probably just happy to have made it through another night without being eaten. They have a black "M" on their behinds that sort of resembles the arches of McDonalds, it sort of marks them as food, and all the predatory animals eat them. They are the bunnies of the bushveld. It's a shame because they are beautiful and have big sad eyes. There are a few smart ones that would come into the camp at night and hide out under the tents, their fear of humans less than their fear of lions. One night we watched a lone baby trying to figure out how to get into the camp gates, but it was late and I don't think he made it. We also witnessed a couple of warthogs wrestling and some wildebeests having a go at each other. There are lots of animals at Kruger and sometimes it was difficult to know which side of the road to look on as there were animals on both sides. We had some amazing sightings, here are a few of the highlights. A mother jackal with four cubs. She was chewing on the remains of some poor creature, most likely a baby impala while her cubs played around her. The cubs staged a coup and stole the leg from her and ran off with it. She let them have it and it was probably part of her training program for them but it was fun to watch. We saw a mother cheetah with two cubs. They were in the bush but still beautiful. We saw a mother hyena with cubs on the road and stopped to watch them play in the rain one morning. And finally in Lower Sabie we did it, we found the lions! It was the highlight of our trip. A big male lion feeding on what most likely was a poor little baby impala. He was with 2 females and we watched them for at least half an hour. We were about 50 yards away from them and it was unforgettable. The females stayed mostly behind the bushes but the male was in the open and not afraid of anything. He had to be 300 pounds, a lot bigger than we had expected. We have some great footage in the video on youtube. We did see another female lion on one of our later drives but it was a brief sighting. We had seen almost everything, except for the leopard and Will had his heart set on seeing a pangolin. The pangolin being a burrowing nocturnal creature he left without seeing it.
Going on safari was overall one of the highlights of our entire cruising adventure. It was great family time and great friend time. We saw lots of animals, had some great breiis and a lot of laughs. An African safari should certainly be on everyone's bucket list!
Mozambique Channel Crossing
26 November 2016 | Richards Bay, South Africa
We are safe in Richard's Bay, South Africa after a mostly benign, but occasionally horrific passage. The Mozambique Channel is reputed to be one of the worst passages that a boat will make in the course of a circumnavigation. We decided to play it safe and take a weather window that showed light winds and calm seas. We usually look for at least enough wind to keep the sails full but not this time. We had hoped for a bit more than the predicted light winds but we were disappointed . We also spent a bit of time looking at current prediction charts as the current in the channel can have quite an effect on your speed. Southerlies tend to come up the channel and if you are not careful with your timing you can get clobbered. Most of our planning was a waste. The winds were light so we motored a lot. Expensive but better than a thrashing. The currents did as they pleased. We motored against a few knots for a lot of the early part of the trip, interspersed with some great positive current. All in all it probably balanced out to an average of no current. We did have warm sunny days and not much rain at all so that was good. Two of the boats we were traveling with did not motor, one because they have no engine and the other because they carry very little fuel. They got caught in a gyro current, they spent 3 days being dragged in big circles unable to break out of the vortex until the wind came up and allowed them to sail out. They kept in fine spirits and even saw some whales and dolphins. We had a couple of dolphin sightings, but no whales. We did try to sail in the light wind and with our jib. Our first day out some of the sewing came apart on one of the seams. We pulled it down and David spent the day hand stitching it. We put it back up and the next day another seam came apart. Down came the sail and David spent a next day with needle and thread. We were glad it was so calm because in a rough sea there would have been no way to repair the sail underway. We did decide to use the main instead knowing that if some of the stitching on the jib is degraded than most likely all of it is. We haven't spent a lot of money on maintenance along the way and it is starting to show. About two thirds of the way across our main sail decided to rip. A six inch vertical rip. Small, but it put the main out of service for the rest of the trip. At this point we should have pulled out our spare sails. We would have, but our spare sails are actually the bed sheets and they were on the beds. There was no way to fix the main underway either. So now we are motoring with just our staysail. With 300 miles to Richard's Bay and a southerly kicking up we decided to put into Maputo, Mozambique.
A few of the boats we were traveling with followed suit and a few pulled in further North up the coast at Inhambane, Mozambique. It is one of those places you just don't want to race with Mother Nature. We had heard it was unwise to declare yourself in Mozambique. We have heard rumors of corrupt officials and after the bribes we paid in Madagascar we were not going to surrender to more bad officials. One boat did check in and he paid about $100US which is a lot less than we had heard it would be so maybe the rumors are inflated. We still did not want to part with that much cash just to sit on our boat for a few days. We decided not to clear in and it was fine. Nobody came to our boat or any of the others we were with. It would have been nice to have some locals come to trade vegetables like in Moromba Bay, but no luck there. We ate a lot of canned veggies as it has been almost a month since our last grocery store.
The anchorage in Maputo was awful. The wind generally comes from the north, which was fine, or the south, which was totally exposed with a long fetch. The reason you stay in Maputo is to avoid the southerly winds. So it is basically always miserable. If you had northerly winds you would head for South Africa. We were getting excellent weather forecasting on the SAM net on our SSB radio. Unfortunately it was showing only very short weather windows. The day after we arrived there was a short window of 36 hours. We decided to go for it with 3 other boats. The plan was to leave at midnight into the southerlies and try to make a few miles to extend the window to about 40 hours. There was a really big southerly coming after this one and it would be better to get a little beat up in the early stages rather than thrashed at the end. We backed out at the last minute and decided to wait for a longer window. We couldn't use the main and it was uncertain if the jib would last. We didn't know if we could make enough time with just the staysail. We did have enough fuel but that would not have guaranteed enough speed. The rest of the boats set out and we went to bed. In the morning we could hear them on the VHF radio and did they sound miserable. It had rained all night and they had had much worse unfavorable winds then expected. They had only made 6 miles of headway down the coast and were ready to turn around and come back to Maputo after seven hours. They decided to give it one more hour. An hour later the skies had cleared and they had found some positive current, they flew to South Africa. They were in Richard's Bay the next morning at 8AM. With that information it was a lot easier for us to plan. They would have made it in under 30 hours and had not needed to go out so early. They were safe well before the big storm kicked up. We had to sit it out in Maputo. It was misery. We saw winds of 40 mph when we put on the wind gauge but we didn't watch it. Another boat told us later that he had seen gusts of 60 mph. We broke both the snubber lines that David had put on the anchor and had absolutely zero sleep but we made it through fine. Zack somehow managed to sleep through the entire storm, which is good because he hadn't been off the boat in almost 2 weeks and he goes a bit crazy.
We took the next weather window which was a little better than the one we had passed up and the southerly on the other side was not so strong. We did use the jib for a fair bit of it with light winds and had no more tears. When the wind came up strong we reefed in some of the staysail and with the current we were doing a steady 9 knots. It was enough to get us there just before dark. When you arrive outside of Richard's Bay you call the Port Captain and they tell you when you are allowed in. We had to hold off for almost an hour to wait for ships coming out and then in. It was a bit rough but the Port Captain was great and he kept the boats well informed. By the time we got into the harbor it was almost dark and we did not want to pull into the International Wharf without seeing it first. It was good that we didn't go in as it was super crowded and there was not a lot of room to maneuver We dropped the hook outside of the marina. We spent a few days there and were eventually asked to move by a police boat. You are meant to stay on your boat and wait for customs and all the officials. We had read on Noonsite to just go in and do it yourself. David did and it was fine. Some boats were checked in quickly and others had to wait days. It is a bit random here. We had wanted to go into the Zululand Yacht Club but it has been full with boats from the ARC rally. When the police asked us to move we were forced to go into Tuzi Gazi Marina. They are nice but the docks are in rough shape and it is very noisy here.
We took a couple of days to rest after our trip. The restaurants here are really cheap. All the boats went to the all you can eat breakfast at the Dros restaurant on the dock. It is pretty basic but at $3 (and half that for kids) it's a bargain you can't beat. We spent a couple of days shopping at the mall which is ok. There are several grocery stores there and you can get mostly anything, and mostly cheap. The meat section is amazing, dead stuff everywhere. A kilo of bacon was about $8. They have anything you have ever wanted to grill and more. It took me a while but I did find some lettuce that wasn't iceberg at the Woolworth's. This is not a nation that caters to vegetarians, although things are better than they have been in a long time. Vegetable and fruit are also super inexpensive so we have been feasting. I was unable to find a turkey for Thanksgiving so I did a couple of chickens. While we were looking the boys found some ostrich meat for sale. They bought it and loved it! We had some of the other boats over and had a huge feast. It was lots of fun and a first Thanksgiving for some of our friends from other countries. We have spent the last 2 days planning a road trip with our friends Will and Karen on Chantey. We are renting a car and going to a few game reserves. We are all very excited to get out and see some of South Africa.
The Land of Lemurs and Baobabs
29 October 2016 | Moramba Bay,Madagascar
Last night at dinner we watched a National Geographic video on Madagascar, we often watch documentaries about the countries we are visiting. It is fun to see if we recognize any of the places shown on the videos. Well, last night the video starts rolling and lo and behold, the first scenes were shot in the bay we are currently anchored in. We had spent the afternoon playing on the beach, swimming and watching the lemurs dance through the trees. The crew from National Geographic did take a bit of liberty with the splicing, because the waves they show crashing onto the beach are from the other side of the island but we could recognize each of the Baobab trees as the camera panned the island. If we had been here during filming we may have become famous, maybe next time.
We plan to leave Madagascar to head for South Africa in the next couple of days. We are watching the weather and preparing food for the passage. Well, David's watching weather and I am preparing food. Zack is trying to get some school work caught up as he doesn't like to do it on passage. We have had a great time here and have seen a few new and exciting things. Save for the corrupt officials who make you pay bribes checking into and out of the country, the people have been lovely. The corruption is so bad that we know of one boat that did not bother to even check in and many are not bothering to check out. We hear it's not such a big problem when you check into South Africa. We chose the legal route but given another go at it, we would probably opt out of the formalities. It would have made provisioning and refueling a bit tedious but not impossible.
There have been many highlights, but Nosy Antosha is a stand out. It is a reserve island where lemurs have been introduced for tourism. Sounds bad, but it is really well done. The lemurs are free to roam the small island, but they come out when called to feast on bananas. We went twice. There are 5 types of lemurs on the island and they climb all over you in order to get at the banana offerings. It is a guided tour and the guide provides the bananas. He gives you pieces and you can feed the lemur or you can position the banana so the lemur needs to climb onto your shoulders to get it. The lemurs are not shy and they are quite used to people. They will jump on you and use you as a stepping stone to get to the person with the banana. The whole thing is chaos, but cute fun chaos. Zack was the only kid so he got more than his fair share of bananas and lemur time, really exciting. The island is small and the tour is about an hour with a hike that takes you to the different groups of lemurs. They are building an open air rental on the island so that one lucky couple will be able to stay each night. It's a cool set up and I would have loved to stay for a night, but it's not quite done. The anchorage was awful, too rolly to even contemplate staying a night. Nosy Antosha is 5 miles from Russian Bay so it is an easy day excursion.
Another of our favorite day excursions was Nosy Tanilely. It is also a nature reserve and you are only allowed to anchor for the day. We came over from Crater Bay which is about 6 miles away. We dropped anchor in a patch of sand, grabbed our snorkel gear and we were off. We spent about 3 hours in the water. Poor Zack, there were so many fish. So many edible fish, and they were huge, some of the biggest we have ever seen. The snappers, groupers, and trevally were everywhere. Some were over three feet! Being a national park there was no spear fishing allowed, it was almost too much for Zack. He has become an avid spear fisher since Cocos Keeling, and was sure he could have filled the entire freezer for us given his gun and half an hour. Zack's disappointment aside, it was great to see such healthy reefs and a healthy fish population. It is not often that we see that out here, and it was our first really good snorkeling in Madagascar. After our snorkel and some lunch we made our way to shore to pay the park fees and to do the hike. The fees have recently gone up to 20,000 Airiary a person, which is about $6, Zack was free so not too bad. The hike was short and up a concrete trail. You are not allowed to feed the lemurs here so we didn't see much. But a lovely day was had by all. We went back to Crater Bay for the night as you are not allowed to anchor here either. Tanikely is so lovely you could do it a couple of times.
On our way south we stopped at Nosy Iranji. The "anchorage" here is in sand, so the holding is great but it is so rolly it is just about untenable. It is also to far from a decent anchorage to make it a day trip. We left Russian Bay very early so that we could spend the day and then move down to Honey River for the night. We anchored on the wrong side of the island to go snorkeling and we didn't want to launch our dinghy, so we decided to kayak in for a look at some waves that were crashing on the corner of the island. They weren't any good for surfing but we brought a boogie board in and had a great day playing in the waves. We were sunburned and tired when we arrived in Honey River. We were ready for dinner and bed but we were assailed with canoes trying to sell us honey, crabs and tours. We declined on all fronts, but Karen got a bottle of honey and said it was excellent. One gentleman was selling tours and seemed to be scoping our boat as David spoke to him. We have heard that four dinghy motors have gone missing in Honey River this year so we did not want to stay, we left early the next morning.
We don't want to sail overnight in Madagascar as we head south, so our next stop was Nosy Lava. Nosy Lava was once a prison island and the old buildings are still there in varying states of decay. We went in for an early morning look around. We were greeted on the beach by a local gentleman and Will had had the foresight to bring a t-shirt for a gift. He said it was ok if we looked around a bit. He followed us for a while but soon got tired and left us be. A few more men from the village came to ask for gifts but as we had nothing with us they soon left as well. It was not all that exciting and we left after an hour ourselves.
We had a lovely sail down to Moramba Bay. The sailing on the west coast of Madagascar is top notch with flat seas and light but sailable winds. David saw a whale but by the time Zack and I came up it was gone and did not resurface. We have been having fishing competitions onboard Flour Girl. We each get a fishing line and we chose the type of fish we want to catch. If you are the first to catch a fish on your line and it is the type of fish you said you would catch then you have won the trifecta and the other two have to do all of your chores the next day. There have been no winners so far. Zack did catch a small Spanish Mackerel on the way to Moramba Bay. Unfortunately Zack had wanted to include Chantey in our contest and they caught 2 fish. He was dumbfounded to lose. We never lose at fishing. The boys drag the "wall of Death" behind the boat, but lose we did and we had to pay the price. We had to make them a dessert. Zack made humble pie. Basically a banana cream pie with chocolate drizzle instead of whipped cream. Provisions are getting low out here!
We are now in Maramba Bay waiting for a weather window to South Africa. We are glad we left some time in our schedule to explore this lovely place. The kayaking is amazing with lots to see. Some paddle through overhangs and lots of huge baobab trees growing out of some wild rock formations. We spent a day hiking to the baobab forest. It is a fairly short hike but there are lots of wild lemurs hopping through the trees above you. They don't sit on your shoulders but it's better to see them in nature doing their own thing, and playing with each other. We also saw some amazing baobab trees. One had a circumference of about 20 feet! There are several varieties of baobab in Moramba Bay and to stand under one of these magnificent giants is awe inspiring. We will wait here for a weather window and will be traveling hopefully direct to Richard's Bay South Africa. If the weather goes bad we will pull into Mozambique. so we will not have communication for at least 10 days. We will be traveling with Chantey and most likely Calypso and Zoorana. So not to worry we won't be alone.
One more thing to mention before I blog off is the canoes we have encountered here. The local population hand build several types of boats. It is great to see a local community that embraces sailing, they really seem to enjoy sailing the bays and not just as a means of transport. In Russian Bay and Moramba bay the locals carve canoes out of trees. They use them to get around but also to come to boats to sell and trade. We have bought crabs, eggs, tomatoes, eggplant, bok choy and lots of mangoes, limes and bananas. Mostly people want to trade. My friend Mina would be horrified to see me trading the clothes she gave me to give away in Vanuatu. They were a bit too stylish for the ladies in Vanuatu who seem to prefer wearing tents. The ladies in Madagascar are loving them. I have also cleaned out all of our closets and Zack had some great clothes that were too small for him. I am a horrible negotiator, not that I want to ask for much from these people who have so little. It is also not good to just give things out because it encourages people to ask for everything you have. Everyone goes away smiling so that is what it is really all about, and you get a few veggies in exchange, win -win. We have not been offered anything too crazy but Chantey has been offered live chickens and even a live small crocodile. The crocodile guy came by our boat but he just showed it to us. His brother was later cooked up for a dinner at Andre's bar that a few of the cruisers went to. They said it was delicious. We gave it a skip. Madagascar has been a grand adventure and we are glad we have come this way, keep us in your thoughts as we head to South Africa.
02 October 2016 | Russian Bay,Madagascar
Leaving Mauritius we had a perfect weather window for the 6 day sail to Madagascar. The wind blows strong on the north tip of Madagascar and we left expecting to have a relatively calm 20 to 25 knots to round Cape D'Ambre. About 4 minutes off the coast of Mauritius our autopilot decided to give up. We discussed turning around and trying to have it fixed in Mauritius but we would have had to call the same company that failed to fix our SSB radio. That and listen to Eric taunt us for being wimps (he hand steers always.) We decided to suck it up and hand steer the 6 days to Madagascar. How difficult could it be? Lots of people have circumnavigated without autopilot and much of the other gear we take for granted. Well, bully for them, it sucked!!!! The saving grace was Zack. He would steer for 10 to 20 minutes several times a day, sometimes even more. We could call him at any time and he would bring food or water. He was a real champ. He even designed a steering rudder contraption so that we could sit in the corner and still steer. It was a pole attached to the wheel and tied off to the bimini support. It made steering a bit like windsurfing. It worked great in light winds, which we had for the first couple of days. When the wind picked up we had to stand at the wheel. We did 3 hour watches so not to horrible. At night 3 hours is a long tedious watch, but a really short sleep. Fortunately I had made plenty of food to last the trip, so we didn't have to spend a lot of time cooking. The worst part for the boys was we did not fish, it would have been too difficult to hand steer and fillet fish. We did eventually make it to Madagascar and we had basically had a nice passage. We were all pretty excited to see land. We had decided not to stop at Ile St. Marie and just go over the top and get to the popular cruising grounds around Nosy Be. We approached Cape D'Ambre in the morning and the winds were high at about 25 knots. We had read that the best approach is close in to shore. We hugged the coast and things were rough but not unmanageable. A couple of boats we know showed up on the AIS so we gave them a call. They said the anchorage was ok but it was gusting into the 30's so we decided to keep going. We ended up spending the night in Nosy Hao. (Nosy is the Malagasy word for island) It was too rough to get ashore but we were able to get a good nights sleep. The next day we headed down to Nosy Hara., which has a very protected bay It's a National Park but you can usually anchor and not go ashore, thereby avoiding fees. We had not even anchored and there was a boat load of guys out trying toe extract fees. We had read in blogs from a previous year that it was 13,000 Ariary per person. (3,000 Ariary is $1) we would have happily paid that for a good nights sleep, except we have no Airary. No problem they say, any currency is fine. Except now the fees are 55,000 per person even if we do not go ashore and if we are staying the night that is 2 days fees. So the equivalent of $110. We explained it was too much and they agreed if we left first thing in the morning we could pay only one day. We left. Back to Nosy Hao as it was the only free anchorage close enough to be in before dark.
We had a lovely sail the next day and pulled into a well sheltered bay at Andraponaomby, gotta love these Malagasy names. David and Zack caught a 20 pound yellow fin tuna on the way and they were stoked. We had saved the head and frame as most villagers ask for them to make soup. The first canoe that showed up had 2 little boys and we gave it to them as we didn't see any others. Then the canoes came. Most wanted t-shirts and we did trade 2 shirts for a hand of bananas. We decided to ignore the guy just asking for a shirt with nothing to trade,and eventually just went down below. Chantey did a little trading and was offered a live chicken for a shirt, they declined. One of the 2 gentlemen we had given a shirt to claimed to be the chief and Will asked if we could visit the village. He agreed and pointed to one of the four villages ashore, telling us to come at nine the next morning. He then paddled off in the opposite direction. We got up and launched our dinghy, dressed appropriately and packed a gift for the village, some clothes and a few food items. We did this at the villages in Vanuatu and it was always well received. We got to the village a bit after nine and the "chief" was no where to be seen. I don't even think it was his village. It was the strangest encounter ever, the people just stared at us, they didn't invite us in or make much effort to even talk to us. We did take a little walk around, but it was very awkward. We left after 5 minutes and that was it. We didn't even bother with the other villages.
Our next stop was Nosy Mitsio. There is a lovely bay with miles of white sand beach. We spent almost a week here and it was perfect. There are several places to anchor depending on the wind direction. In one of the anchorages I traded 4 shirts for 5 limes! I have made lots of trades since and as I am basically trying to clean the boat out and the poverty here is immense, I've made some pretty good deals, although none in my favor! Chantey traded for some lobsters and we got together for a feast. There is a small island on the other side of the bay and we sailed over to it for the day. We snorkeled and explored the island. Zack found some land crab holes and the boys caught 2 for lunch. Zack is big into fishing and hunting. He asked if I would make Singapore Pepper Crab with them and I agreed. Will volunteered to clean and kill them and then bring them to Flour Girl. I will cook them but killing them is not my thing. He showed up with a bucket of crab pieces and I threw them in a hot pan. The pieces started to move, it was the most horrifying thing I have ever seen. No more land crab for us. A couple of our friend boats showed up and the next day we had a big swim and play on the beach day, complete with a boat building contest. We lost, but had lots of fun anyway.
We had been in Madagascar for well over a week and our next stop was Hellville to check in. On the sail down we had a whale swim very close to our boat!! We have read lots of blogs decrying the corruption of officials in Madagascar. It's true, you have to pay some extra fees. It wasn't as bad as we expected and you can negotiate a little. We had also read some negative reviews of Hellville. We loved it. You need to pay the boat boys on the dock but it is 10,000 Ariary a day, so not bad at all and they take your trash and are very pleasant, so fair enough. Hellville has a surprisingly good supermarket, with an amazingly good bakery right next door. We went twice, in one day! The market has a good selection of produce. You need to power through the meat and seafood section as it is disgusting. The smell will gag you and everything is covered in flies, it is truly nauseating. We bought lots of good veggies and fresh herbs and did not feel as if anyone overcharged us for being foreigners. In the stores along the way we bought some nice carvings and souvenirs very inexpensively. Zack got a carved double bladed knife for $3. We also found a fossilized fish and paid about $10 for that. Madagascar is very inexpensive after check in!
Almost 2 weeks in Madagascar and we have yet to see a single lemur. We headed over to Nosy Komba to take the tour. It was 4,000 each, kids free. We hiked with a guide who spoke French and English and was super informative. We saw lemurs but it was late in the day and after being fed all day they weren't very interested in us, We also saw tortoises, large bright green geckos, and snakes, which you can hold, Zack and David yes, me no. The guide invited us to come back in the morning to get better pictures with the lemurs. We went the next day and it was brilliant. The lemurs sit on your shoulder and eat bananas out of your hand. It was magical. They are super cute and very gentle. Zack also held the snake again, yuck!!
From Nosy Komba we headed to Russian Bay. Lots of cruisers were there for a big party. There are a few charter boats in Nosy Be and they have a party in Russian Bay for them. There were games but we didn't participate,. We went in for the party and there was cold beer and some music with a bonfire. All very nice. Andre is an expat from Austria that owns a bar here. He sells beer which is occasionally cold. When it's not cold, you bring your own, drink it and buy warm ones to restock your fridge. It is a lovely spot and he has 2 pet lemurs and a very cute baby to play with. Andre also has a small store behind his bar that sells basics. We went for a hike with a few other boats and ended up at the bar for a glass of sangria. When we went in to pay for the sangria, which turned out to be complimentary, we discovered the store. He had unroasted coffee beans. Our friend Tucker roasts his own coffee on board so we all decided to give it a go. I bought 500 grams and took it home to roast. It was $1 so how bad could it be? It smelled like dirt and no amount of roasting could change that. I spent hours roasting it and nothing. I ground it all up and we cold brewed it over night. Honestly, it didn't taste horrible, but we both felt a little queasy all day. We dumped it. I traded 2 shirts and 2 dresses for 2 mud crabs, because Zack loves crab. The little phsyco killed them himself. And then he cooked them. He is getting into cooking which is exciting. The local sailboats are all handmade and sail really well. They are lateen rigged and you can see them sailing all over. There is a guy named Paul in Russian Bay that will take you out for a small fee. We booked a tour with Chantey and another boat joined us. We hadn't asked many questions and did not realize that the tour included a big hike across the land to visit a village. We were all under prepared and did not bring enough water. It was a lovely, albeit hot hike. The sun here is brutal. We were about half way through the hike when Paul mentioned that children were free. It seems under 20 is free in Madagascar! The sailing home was the highlight of the trip and it even included lunch made and served by Paul's wife when we returned. It was a simple grilled fish with coconut rice and a mango salad. Simple but delicious. The tour was 25,000 Ariary per person and a great value. We are really enjoying Madagascar!
28 August 2016 | Grand Bay, Mauritius
We had a very pleasant 3 day sail from Rodrigues to Mauritius. Finally a nice sail in the Indian Ocean! Mauritius is a volcanic island and is quite lovely with high mountains and unique rock formations. It is also very touristy and there are fancy resorts on most of the beaches. Yacht check in is in the capital of Port Louis. We came in late in the afternoon so we hid out in one of the bays to allow us to arrive first thing in the morning. Apparently the customs officials only spend a couple of hours there in the morning and if you are late you need to track them down. Chantey beat us there and tied up to the wharf. It was calm enough so we rafted up to them and Will and David went off to complete the formalities. The bay is very protected but the tug drivers are not all that considerate. We were waiting for the guys when we got a wake and Karen had to fend off the dock while I tried to keep the boats from hitting each other. It was a big wake and as the boats pulled apart the fairlead was ripped off the bow of Chantey. No one was hurt but it was not so fun. With formalities completed we decided to pull into the marina for a couple of days. We needed to renew Zack's passport and the embassy was walking distance from the marina. There are no anchorages near Port Louis. The marina, if you could call it that, was cheap enough and convenient. It is basically a basin with concrete walls that boats tie to and you can raft your boat onto a boat that is there. We tied off to a catamaran and Chantey tied onto us. The owner of the catamaran pitched a fit for the two of us being there and Chantey had to move to the other side. Fortunately he did not live aboard and was not there most of the time, as we had to climb over his boat to get ashore.
We were unable to book an appointment online for the US Embassy so we just showed up the next day and it was no issue at all. We filled out the paper work, they were very courteous and helpful and 10 days later we had Zack's new passport. It was a far better experience than Kuala Lumpur. We spent a couple of days exploring Port Louis. There is a huge market but the hawkers are fairly aggressive. It's OK, you just walk around and look while repeating "no thank you." It's mostly all the same tourist stuff you see everywhere and we didn't buy anything. We did find a micro brewery and had a lovely dinner with Chantey. The beer was really good and the food was excellent. We left Port Louis and sailed up to Grand Bay. It is a lovely spot and the yacht club is very welcoming. They give all visiting boats a free month membership, which allows you to use the free but slow wifi and to shower and use their dinghy dock. |It is a reasonably short walk to the Super U grocery store where we spent most of our time there re provisioning the boat. It had been a while since we were able to shop at a large store and the Super U has just about anything you would ever want, including baguettes for about fifteen cents each. We ate a LOT of baguette! We were also able to get everything for a big sushi night on Flour Girl. It was a hit. I made the sushi rolls and MIm did the tempura and we had a huge feast. While we were shopping and being responsible, Zack was having a great time hanging out with Eric's niece and nephew who were visiting. They played volleyball most days at one of the resorts and a few games of tennis. A couple of the other kid boats were there and they had lots of fun climbing the tree at the yacht club and swimming in the bay. The water is cold so not a lot of swimming. I skipped the one snorkel excursion and was glad I did when David and Zack came back frozen and blue. We didn't do a lot in Mauritius but we did see a movie. It was in English and we were the only people in the theater. French is the official language but most people do speak English. Zack's friends Melodie and Max were due to leave to go back to Canada and it was getting close to Zack's birthday so we threw a small last minute birthday party for Zack. I had all the boat kids over for the afternoon and took them all knee boarding. They had all had a sleep over on Mares the night before and were tired, but they rallied. Zack is a keen knee boarded since he has gotten his 360,s down. He loves to show off. We had cupcakes and sang. It was a nice birthday/going away party for the kids. It was good because we ended up being on passage for Zack's actual birthday. Mauritius was pleasant enough and we had a nice stay. It was a good rest stop even if it was less exciting than the other stops in the Indian Ocean. We are going to give La Reunion a skip, we have heard it is beautiful but it is expensive. We are off to Madagascar!