Way too busy

We are getting down to the final week of work on Tahina in the boatyard. Things have been really crazy this week. Actually, the boatyard wasn’t the biggest distraction. The boat parts (and other things) we had shipped from the US 2 weeks ago was being held up by FedEx for stupid reasons. I may go into the full tale in a later post, but suffice it to say FedEx gave me hell for a week (after it was already here in South Africa) on a package I paid a substantial amount of money for them to deliver. Because the package was “yacht goods” for a “yacht in transit” no VAT or import was necessary. And, because the package was a small parcel, no clearing agent was required. But, a guy at FedEx insisted I had to hire one. At this point we reached an impasse for days. And there were major mix ups. After I elevated the issues up to higher levels (the manager of the manager at the national office) I finally got someone who listened, and immediately addressed the problem and made the people who were harassing me apologize. Still, I won’t be trusting FedEx to deliver a package to me internationally again any time soon. Still, I got the package in less than 24 hours after the manager took over.

We now have the parts needed to finish some of the jobs on the boat, and we should be going back in the water by early next week. The team we hired has almost completed all of the tasks that must be done before we go back in the water. They should be done by Friday for sure. There will still be some jobs the team will need to finish next week after we’re back in the water. I plan to do a post later that tells you more about the stuff we got done in the month+ we have been working.

Karen and I also now both have our birthday presents as well (Karen has a new camera, and I have a new pair of binoculars). And, I also have the new camera to replace the one lost to rain in Reunion. So, now we’re really anxious to go back out to a game park again and take even more pictures!

We are trying to decide whether to stay here in Richards Bay a bit longer, or leave soon for Cape Town. A decision on that will have to be made by next week. Meanwhile, more boats we know have arrived. Our friends on s/v Kilkea II and s/v Solar Planet arrived yesterday. We had dinner with Kilkea last night and celebrated their having crossed the same Longitude the long way (a technical circumnavigation even though it was at another latitude). And more boats we know are on their way.

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Photos of Wildlife from our First Africa Safaris

White Rhinos

White Rhinos

Last week, we took a three day break from the boat yard work to go on our first Africa safaris to see some wildlife. We teamed up with our friends Paul and Gina from s/v Solace and went first to the Hluhluwe/iMfolozi Game Reserve. One of the advantages of Richards Bay is that it is near several game reserves. iMfolozi is less than 90 minutes away. So we left early the first day and were driving through the gate by about 8 AM.

African Elephant

African Elephant

One of the first objectives apparently is to try and see the “Big Five” – African Elephant, Cape Buffalo, African Lion, Black Rhino, and the African Leopard. These were the animals that were the most dangerous to hunt on foot back in the day when shooting with guns was more popular than shooting photos. Within the first five minutes we found the Buffalo, and saw many of them that first day. We also found many elephants as well, including some close encounters. Although we found many white rhinos, the more rare black rhinos we never saw at iMfolozi, but we did find them later. We hired a guide for a night tour, and we found the African lions, but I haven’t processed those photos yet – that will be in a future post. On this trip, we never find the leopard – but, we tried really hard. We were told they are the hardest of the five to spot.

Kudu

Kudu

The experience of going to the game reserve was simply amazing! To see the wildlife truly in the wild, with large dangerous animals like elephants and rhinos only a few meters away with no fences or gullies between you is tantalizing. And the animals were so plentiful and so many varieties. It seemed like every moment we were on the edge of our seats not knowing what new treat would greet our senses. One of my favorite photos is of this kudu.

We saw herds of impala, wilderbeest (Gnu), buffalo, elephants, zebra, and kudu. We saw many pairs of rhinos and sometimes rhino calves, and warthogs. We saw a hyena, a cheetah, a nyala, bunch of baboon, a genet, hares and tortoise, bushbuck, duker, banded mongoose, and another mongoose. We also saw many kinds of birds.

Close Encounter

Close Encounter

We had some amazing unexpected encounters. We stopped on a narrow section of road to let a car from the opposite direction pass, when suddenly I looked to the left (I was driving) and saw three rhino just 5 meters away! The closest was a female facing us, and a male was trying to mount her from behind. Karen and Gina on the near side of the car both started to take pictures and I immediately started moving the car forward, but they both said “STOP” (they wanted to take pictures). I said “Are you crazy?!” – that rhino might move any second. I moved us a few feet forward and sure enough the rhinos moved right into the road and stopped the other car from moving. It was an impasse for a few moments, but the female rhino snorted and turned towards the male and he ran off. She was having none of him.

Elephant and tree

Elephant and tree

A few moments after that several elephants crossed the road, we got this great shot of a baby elephant waving its trunk at us. Then as we went down the road we had a large bull elephant appear just a few feet off the road next to us. He clearly saw us and moved to a tree and pushed it up several feet showing us how big he was (as a warning I think). We got some good pictures and moved carefully away.

That night we went on a guided tour and we got to see a pride of lions. All of my night photos were taken with a video camera which I need to process still, so you’ll have to wait for those photos. We also had a close encounter with a giraffe who crossed right in front of our truck appearing in our headlights suddenly. That was when we saw several of the nocturnal animals I mentioned in the list.

The next morning, we hired the same guide to take us on a early morning trip. That’s when we saw our first giraffe in daylight on a far away ridge. The guide also spotted a hyena on a far ridge. We didn’t find the lion in the spot from the night before. We did spot several more pairs of rhinos, another herd of elephant and many impala, nyala, kudu, etc. We literally saw hundreds of animals in 24 hours.

I had been disappointed initially at the fact the weather got cloudy and even sprinkled rain. But, the guide told us far more animals are seen when its not sunny. Before noon, we drove an hour towards the east to St Lucia. There we planned to visit iSimangaliso Wetland Park. They also have a wide range of African wildlife, and lots of wetland animals like hippos. We took a river tour in the evening, a night guided tour (which was a bit of a disaster which I’ll write about later), and a drive through the eastern park the next day.

Hippo Mouth

Hippo Mouth

The river boat tour was the highlight. We saw many hippos in the water, and saw some amazing hippo action. We also saw a couple of nile crocodile, and a wide range of birds. My two favorite birds were the Fish Eagle, and the beautiful large Goliath heron. We went on the evening tour, and it was the best time to go apparently.

Here is a small album of about 25 photos showing a highlight of the animals. I still need to process some of the night photos which include the pride of lion we saw. I’ll try to do more posts with more photos this week.


View full-sized slideshow

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Back in the Boatyard

After we arrived in Richards Bay, we were told to tie up at the International wharf which is next to the Tuzi Gazi marina. A local sailboat charter captain gave us directions and helped tie us up. He also gave us a few tips. A little while after we arrived, the customs officials arrived. Clearing in was a simple process and they even filled out the one page of paperwork themselves by simply asking us questions. Unfortunately, immigration took another two days to show up, but the process was also quite simple. We were still able to visit the local shops and restaurants while waiting for immigration, so it wasn’t a major hassle. We only got 3 months on our visas initially, so we will have to extend our visas somehow before Christmas.

A friendly South African couple named Lawrence and Anne, who are members of the Zululand Yacht Club nearby, greeted us shortly after our arrival to welcome us and give us some orientation. Their boat is in the local marina. They offered to drive us around and gave us a brief tour of the Yacht Club. They also helped direct us to a place to buy SIM cards for our phones so we could get Internet. Very nice people, and they try to greet every foreign yacht arriving to the port. They apparently also are organizers for visiting yacht rallies like the World ARC which arrives here in a few weeks.

The day after we arrived, we had a nice gentleman drop by to meet us. He has been following our blog for quite some time, and is also a cruiser himself. He is a co-owner to an Internet service provider in the area and offered to allow us to come to his office if we need more bandwidth. He also does radio work and later came to our boat and helped diagnose and fix a problem we had with our SSB – at no charge. His name is Johan and his business is Planet Communications and reminds me of my old Internet business back in the 90s. Very nice man, and we hope to invite him to our boat sometime after we get back in the water.

We got our Internet on our cell phones, and started evaluating whether we would get our boat work done here or with our boat manufacturer who is at St Francis Bay near Port Elizabeth. It turns out the logistics at our manufacturer were too expensive and would not allow us to stay on board during the work. After talking to other boats who had work done in Richards Bay, we elected to stay here. We also were convinced that there are several excellent game parks within a short drive of Richards Bay, so we would be able to take breaks and do some sightseeing.

Tahina haulout ZYC

Tahina haulout ZYC

So, a week later, we made arrangements to have Tahina hauled out at the Zululand Yacht Club. We got temporary membership at the club, and moved our boat to their marina. We had to wait two nights so the yard could make room for us. Which was good because a gale blew through the area with strong winds for the two days. Fortunately, it blew past the night before we did the haul-out. The haul-out process was similar to others we have done where they arranged a hydraulic lift under our bridge deck and planks and tires in the right places. The process was a little more lengthy to execute, but worked well. It also took longer for them to clean the bottoms and that put us into Friday before it was done. So, the real work didn’t begin until the next week.

We hired a team of guys who would not only sand and paint our bottoms with new anti-fouling, but also handle a number of other projects we had one our list for this haul-out. Tahina is now 7 years old and has some wear and tear needing some TLC. The US dollar is much stronger relative to the Rand, so we can afford the labor here better than in some places. This means Karen and I won’t have to do a lot of the grunt work we usually do during a haul-out.

We hired a car for a month, because we were sure the work would take at least that long. We are using the car so we could go and get parts, get groceries, and maybe do a little sightseeing in the area. There are good shopping centers in the area and the supermarkets have lots of more familiar foods we found hard to get in southeast Asia. And, the prices are really good for us with the strong US dollar. The restaurants are also very good and we have been eating out a lot more as a result. Living on the hard is never fun, we can’t use the toilets on board, so we have to walk to nearby toilet facilities for relief and for taking showers. Laundry is convenient and there is a chandlery on site, and the yacht club has a restaurant with decent food at reasonable prices.

Workers in the bilge

Workers in the bilge

After three weeks, a lot of progress has been made. The sanding took longer than expected, but the work was thorough. A lot of wear and tear issues, electrical issues, a radio problem, etc. have been fixed. We also have had stainless steel fittings re-seated as they were starting to show signs of rust and would have soon leaked if not addressed. This includes cleats, the bow and stern seats, and life-line stanchions. We have had our watermaker serviced, hydraulic steering checked, minor fiberglass repairs, our deck wash pump fixed, our boom derick serviced, and much more. We also are finally having our raw-water intake for our generator moved, and the old thru-hull was glassed over. We have also ended up completely replacing the stainless bits on all our thru-hulls because although we had last year replaced the ball-valves, the old stainless tails and skin fittings were still corroding.

One of the first things done after arrival was the removal of our port sail drive. After the scheduled overhaul we had done in Malaysia last year, that sail drive developed a problem when in reverse where it was only giving minimal thrust. We suspected the mechanic in Malaysia had either made a mistake, or we had a very strange coincidence of a problem developing after we had a routine maintenance on a perfectly working engine. We have been suffering from lack of proper maneuverability since last November. The drive was sent to the one authorized Yanmar facility in South Africa in Cape town. After two weeks, they said the only problem found was a bit of wear and tear on the cone clutch. I got on the phone with them and made sure they understood the problem I was having and they assured they thoroughly checked the innards. They indicated they did everything they could do except for putting it back in the water. I’m a bit concerned that the problem isn’t fixed and we will have a further delay if we have to re-haul and send it back again. Oh, and they would have to pay for that.

We had to order some parts that have yet to arrive. I made the mistake of using FedEx to have a package with the parts sent from the US. The FedEx people here locally first insisted I would have to pay VAT on the goods. They didn’t seem to understand we are a yacht in transit, and that we are not importing the goods into their country. This is a standard arrangement for visiting vessels and provisions are made for this situation in every country we have visited. Eventually they asked someone and found we were right, but still insisted we have to have a clearing agent. This would be true for a large package (say a mast, or big sails), but is not true for small parcels. I will not be using FedEx any more unless I hear they have got their act together again.

While we have been on the hard, a number of foreign yachts have arrived with crews we know. Our friends Paul and Gina of s/v Solace we were particularly glad to see. We have been taking breaks from the boatyard by joining them and other crews at various social functions at the yacht club or at restaurants in the area. We have found most South Africans we have met to be very friendly and welcoming. In a later post, we’ll talk about the culture and other aspects of South Africa we have noticed since we arrived.

Primer coat

Primer coat

The light is at the end of the tunnel on the boatyard work. The picture here shows the primer coat on the bottoms. Since then two out of three coats of antifoul have been added. Despite the cheaper labor, the bill tally has been mounting rapidly. And, we have at least a week of yard work left, and possibly more as we try complete the final tasks. The saildrive repair uncertainty is a big concern. A number of tasks that can be done after we get back in the water will be postponed, so more work will be done afterwards before we can leave to start making our way to Cape Town.

I really hate living through the boatyard experience, but it will be good to have so many things back in working order when we are done.

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Seven Day Trip to South Africa from Madagascar

South Africa Passage

South Africa Passage

We left Mahajanga at the crack of dawn on the 17th of September from our anchorage near Katsepy in the Mahajanga Bay of Madagascar. Our destination was Richards Bay in South Africa about 1400 miles away. Our friends on Solace (Paul and Gina) got up to wave us goodbye! They are such nice people. We were sorry they couldn’t accompany us, but the weather route we had picked was suitable for a boat of our speed (we hoped). Solace wouldn’t be able to maintain the pace and would get caught in foul weather.

This post is rather lengthy, and could be a bit boring if you aren’t into what its like to sail on a multi-day passage. But, the first few paragraphs tell about the bit of adventure we had at the start!

Confident with our maintenance checks, and the repaired main halyard, we raised sail and began sailing down the 125 miles of coastline left of Madagascar before we began crossing the Mozambique channel west towards Africa. You can follow along on our track in the map shown on the right hand side of our web site. We sailed a bit slow in the morning only making 6.5 knots, but by 10ish we were doing 8+ knots. We made a brief 5 minute stop off an island along the coast to dive and check that the props were clean. We wanted maximum efficiency if we needed to motor along the passage.

The afternoon was a delightful sail and we watched many local wooden sail boats going to and fro along the coast. The winds picked up a notch and we were making 9-11 knots on mostly flat water. We were gradually getting further away from the coast as planned and were about abeam of the last bay most people stop to anchor in called Baly Bay. We had just passed a fisherman 10 miles off the coast who was at anchor when suddenly it happened. Our mainsail came down!! I looked up, and sure enough the main halyard had let loose again!

I hit my forehead realizing that the eye splice I thought was good enough when we set up the new halyard yesterday was not a load-bearing eye splice afterall. Ugh. Well, we were going to have to re-run the halyard and this time tie it off. But, we were 10 miles from Baly Bay and it was upwind. So, we immediately turned that way and began motoring. A quick calculation showed we were going to be on a race with the setting sun getting to the nearest anchorage. Ended up running both motors the last five miles to ensure our arrival by sunset.

Setting up to run halyard

Setting up to run halyard

Meanwhile, I spent the time completely prepping to go up the mast and re-run the halyard. We just went through this whole process the day before, so I knew exactly what to do. We got to the nearest anchorage spot, quickly dropped our hook, and within a minute or two I was going up the mast. As I was going up, the sun was setting. We did the job in record time – the halyard was run and we were pulling up the hook in only 20 minutes. We then motored across Baly Bay to the point as fast as possible. The entire delay cost us about 3 hours. Not too bad, I’m just really glad it happened then and not while we were crossing the channel!

Fortunately, that was probably the biggest drama of the passage. We made calls to Solace on the radio the first few nights to give them our position. But, we got out of range eventually and used our Iridium phone to e-mail them reports the rest of the way. We had downloaded detailed current maps from a source on the Internet and mapped our course accordingly. Unfortunately, it turns out the channel is highly unpredictable, and for the first two days we had contrary currents more often than not. We did find bits of the famed Aghulas current as we turned to head south. But, it was not all we hoped it to be.

Spinnaker flying

Spinnaker flying

Fortunately, our wind forecast held true (or even better than true) and we were sailing at a good rate. Enough to make up for the contrary currents we experienced. We had several days where we ran the spinnaker during the day, and used the main and jib as needed in downwind configuration at night. We had excellent sailing overall, although there was plenty of work as we had to change sails numerous times due to changing conditions and conservative sailing at night. We also had to keep watch day and night and keep alert for the many ships we passed along the way. We did go through a few rain squalls, but nothing too exciting, and no lightning.

We did run into the south east wind that had been forecasted. This meant we were more on a tight reach and we were trying to avoid being pushed too far west where we would get too close to shore. One night, as the winds were still 25+ knots, we were expected to reach an area where the aghulas current would be going opposite to the winds. This could mean the waves would get quite large. They were already 3-4 meters at this point, but the swells were far apart and Tahina was handling it fine. But, we were needing to run our generator to charge the batteries, and we didn’t want to run into the waves at night. So, we just “hove to” – we turned the boat into the wind with the sails stopped and the rudder turned the other direction. The boat then just lazily sits held into the wind and maybe drifts backward at a knot or so. It’s a great way to take a rest during a blow – its like anchoring at sea. We then fired up the generator to charge up and went to sleep.

At dawn, I started up an engine and turned us back into the wind and we started sailing again. The winds had calmed a little. Soon we were in the current, and the good news is that it helped push us more south so we weren’t going too far west. A few hours later the winds gradually clocked from the southeast to the north east. This was the last segment of the trip as we were passing Mauputo, Mozambique and were going to make the last 2 day run to Richards Bay. We did have to motor sail a bit to keep up our speed until the wind filled in. But, the rest of the way we sailed right down to Richards Bay. And we had the Aghulas current adding 2-3 knots behind us much of the way!

Final stretch

Final stretch

We had 25-30 knots of wind mostly behind us the rest of the way, and were sailing with heavily reefed sails. We were averaging 11-13 knots with a nice push from that current. At dawn that last day, we finally saw the coast of Africa for the first time. It was a momentous moment for us. The last time we will see a new continent from our boat on this trip. You can see the African coast in this photo showing our reefed sails. We were just a few hours from arriving in this photo.

As we were going down the final stretch, we saw a number of humpback whale. What a great welcome! We were very pleased, and lucky, to have made the journey without having to divert to an anchorage along the Mozambique coast to wait for weather. It is not all that common to make this run without a stop due to the fast weather changes. We made the trip in 7 days and 7 hours. That’s an average of 190+ miles per day! I’ll talk about the final arrival at Richards Bay in the next post.

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Mahajanga

Our last planned stop in Madagascar was the city of Mahajanga. We planned to do one last provisioning run there before we left to sail down the Mozambique Channel to South Africa. We had a weather window that looked good for Tahina, which indicated we might be able to sail the entire way. The weather is highly variable in the channel and you can end up with days of motoring, or having to stop along the coast of Mozambique to wait for the right weather, or get caught out in bad weather, or you can be lucky and sail the whole way.

Moramba to Mahajanga

Moramba to Mahajanga

But, first we had to get there in time. That’s why we only stayed briefly in Moramba Bay. We sailed another 25 or so miles after our morning visit at Moramba and got to the mouth of Mahajambe where we anchored in a small semi-cove. We had sundowners with Solace and discussed plans to leave at the crack of dawn the next morning. The next passage to Mahajanga was 60 miles which is a long day for Solace which doesn’t sail as fast as Tahina. The map here shows the first day in red, and the second day in green (click for larger version).

Racing local boat

Racing local boat

Thankfully, we had wind in the morning and we left shortly after Solace. We had to use our topping lift to raise the mainsail again, which took us a few minutes to get sorted. We soon sailed out the mouth of the bay. As we were rounding the headland, we saw a local boat on a converging course who had crossed the mouth of the bay. They were moving fast. We started turning along the coast so we were on a better point of sail. We had a race! They tried to catch up to pass in front of us, but I was having none of that. As we got closer to the wind our speed picked up and we were now up to 9 knots. Now they couldn’t cross in front, but they still tried to pass on our other side. The winds picked up even more and we started doing 10+ knots. That was beyond his ability and we finally gradually left him behind. I was really impressed these boats could go 9 knots like that! I think they were disappointed not to show how their boat could pass a modern boat. Later they probably passed Solace, so maybe they felt better then.

Red cliffs

Red cliffs

We had a great coastal sail the rest of the day, with a land breeze, and passed many of the local boats along the way. The coastline was interesting with sandy beaches, little fishing villages, an occasional resort hotel, river mouths, and big cliffs with lots of the classic Madagascar red soil exposed. There’s a reason they call this “The Big Red Island”.

We saw a big resort beach which we later found is called Plage du Grand Pavois or Amborovy. They had dozens of umbrellas on the beach, jet skis, sailboats, restaurants and bars. Quite the popular place. I was very tempted to divert in and stop and get a beer! We had been sailing so fast, we had plenty of time to get to our anchorage before dark.

One of the most populated cities in Madagascar, Mahajanga is on the coast on a peninsula with a big bay with several rivers leading to it. Along the sea coast side there are several resort areas and beaches. On the bay side, they have a port which is harbor for many cargo vessels. Across the bay, to the south, is a mostly muslim town called Katsepy (we took to calling it Ketchupy). There is a small cove there which we had been told is ok for anchoring. The city is too populated, with too much crime, for anchoring at night.

We continued down the coast and as we started rounding the peninsula to go to the port of Mahajanga, we had another race with a similar local boat. He was right next to shore and we were a mile off initially. There was a break wall coming up and we both converged to cross near the end of it. As we got close, Tahina was winning. But, there was a local fishing boat at anchor and I ended up having to go outside of him to avoid a collision risk. We continued racing the other boat until we reached the port, then we dropped our sails and motored into the harbor. The port looked fine for anchoring, so we re-raised sails and sailed the 5 miles or so to Katepsy. There were a lot of local boats sailing all over the bay. We anchored a fair distance away from what looked like a pretty poor town in what was flat water.

Solace arrived a while later and investigated the town. They managed to find a small cafe and got a beer. Later they came to Tahina and we discussed plans to go to town the next day. Over night, the winds changed and it got a bit bouncy in the anchorage, but it was ok.

Mahajanga harbor

Mahajanga harbor

The next morning we sailed both boats to the harbor and anchored close together. Using our bigger dinghy, Paul took Karen, Gina and I ashore and dropped us in the small boat harbor. This is a very crowded harbor as they seem to rely a great deal on these smaller sailing vessels for transporting goods in Madagascar. We found a small wooden dock and got ashore that way. Our first objective was to find the grocery store we had heard about. We went there, and it was pretty good. We got the provisions we had hoped for and then went to a fresh market and got veggies and fruits. Paul picked us up and after dropping the provisions and Gina and Karen off, Paul and I went ashore with gerry cans to get some diesel. The little motor tuk tuk had just enough room for all the cans and we soon had them filled at a gas station, and back to the boats after calling Gina to bring the dinghy to pick us up.

Later, Gina and Karen and I went ashore again to get lunch and do a bit of sightseeing. We found a little row of restaurants and picked one called “Pub Loock-ness”. We had seating in the shade next to the street. The beers were cold, but the food was only so-so. Later I had reasons to regret the food. After lunch, we walked through the city and took lots of pictures. It was early afternoon and many of the stores were closed for lunch. We stopped at some souvenir shops along the way. The photo album below shows these and other photos of our experiences in Mahajanga:


View full-sized slideshow

Mahajanga reminded us some of Diego Suarez. But, it actually seemed less crowded. Perhaps because the city is bigger and more spread out. It is also more of a tourist town than Diego Suarez.

After the lunch walk, we went back to our boats and sailed back to Ketchupy. Paul came over and helped us run our halyard back up the mast. We used a gadget Paul had made to run a lead line through the mast and then pulled the halyard through. After a few system checks including oil checks on the engines, we were ready for our passage. Paul and Gina came for one last get together and to say goodbye. Their boat isn’t fast enough to keep up with us on the 1200 mile passage to South Africa. They wouldn’t make the weather window before bad weather settled in. Our plan was to leave at the crack of dawn the next morning.

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Nosy Iranja Beach 360 Panorama

Iranja from anchor

Iranja from anchor

Back in early October we mentioned we had stopped at an island for lunch that had one of the best beaches we have visited in the world. The island is called Nosy Iranja in Madagascar and has an ultra-white sand spit beach between two vegetation covered parts of the island. The bigger part has a small back-packer style resort with a small bar/cafe and local who bring souvenirs to sell on the beach every day. The side where we anchored our sailing yachts had very beautiful turquoise waters at low tide, and several small boats anchored off the beach had brought tourists from Nosy Be and other areas. On the other side of the beach was shallower water and a rocky islet that looked like a shipwreck from the distance. From the beach you looked out at the ultra clear ocean blue waters with a light breeze, clouds dotting the horizon and deep blue skies. It was heaven!

I had to take lots of pictures (some seen in the link above), and I took some 360 panoramas as well. Below is the first 360 I took and it captures the expanse of the beach and views pretty well. Click on the “expand” (four arrows pointing out) button in the upper right to get full-screen mode.

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Moramba Bay

Solace sailing at sunset

Solace sailing at sunset

In our last post, we talked about our sailing in late in the day to Moramba Bay. This is a beautiful place with lots of little islands in a big beach-lined bay. We had read there are lemurs near here, so we intended to explore the next day. I mentioned s/v Solace arrived right at sunset, but I forgot to mention that while we were watching they sailed right in front of the setting sun. I got several great shots including this one! There are more great pictures of Moramba Bay in the photo album at the bottom of the post.

Baobab trees

Baobab trees

Since we were in a hurry to get along the coast, because of a weather window for us to leave Madagascar in two or three days, we only dedicated the next morning to explore Moramba Bay. After breakfast, Solace and Tahina went ashore in our dinghy to the nearby island with a big white sand beach. We immediately noticed a huge pair of baobab trees – these are the iconic trees of Madagascar and they are often depicted as pairs like this in paintings and photos. Very beautiful!

At low tide

At low tide – source

There was a lot of birds on the island. I managed to snap a photo of an eagle as it shot out of the trees off the beach we were walking on. We next jumped back in the dinghy and started driving around the little islands. More baobab trees could be seen on several of the bigger islands. We didn’t know it at the time, because we were there at high tide, but some of the little islands are precariously perched on a small base. This photo was found on Panoramio.

Sifaka lemur

Sifaka lemur

While we were driving around on the dinghy, we saw several fish and a couple of rays. We then spotted a habitation on one of the bigger beaches, and went to investigate. We found what looked like a small resort hotel and went to that beach. A man came out of one of the houses and we asked him about lemurs. He took us around the property and found some lemurs in two sets of trees. One of the lemurs was a mom with a baby clinging to her. These were sifaka lemurs and are noted for their tan and brown colors with yellowish/orange eyes. Definitely check out the photo album below for more pictures of the lemurs!

Our guide also showed us their little resort hotel which was very rustic. They had solar powered LED lights, but not much else for electricity. But, the location is fantastic. More baobab trees were around. We liked how they had used old dug-out canoes and made landscaped flower arrangements and a bench seat under the trees out of them.

We took more pictures of the area, and then it was time to go. Karen got a picture of us pulling the dinghy out. We had joked with the guide about not having cold beers because of the lack of electricity. So, I went back to our boat and brought him an ice cold beer as a reward. He laughed and thanked me for the cold beer. He asked where I was from, so I said “USA” and he said “New York New York!” with a big thumb up, the beer, and a big smile. I wish I had my camera. :-)

Here is the photo album which shows you how beautiful and unique this place was. We had a great time for just the few hours we spent there.


View full-sized slideshow

You can see where we anchored and the little islands we visited in the Google Maps view below. The first beach is just to the east, and the bigger beach with the resort is to the north-north-east on the peninsula:

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Fish Stories and Screw Ups

Barracuda we released

Barracuda we released

We left “BarackObama” Bay (my nickname for Baramahamay Bay) the next morning at the crack of dawn. Our objective was only 35 miles away, we motored out the river (no wind here anyway) and then got out the river mouth and had some breeze. So we raised sail and were making our way southwest again. The winds were light, and by the time we arrived the final 5 miles we motored. Along the way though, we noticed as we approached a big bay with lots of rivers leading to it, the water first turned green then brownish. Yuck…we had been spoiled by lots of clear blue waters except for the river we had gone to the day before.

Great catch!

Great catch!

Along the way, we did some fishing. We caught a barracuda (see above), and released it back. Then, when we hit the river water we caught something else, it didn’t put up much of a fight though – it was a stick! We put the line back in the water hoping for a better catch.

I was a bit worried about the anchorage area we had selected. It was up a narrow passage between lots of reef. We had good Google Earth imagery and chart data though. But, I was extra careful on the approach. Especially after we went across some shallow area that showed our charts were offset some. We got way up into this narrow area and found the anchorage to be well sheltered and spacious with the right depth. We dropped our anchor and noticed LOTS of jelly fish in the water. No swimming here. As we set the hook and cleaned up, Karen pointed at our other fishing line. I forgot to pull the fishing line in! I tried to retrieve the line, but it was caught, possibly on the prop. But, I wasn’t going to jump in and retrieve it with all those jellyfish!

The next morning we were going to attempt a further trip down to Moramba. Solace was going to leave before the crack of dawn, and we were going to leave a bit later. But, I woke up and realized there was some breeze blowing again. Since I had promised Karen she could sleep in, I just raised the anchor myself and headed us out after s/v Solace who had already left. Once out of the narrow reef area I pointed us into the 15 knots of breeze and raised the mainsail by myself. But, I forgot to check something and didn’t realize it until later.

We had a delightful early morning sail for a couple of hours, first to the west to get around an island, and then started south-south-west. I planned to sail us to an island called Nosy Saba to stop and retrieve the snagged fishing line from the port side. Along the way, the winds started dropping. The patterns at this point were early morning land breeze, and then a sea breeze. When the winds basically stopped, I went to drop the mainsail. But, it didn’t come down! I looked up and realized what I had forgotten. That new block we bought in Reunion was turned sideways. We have always known that if you don’t properly pull up the main halyard so the block is vertical, it can become jammed sideways. For seven years, this never happened. Usually, we both do the raising of the sail, but I tried to do it solo. I had raised the sail with the block turned sideways and the enormous force had jammed the halyard into the side of the pulley. This is probably how the last one broke, and I had done that one solo as well. Needless to say we will go back to being very careful and using both of us to raise the sail as much as possible.

Since the seas were pretty flat, I asked Karen to get up and help me go up the mast so I could free the block. As we were preparing, I saw some whales ahead of us, but was too preoccupied to look. I went up the mast, but even with mostly flat seas I was getting tossed around up there a lot! I had to hold on with both hands and feet usually to keep from getting banged. I got up and realized the halyard was SOLIDLY jammed, and the block was busted as well. Great…that was a lot of money wasted. Now I was going to have to cut the main halyard off. But, to get the sail down I would need to use the topping lift which was what I used to bring my bosun’s chair up. So, I had to pull up a spinnaker halyard from the other side and tie myself to it before freeing the topping lift.

While I was trying to do all this, while getting tossed around, I looked behind the boat and saw something shiny in the water. And, it was staying with us. Guess what? We had caught a fish with the line and lure I had left in the water which was jammed! Hilarious!

Our ruined new block

Our ruined new block

I got the lines sorted, then had to cut. The problem was I really needed two hands, but every few seconds I would get thrown against the mast by the movement. I finally managed to cut the block off, but because of the situation, the other end of the halyard broke out of my hand and went down the mast! Ugh. Now I just had Karen lower me back down. I thankfully only had a few bruises on my legs and arms after all this. But, my pride of good sailor skills took a major dent, and we now had some jobs to do.

We dropped our sail and started motoring with the other engine. Solace suggested I use a boat hook to grab the fishing line, and I caught it first time. Pulled up the fishing line and we had a nice tuna! This is my most unique fishing success yet! This time we kept the other end of the fishing line on board. Sorry, no pictures – I was too preoccupied with the crisis.

I was really bummed about my stupid mistake ruining our new block. We motored towards Nosy Saba now about 4 miles away. We looked at the anchorage, but the winds had now kicked up again and the anchorage wasn’t suitable for the planned quick stop to free the fishing line. So, we continued on and used the topping lift to hoist the mainsail with one reef in it. This worked fine and we had a nice sail the rest of the day all the way to Moramba – sometimes making 9-10 knots. In fact, almost making up for my earlier mistakes, we managed to sail very well (with just a little upwind motoring in a tight part of the bay) all the way around two corners and up to the anchorage. It made me feel better to have such a good day of sailing in the aftermath.

Moramba is a special place, but we’ll talk more about that later. I did jump into the water right after arriving and discovered the fishing line wasn’t even in the prop. It was just around the rudder once, and was easy to pull out. I had cleaned the fish along the way, and we invited Solace, who arrived right at sunset, to come over and have fresh tuna with us. Karen marinated the fish and I grilled it up. The fish was really good and we all had a laugh at how it was caught!

Northwest Madagascar

Northwest Madagascar

You can see from the map we made good progress getting to Moramba Bay from Nosy Be in just a few days. But, still a long way to go to Mahajanga.

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Continuing Down the Coast and Photos

In our last post, we had been traveling from Nosy Be and had stopped for a night at Russian Bay. The next day we had a fantastic lunch stop at Nosy Iranja – a fantastic beach island with a white sand beach stretching between two islands. I had promised you more photos, and they are included in the slideshow at the bottom of this post. Here’s another taste of the anchorage view at Nosy Iranja.

Iranja from anchor

Iranja from anchor

Baramahamay village

Baramahamay village

We very reluctantly left the beach of Iranja and sailed a few miles further down the coast to the mouth of a river. We were headed to a place called Baramahamay Bay (I took to calling it BarakObama Bay :-). There are a number of Madagascar people living along the coast of the river in very basic villages. We had been told a very nice couple live there on a beach with a small restaurant/bar. Solace had a small portable generator they wanted to donate, so we took it there. Turns out they already had a solar panel and batteries, so it was easy for them to hook it up to their system.

Sunset

Sunset

We anchored a couple of miles up the river, but were perfectly centered with a view out the mouth of the river. In the evening, a fantastic sunset developed and it was only too easy to get some amazing sunset photos. What an end to a perfect day!

Make sure you check out some really nice photos of this beautiful day! Here’s the photo album:


View full-sized slideshow

And here is the map showing our final position at Baramahamay Bay (aka BarakObama Bay):

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Heading South in Madagascar

We still have a few days, and a few interesting stories, to tell about our travels in Madagascar. After our trip to Komba, where we saw our first Lemurs, we headed back to Crater Bay. We had heard several boats we know had arrived. We got to see the crews of s/v Solar Planet and s/v LeuCat who had left on the northern route across the Indian Ocean and we last saw 6 or so months earlier. We spent a day making another trip by taxi to Hellville and got more provisions, and bought a few jerry jugs of fuel. I borrowed another set of jerry jugs and made one more trip before our time was up with the taxi. The rest of the afternoon was spent loading the fuel and returning the jugs we borrowed.

Northwest Madagascar

Northwest Madagascar

We planned to travel with s/v Solace to start heading south. They also wanted to get to Richards Bay by early October. You can travel several days down the NW coast of Madagascar to get closer to South Africa, so we planned to go at least as far as Mahajanga. The map here shows the coast line and some of the stops we made. It would end up taking us 6 days to get to Mahajanga.

Unknown fish

Unknown fish

We headed the next day for Russian Bay – named that because a russian boat broke down in the bay in the early 1900s and the men ended up enjoying the place, and the women, so much they stayed. It has well-protected smaller bays within it. We got there by mid-day (since it was a short trip) and were pleased to find you could still pick up Internet from Hellville in the bay we chose. The most unique thing we saw there were these strange fish that swim sideways (flat) and look like a miniature manta-ray, but then if you startle them they turn vertical. At first I was thinking a flounder, but they have 1 eye on each side. Very strange. I got this picture with an underwater camera. I couldn’t find it in our fish books.

We had a visit from an enterprising local named “Paul” who does tours for visiting yachts of the Russian Bay area. He has prepared a book using a computer and Google Earth to illustrate his hikes with pictures, and boat cards and comments from happy customers. I give him an “A” for good marketing, but we planned to leave the next day so had to decline.

The next day we motored out of Russian Bay and then set sail. We rounded the NW tip and started southwest. Winds were light in the morning so we were sailing slow. Solace put up their spinnaker. Near mid-day we would be getting near a pretty looking island called Nosy Iranja with a white sand-spit joining two pieces of land. Solace suggested we stop there for a while and we agreed. On the way, we saw a couple of motor boats bringing tourists from Hellville and headed to Iranja – must be an attraction. The winds picked up and we sailed first into Iranja. We were greeted with a beautiful white sand beach and turquoise waters in front of it and we dropped the hook. Wow! Beautiful!

Nosy Iranja

Nosy Iranja and s/v Solace

We soon went ashore and there were a number of tourists walking the beach, we could see a small set of buildings on one side and what looked like vendors selling goods. I stayed taking pictures of the beach while Karen and Solace walked to the vendors. On the other side of the sand spit it was shallower water, and the views were even more beautiful. This was definitely one of those “top beaches in the world” kind of places! We bought a couple of souvenirs in what turned out to be a small village with a backpackers like hotel and even a bar/restaurant. We were really glad we stopped! I’ll share more photos in the next post including some more panoramas.

The map below shows Nosy Iranja:

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