Diego Suarez in Madagascar

Port of Diego Suarez

Port of Diego Suarez

After our late night arrival near the entrance to the bay off Diego Suarez, we slept in a bit later than normal. Unfortunately, the winds that had died off during the night were soon howling again by mid-morning. We thought it would be a simple trip to the town of Diego Suarez just five miles away. But, the 30 knots of wind were on our port beam and we had wind and waves blasting spray over the entire boat on the way over. We initially went to a small bay near the town, but they only had moorings and it was not as well protected. So, we moved around to the commercial port and anchored near two large shipwrecks that were mostly submerged near the shore. That location has flat water and some protection from the wind, and it is quiet, but it has other drawbacks as we found out later.

Diego Suarez, also known in the local language as Antsiranana, is a town with a huge protected bay in a northern part of Madigascar. It was apparently named after 16th century Portuguese sailor. There is a cargo ship port off the town, and an airport. An island in the middle of the convoluted bays is a naval base, although we never saw any naval ships there and only signs of farmers on that island which was behind our boats at the anchorage.

Taxi at cafe

Taxi at cafe

We had information that crime is a problem near the town, so we never left our dingy ashore and took turns going ashore. We found the town to be a cultural and visual delight each time we went ashore. We would drop ourselves off at a small ferry dock next to a half-sunken sailboat. Sometimes there were sheep grazing near the trash dump nearby. Locals were hanging out at a small cafe which was next to a building where women were often doing laundry. Going up the trash-filled dirt road near the cargo warehouses was not always pleasant. Later we would pass a large fish processing plant which had an awesome painting of fish along one wall. I took a cool picture of a tax in front of a cafe near there (which I really like). Later I noticed there are three languages on the cafe (Malagasy, French, and Spanish).

Once in the town, we started passing an eclectic mix of old-style colonial buildings, in various stages of disrepair, and then we would happen upon nicer buildings with hotels, bars and restaurants catering to expats and tourists. There were a surprising number of older retired french men who were often seen sitting with pretty young local women.

Street Selling

Street Selling

As we would walk through the town, we would often have local people offering to sell us things. There were numerous taxis of various types, and we soon learned that the long walk to the market could be saved by grabbing a tuk-tuk taxi and paying only 75 cents or a dollar for a ride all the way across town back to the docks. Before getting to the market, we found a nice supermarket called Score – that also catered to the foreigners – which had surprisingly good foods including cheeses, a large variety of drinks, a bakery, candies, and more. On the far side of town was a sprawling market that really surprised us.

The Market

The Market

We have seen markets all over the world where we would buy fresh fruits and vegetables. They are usually a delightful way to see the real locals of a country. The market in Diego Suarez was stunning. A huge variety of local peoples from all walks of life. We saw the extremely poor and also locals who have moved up in society wearing modern clothing and using cell phones. We saw unusual types of foods, meats being butchered in the open air, live animals being sold, dried and cooked fish, pickled foods in plastic soda bottles, and more. There were kids of all ages just playing in the market, mothers feeding infants in the stalls, and of course there was trash everywhere. Fortunately for us, it didn’t rain while we were there because it would have been a muddy mess. But, we really enjoyed visiting the market and I really recommend reviewing the photo album below.

Baby at the market

Baby at the market

There was one picture Gina of s/v Solace took of a baby playing in the dirt at the market. The photo didn’t turn out well on the camera, but I spent an hour or two processing it with tools I use. I really like how it turned out. Click on the image for a bigger version.

One day, we were walking by some stores and spotted some very interesting wooden global maps. Then I saw some high-quality ship models as well. After a store attendant opened the store for us, we went to have a closer look. I was really tempted by the maps and one of the ship models which provided a look at the insides of a wooden sailing ship from the 17th century. But, I was shocked to find the maps cost over 600 Euros and the ship was 2900 Euros. They were excellent quality though. See the pictures in the album.

After a few days, with 30 knot winds blowing every day, our boats were covered in red dirt from head to toe. Every step we took on the decks just spread red foot prints over everything. And, we noticed our sheets and halyards, even the shrouds, were covered on the front with red dirt. I had Karen take me up the mast and I washed the shrouds so the red dirt would be less likely to get on our new main sails when we deployed them later.

Here is the photo album giving you a taste of Diego Suarez:

View full-sized slideshow


In the middle of the night, Karen heard some shouting and it woke me up as well. Karen got up to investigate first and she looked around the boat, but didn’t see anything. She came back to me and said she heard English. I said it must have been Paul and Gina on s/v Solace, so I turned on our radio. Next I tried sending a text message because I saw them shining a flashlight around the boat. They wrote back saying someone had came onto their boat and tried to steal a portable generator they had tied down in the cockpit. Paul woke up and shouted, and the man jumped off the boat into the water. There was a dug-out canoe waiting nearby. They discovered ropes had been cut on the generator, and later discovered two bundled ropes had been cut and taken off the bow deck. Paul and Gina were fine, but shaken by the violation of their property, and the realization the guy had a knife.

The next night, we both implemented infrared security alarms on the decks of our boats. And the day after that, we decided to move our boats back to the entrance of the bay in preparation to head around the cape at the north end of Madagascar. The winds were forecasted to drop some the next day. Although, on our way back to the entrance, we were once again trudging our way through 30+ knot winds to the other side.

Diego Suarez was definitely a memorable visit. But, we had stayed several days waiting for the weather break and were anxious to get around to the calmer waters and winds on the west side of Madagascar. Below is a map of our anchorage at Diego Suarez. If you zoom in you can see the sunken ships nearby.

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Wildest Ride Yet

We left Sainte Marie on the 15th of August intending to sail 320 miles to Diego Suarez. The winds forecasted were 15-20 knots until we got closer to Diego Suarez where 20-25 knots was expected. Since the angle of the wind was in the same direction, my assumption was that we would have following winds and seas. Tahina handles these conditions really well because we surf at higher speeds. So, if we are going 10 knots, the winds appear to be only 15 knots to us in 25 knots of wind.

Once we cleared the island of Sainte Marie, we were exposed initially to seas from our starboard side (beam). This meant it was a bit rolly. In the late afternoon it got kind of squally and we had higher winds, around 20 knots average with gusts above 30 at times, with rain showers. We just reefed down our sails and stayed inside letting the autopilot sail during the rain. No big deal. During the evening the winds started clocking aft of us as we expected, so the ride got smoother. Our only concern was that friends on s/v Solace, about 60 miles ahead of us, said they saw whales. With the seas all choppy and visibility down, we had little hope of spotting any. All night we were a bit concerned about the whales, but we just had to hope they kept their sonar running, and moved out of our way. Sailboats have been known to hit a sleeping whale.

Full Rainbow at Sea

Full Rainbow at Sea

During the early morning hours the winds died some more and went directly aft. I was able to put up our jib sail on the opposite side so we were “wing on wing”. This helped increase our speed a couple of knots. Picked up Internet from a town before sunrise, and it showed a stronger wind forecast ahead of us. After sunrise, I saw a really bright rainbow and captured it with my fisheye (see picture at right which was adjusted for the wide angle of the fisheye). We considered stopping with Solace at a town south of Diego Suarez. But, when they got there early that morning the pass had huge waves breaking, so we both decided to keep going to Diego Suarez another 80+ miles.

The skies cleared up mid-morning and the winds gradually increased. We had already reduced back to 1 reef in the main and the winds started getting to 25-30 knots. I told Karen we should put another reef in the main, but she had just finished making lunch. I went down to get a drink. One of our bilge alarms went off, and since it sometimes sounds for a long time, Karen went to the circuit breaker panel to turn it off. That’s when it happened. She shouts, “Uh oh! I bumped the chartplotter circuit breaker!”. I said “What?!” and RAN AS FAST AS POSSIBLE TO THE HELM. If the chartplotter goes down, the AUTOPILOT SHUTS OFF! We were close to dead down wind with our main sail all the way to one side, if we turned the wrong way the sail could accidentally jibe (i.e the wind goes on the wrong side of the sail and slams the sail in the other direction). In these winds who knows what would happen?

I was probably at the helm in 2 seconds, but it was too late. A wave or something turned the boat too many degrees. I watched and heard as the boom slammed to the left – and “BANG!” and then the boom went over and “BANG!” again. It all happened in an instant. I was cursing like crazy. I stuck my head up and saw the sail was still in one piece and the boom still attached. But, it was all the way over, and it shouldn’t have been. We have special “car” on a metal track (called the “traveler”) that goes across the roof of our cockpit which is moved with a rope system to move the car along the track. Before the jibe, it was all the way to the starboard. Not only that, we had the rope going to the boom out so the boom was even further out to starboard since we were down wind. The thing is, we didn’t move the rope for the traveler. I looked up and the traveler rope was a tangled mess. It obviously had broken, so the car just slid until it stopped. We were incredibly lucky the traveler car did not slam right off the end and stopped on the other end. If that happened, the boom would have been swinging free and all kind of damage could have occurred.

One reason this wasn’t a total disaster is that I had tied a rope around the boom called a “preventer”. This is intended to “prevent” damage from an accidental jibe like this. This is the reason there were two bangs. What amazed me is that the preventer line completely disappeared after that first bang. It had a bowline on one end and a huge trucker’s hitch knot on the other attached to a cleat on the side of the boat. The rope must have busted on both ends, and like a slingshot ejected itself off the boat. You have to realize that the forces involved must have been tremendous. The two breaking ropes helped to slow down the force of the boom as it moved across the deck, and this is likely the only reason the traveler didn’t break off the boat.

I was literally shaking from the adrenaline (and lack of lunch) after this first happened. I kept saying “This is bad! This is bad!” (and Karen says I was saying other unrepeatable words). The first thing I did was to sail the boat to make sure we stayed on the new tack. We got the system restarted and the autopilot working, but I got Karen to the helm and said “Make Sure We Do Not Jibe!” I explained I needed to go on top of the roof of the cockpit and see if I could fix the traveler. I said, while I’m up there, “My life depends on our not jibing!“. Karen understood this and was VERY attentive to the helm. First I ate my sandwhich and calmed down a bit. I re-assured Karen that I realized it was an accident – I’m sure she was shocked about the accident. Then I went up on the roof with a safety harness. It took several minutes, but I eventually got the lines untangled. The good news was that although it was sunny, with the sail on this tack it was shady up there. I laughed at the irony. I had to go back to my computer to examine photos of the proper way to run the lines. Then I went back and started running them. After another 30 minutes I got the lines re-rigged and tied off. It turns out we were only missing about a foot off one end. That was very lucky again because if I had to run new line it is a big job.

Back safely in the cockpit, I ran a test to move the boom, and it worked! We were back in business. We were incredibly lucky that the accident wasn’t worse. If the boom had broken loose it could have been catastrophic. The violence was so strong it could have damaged our rig. Right after it happened, I made a quick inspection of all our rig attachment points, and looked for signs of breakage up the mast – and there was no apparent damage. Whew!

The next thing we did was put another reef in the sail so we were double reefed. The winds were now 25-30 knots steady with gusts above 30 (our apparent winds were still 10-15 knots since the boat was averaging 10 knots). And the winds and seas were still building gradually. Tahina was actually handling the conditions quite well. The ride was relatively smooth, and we were often surfing the waves making 9-10 knots average and sometimes getting in the 11-12 knots at this point.

By late afternoon, the winds stepped up another notch. To 30 knots average with gusts to 35+ knots. The seas started looking more angry, but we had sunny skies and we were just going faster. We were sometimes surfing several waves in a row making double-digit speeds. Several times we surfed to 14-16 knots with 17 knots being the highest. The following is a video clip showing the conditions at 30 knots average:

We decided we needed to get the mainsail down and just fly a rolled up jib sail. But, to drop the main we would have to turn into the wind and face the full force of the winds and seas. I watched the seas carefully for a pattern, and we waited for a flatter area. I told Karen to be ready and then said “Get ready”. We turned right after a big wave passed us and I put the port engine in gear. As soon as we were facing the wind I told Karen to drop the sail and she did. We then quickly turned back. Wow! We didn’t even get wet! It only took a few seconds.

We then put out a small bit of jib sail and were back to 9-10 knots again. I went part way up the mast to grab our main halyard line and tie it off. While I was up there I heard a loud “KERPLOP!“. I looked behind to the left, and just 50-75 meters off our starboard stern was a HUGE TAIL OF A WHALE (no this is not a whale of a tale!). As I was watching the tail came slamming down and “KERPLOP!”. I shouted to Karen to look and she saw it too. It kept slamming as we rapidly moved away – at least 10 times it did it. We probably passed within 20 meters of the whale, and I think we startled it. Whales are known to slam their tails like this possibly as a warning. It sure got our attention (but, not until we passed it). Below is a picture of what this looks like from Wikipedia (I didn’t have my camera with me up the mast).

Whale Tail Flip

Whale Tail Flip at Wikipedia

We still had another several hours of sailing ahead of us, and the sun was setting. And, we were not going to be able to keep an eye out for whales after dark. But, I diligently kept an eye out until it was dark. The winds actually briefly hit 35-40 knots, but they gradually eased a bit as the evening wore on. By the time we got near the entrance the winds were down to 20-25 or even less.

Meanwhile, our friends on Solace, now only 20 miles ahead of us (because our speed was so much greater), were arriving at the entrance to Diego Suarez. I talked to them on the radio and they said things were fine except for some wave surfing on the way in. They arrived about 10 PM at the anchorage safely tucked behind some hills. We finally arrived about 11:30 PM through the entrance and 15 minutes later found a spot next to Solace and dropped the hook.

This was probably one of our most dramatic 1.5 day passages ever! Below is a map of where we ended the passage:

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Sainte Marie Island in Madagascar

THB Beer

THB Beer

The evening of our first day at Sainte Marie, we went out to dinner with our friends Paul and Gina of s/v Solace. They took us to a little restaurant that is popular with tourists in the area. We enjoyed some of the local beer called “Three Horses Beer” in the large bottles (22 oz) – which are quite tasty and 5.7% alcohol, and at a great price! We’re back to less expensive prices again after the very pricey visit to Réunion.

The next day, we had some catching up to do. Fortunately, we didn’t have to wash down the boat because we had a couple of nice rain showers during the night. But, some house cleaning was needed and I had some Internet business to do. I was in the process of recruiting and training a new writer for Google Earth Blog (which I have published since 2005).

The next day, Karen and I went ashore to see the town some and to try and find a courtesy flag for our boat. When we enter a new country, we are supposed to fly the local country flag from our right spreader on the mast. Another yachtie told us approximately where they found one. We attempted to ask several local stores where to get a “petite drapeau”. But, each time we got directed to somewhere else we couldn’t find. We walked through some of the back streets where lots of locals shop in town. Very rustic on crooked dirt roads with rusted tin-roof coverings. We found some really large ones, but we elected to wait before buying one until we got better directions. Later the yachtie who told me about the location took me ashore. We found the store, but they were out. But, another shop keeper offered to go find us one and brought it back a few minutes later.

Here are some photos from Sainte Marie (note a few of the photos came from other boats s/v Delwhinnie and s/v Solace):

View full-sized slideshow

Our friends on Solace started heading north, the day after we arrived, towards Diego Suarez – which is a large protected bay near the north end of Madagascar. Winds and seas at the northernmost cape of Madagascar are notoriously a bit challenging to get right. So, boats coming around often stop at Diego Suarez to wait for the right weather.

On the morning of our third day, several other boats left to head north as well. That afternoon, Karen and I decided to sail north a few miles to a pretty looking bay still on Sainte Marie. We had a nice brisk sail along the shore seeing lots of fish and sea birds along the way. We kept a sharp eye out for whales because several of the other boats had seen them going north.

The next morning we planned to leave mid-morning to time our arrival at Diego Suarez for daylight almost two days away. Early in the morning, I saw a large catamaran with a delivery crew dressed up in foul-weather gear arrive and set anchor next to us. It was a Priveledge 615 (61.5 feet) called s/v Cirrus. Shortly after, I noticed two whales just outside a reef nearby. A few minutes later, I saw whales just a short distance away from our boat. Karen had just woken up, so I suggested we raise our anchor and drift closer to the whales. We watched a mother and what appeared to be two calf or a young adult and one calf. Map below shows our anchoring spot.

Soon after we started heading north, and departed the waters of Sainte Marie. More about that trip in an upcoming post.

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Mother and Baby Whale Breaching in Madagascar

The following short (4 minute) video was taken as we were arriving on our sailboat Tahina at Sainte Marie, and island off the north east coast of Madagascar, on August 11th of 2014. We had just spent two days sailing from Reunion when we started spotting lots of whales shortly after sunrise. But, this encounter of a calf and its mother breaching several times as we sailed past just 50 meters away was really amazing! My only regret was I only had my GoPro Hero video camera handy, which has a very wide-angle, so I had to zoom in on the video to give you a better view of the whales. I decided to go with my rather enthusiastic voice recorded during the filming rather than putting music for the audio. I think you can tell I was pretty excited.

The map below shows the approximate location where we had this amazing experience:

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Entering Madagascar

Continuing the story of our arrival to Madagascar on the 11th of August, at Sainte Marie island off the northeast coast. We had a quick lunch after we dropped anchor at the port town of Ambodifototra. Three dutch boats arrived just before us: s/v Delwhinnie, s/v Luna, and s/v Inish. They went directly in to start clearances. We first stopped and talked to our friends on s/v Solace, who had been here for over a week and had already gone through the process. They gave us information on what to expect in the process.

In Madagascar, as with many third-world countries, their entry processes and fees vary from port to port and official to official. Actually, the fees are usually set by the government, but the “extra” fees are the part you have to pay attention to. We had already encountered this in Indonesia. We were told what we should negotiate the extra fees by other sailors. The first two officials are on the little island connected to the mainland by a causeway next to the anchorage. According to local history the island was used by pirates back in the days of the East India trade ships.

The customs guy took our negotiated price in stride, and we promise to come back to pay him after we went to town to get local currency. The fee was about 30,000 Ariary (local money – about US$12). The coast guard/port captain was a little more tricky. He told us his fee was 60,000 Ar, but again we said we felt 30,000 would be better for a boat our size. He pulled out documents showing several documents showing how other boats had “all” paid 60,000 Ar. After more discussion, I agreed to pay 40,000 (about $16). He accepted this and again we told him we would come back later.

Next we went to town, and we had been told to stop at the ATM first – so we got plenty of money to cover the fees and a little extra. The immigration is the more expensive one because we had not yet arranged for our Madagascar visas. The “secretary” had to call in the official who wasn’t at the office. He came in, but realized the key to the Commisaire’s office was locked, so he had to go to the head official’s house (since he also wasn’t at the office). So, after 30 minutes, we finally started the process. We had to pay 140,000 Ar (about $45) each for a 3 month visa. This is the correct amount. In addition, we had to make a “donation” – so sorry, but it is not-negotiable – of $60,000 Ar ($24) to the Commisairy. After that was understood, he started stamping our passports with 6 or so stamps on each, plus his paperwork. Then we paid the fees. He had to get the Commisaire to sign the paperwork and passports, so we went to run errands while that was done – but, we held off paying the fee until we got our passports back.

The town was quite thriving with mostly local traffic on dirt roads. But, there were a few foreign tourists walking through the town, shopping, or eating. There were many little souvenir shops along the main street – so clearly they have a tourist-based element to their economy. There were several kinds of taxis and tuk-tuks for transportation if you wanted them. We also heard one of the yachties was looking to rent ATVs to tour the island.

We found the local phone company, Telma, had a store nearby. They told us they could sell us SIM cards starting at 4 PM (an hour or so later). Then we walked back and got our passports and paid the fee. Then I took Karen back to the boat and went back to the customs and coast guard to pay their fees. The customs guy said thanks and welcome to Madagascar in his very limited English. The other official said he wasn’t sure “what to do” since we didn’t pay the “real” fee – so, he just made out the receipt for the “full” amount.

We were now officially cleared into Madagascar. On the bright side, we paid less than some of the ports in this country charge. And, we didn’t have to travel far or wait excessive amounts of time before the paperwork was complete. And there was no boarding of our boat required. So, we were overall pleased with the process.

After that, I went back to the phone store and got a SIM card with 3G data service. We were then able to get back on the Internet and check E-mails after our two+ day trip.

Meanwhile, back in present day, Tahina is still in remote areas in another part of Madagascar without Internet. So photos of Sainte Marie and video of the whales will have to wait until we get Internet, hopefully starting tomorrow.

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We have been kind of quiet on the blog for the last couple of weeks because we actually left Reunion in the early hours of August 9th to sail for the east coast of Madagascar. So, We’ve been in Madagascar since August 11th. The reason I didn’t mention it was we wanted to get around the north end of the island before we announced our arrival. This decision was based on plans from a couple of years ago when piracy in Somalia was at its peak. I thought it prudent to stick with the plan.

But, don’t worry, we’re going to play catch-up and blog about each stage of the trip over the coming days as it played out for us. We’ve got some interesting stories to relate in the coming days! The only issue at the moment is we are in an area without cell phone coverage or Internet. So, this message is going out by satellite.

Before we left Reunion, we had to get everything in order. On Friday the 8th of August we first paid up with the marina, and scheduled the customs to come clear us out in the afternoon. In the morning we made one last provisioning run and then returned our rental car. Then we waited for customs, who were of course late. But, it turns out they were waiting for an incoming yacht – a German boat we had met in Mauritius called Fredja arrived and ended up tying next to us in the late afternoon. I warned them that we would be departing at 3 AM the next morning because we wanted to time our arrival in Madagascar for daytime arrival in 2 days. They said they understood. We gave them a run-down of what they needed to know about Le Port.

So, at 0230 Saturday morning I woke up Karen after checking the weather and confirming the forecast, we prepped the boat for departure, then checked that Fredja was up at 5 minutes till 3, and we started up the engines and cast off after Fredja moved away and we said our “Au revoirs”. They wished us a safe passage.

Our destination was the island off the northeast coast of Madagascar called Sainte Marie – expecting it to take a little over 2 days to go 400 miles. They have a port of entry at Sainte Marie and our friends on Solace had arrived a week earlier and cleared in to the country there. They said there are lots of humpback whales in the area that come up during the winter months in Antarctica to breed. We had a good brisk run during the first 24 hours, and actually made about 200 miles over ground, but we went a bit north of course with the wind angle so our distance covered was only 187 nm.

Interestingly, I had noticed an area clear of clouds in the satellite imagery if we went north of course, and we managed to have no clouds over us most of the way. In fact, we saw several squalls south of us, and managed to escape their clutches as a result.

The second day we were pretty much direct down wind sailing under mainsail alone in the morning. In the afternoon we decided to raise the spinnaker and sailed it until about 7 PM when the winds died off. But, they picked up again, and we put the sail back up an hour later. We ended up being able to sail the spinnaker until about 1:30 AM when the winds got so light the sail was collapsing and we were sailing quite slowly.

It was clear skies, but we ended up motoring or motor-sailing for several hours during the rest of the night. Fortunately for us, the big full “supermoon” was shining both nights, so we had great visibility at night.

At 7:23 AM (Reunion time) we were 12 miles from the island and I shouted “Land Ho!”. The island was pretty low elevation, so it wasn’t visible earlier than that. At 8:15 we started spotting whales. Dozens of whales! The winds picked up some so we turned off the engine and let the sails take us in. Initially we saw the whales because they were breaching (jumping up) and creating huge splashes in the distance (usually 1 to 3 miles away). Then we started seeing whale blows only a few hundred meters away!

As we neared the southern tip of Sainte Marie, we saw a baby whale breaching ahead. I just got the GoPro Hero video camera going when suddenly the mother breached as well! They were headed towards us, opposite to us, so getting close quickly. They ended up continuing to breach as they got within a few boat lengths of us to our starboard and I captured video the whole way. This was really, really exciting and awesome to behold. I wish I had a bigger lensed camera because the GoPro is very wide-angle so the whales look far smaller than they did to our naked eye. But, when you see the video you’ll see how exciting it was! I managed to get the software to zoom in the video for a closer view. We just need to get Internet so we can upload the video.

What a great welcome to Madagascar! We hadn’t even arrived officially yet, and already we were having the experience of a lifetime! But, our great experiences had only just begun. We ended up rounding the southern end and then heading on a wing-on-wing sail up the west coast of Ste. Marie. We each took a shower as we slowly made our way to the port. As I was finishing my shower, I realized the boat had turned. The winds suddenly changed. We quickly changed the sails, after I got dressed, and soon finished sailing to the anchorage.

More on the arrival, and hopefully pictures, in the next post (if we find some Internet).

[UPDATE: Below is a map of where we arrived and anchored.]

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Le Port Marina

Le Port Marina

Le Port Marina

There are limited options for parking your boat in the island country of Réunion. They only have a few spots where marinas are available, and really nowhere you can lay at anchor. The island geography just doesn’t offer much in the way of secure ports. On the SW corner there is St. Pierre, but they have limited space and we were told they turn away foreign catamarans. So, it appeared our only option was Le Port.

Le Port is not really a bad spot, it just isn’t located in a very pretty place or near conveniences. The marina is fine, but because we have such a large beam, it is impractical to enter through their narrow entrance. Instead, we had to park on a wharf in the waterway leading to the marina. The boatyard sits next to the wharf, so you can hear lots of boatyard noise, and get exposed to painting and sanding. We moved further down after the first few days to be further away from that activity.

In the photo above, you can see Tahina on the wharf, and the white building with the sail-like architecture is the marina office. They are only open 8:30 to 3 PM (French hours). But, the managers we have worked with have been quite nice and willing to be helpful. Their English is a little weak, but far better than our French.

Hiring a car is very necessary though. You can see the marina office close by, but to get there involved a walk of over a km – you had to walk all the way around the marina. And, the nearest stores are about 2 km, and the better ones are more like 4 km away.

There is a nice volcanic sand beach on the other side of a large break wall (about 4 or 5 meters tall and 15 meters wide) shielding the port area from rough seas if they happen.

We haven’t seen any rats, and there are lots of mild-mannered, and mostly quiet, dogs and a few cats in the area (which probably explains lack of rats). There is a popular little diner, a nice little lunch-time restaurant, and several small marine stores – a sail maker, chandleries, marine electronics, dive shops, mechaniecs, etc. Parts are in short supply locally, but they can order from France and have things within 5 days they say. Euro prices for everything though. You can reportedly get diesel fuel duty free on departure.

I’ll summarize by saying that although the parking is limited, the visit to the island is worth the trip. Amazing beautiful place, modern conveniences available, fantastic road system, and very French. The biggest caveat really is the higher costs. Oh, and one other thing: volcanic ash can fall from the active volcano on the south end of the island. We regularly get a not-very-fine layer of ash over the boat which we have to rinse off every few days. Make sure to keep your sails covered well and your hatches should not be wide open.

Below is a map of our location there:

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Reunion is Beautiful But Dirty

When we first arrived at Le Port, Reunion, we were parked close to the boatyard on the wharf. Some boats were sanding their hulls, and we noticed our boat was getting dirtier by the day. A week later, an opening on the wharf closer to the fuel dock enabled us to escape the boat yard. And I rinsed down the boat decks thoroughly.

Unfortunately, just three days later I noticed more dirt. So, I rinsed again. But, before I was even done, I noticed more dirt. It was just falling out of the sky! It suddenly occurred to me that maybe that active volcano I tried to climb the other day, on the other side of the island, was actually spewing ash. Apparently on some days or nights, the wind is such that the ash falls more strongly. Oh joy. At least it isn’t the super fine ash we got at Montseratt and Mt. Yasur (the other two volcanoes who dumped ash on our boat).

By the way, speaking of the failed volcano climb, remember how I said things got wet? Well, because it was such lousy weather, I completely forgot I had put my dSLR camera in the backpack. I went to take it out two days later and found out the camera won’t turn on. Bummer.

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Failed Attempt to Climb Volcano

Frank all wet

Frank all wet

Another prime tourist site on Réunion is the active volcano called “Piton de la Fournaise”. If you can catch it without clouds, the views are supposed to be pretty nice around the volcano, but there is also the trail that leads you up to the active crater. It’s reportedly not nearly as active as Tanna in Vanuatu, but still impressive. Our friend Gina on s/v Solace went up a few weeks ago and managed the trail and back in 4.5 hours, and she said the clouds briefly parted for 10 minutes while she was at the top. Well, my trip was not so lucky, I got there to find a lot of mist and cold. I had warm pants, a sweater, hiking boots, wool socks, and a windbreaker (not waterproof) to wear. But, that would prove not to be enough.

I climbed down the large crater wall surrounding the central peak, then followed the trail markers across the big crater base towards the peak. The rain kind of stopped during the crossing, but it turns out I managed to get on the wrong trail (blame it on the fog and rain). I navigated my way back to the trail, but the rains picked up and I was getting drenched. I was not going to make it back before lunch, if I made it to the top, and there was little hope for a view. Besides, I was getting wet and starting to get cold. So, I made the hard decision to abort and just walk back. It turns out it is really hard to climb when your jeans are soaked and your boots are filling up with water. My legs were killing me by the time I got back up the wall. The selfie picture above shows what I looked like after I got back to the top. And the picture below shows what the terrain looked like on the crater base in the mist and rain. Pretty miserable looking huh?

Terrain in Volcano

Terrain in Volcano

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Trip to the Cirques of Cilaos at Réunion

As mentioned before, the drive to Cilaos is considered one of the prime tourist destinations in Réunion.

Cilaos from trail

Cilaos from trail

After going there, we completely concur with that analysis! The road is an incredibly curvy mountain road, well maintained, but with extremely tight hairpin turns. In fact, someone apparently counted that there are over 430 curves on the way to Cilaos, and we believe it. Fortunately, we love curvy mountain roads! More importantly, the views along the way were simply a stunning experience of amazing volcanic derived geography dotted with beautiful mountain vegetation the result of the frequent tropical rains they get here.

We left around 8:30 in the morning hoping to get as much sunshine before the afternoon clouds started in the mountains. But, we ended up with a later than expected start on the mountain road. This was because we drove to the road near St. Leu (about 45 minutes on the highway from our boat), and went to top up our gas tank. Only to find I had forgotten my wallet! Ugh, so we had to go back to the boat and start over. We still lucked out though with sunny skies until we stopped for lunch in Cilaos.

In the photo album below, you’ll see a taste of the views we were treated to on the way up. The stop at the end of the last tunnel before Cilaos. A picture of the town of Cilaos before we had lunch and stopped at the information center. And then we drove further uphill to a trail-head which Karen let me walk part way up for some higher views. There I took more pictures of the terrain, but as you will see the clouds had moved in over the mountains and valley. Still, I think this batch of photos captures some of the beauty and wonder of this place.

View full-sized slideshow

You can view the island of Reunion in Google Earth – which has some pretty good resolution imagery and higher than normal resolution 3D terrain. Make sure you tilt your view as you fly over the amazing terrain for maximum effect. Here is a sample screenshot of Google Earth showing the area we visited with the very curvy road highlighted.

Cilaos Area Google Earth

Cilaos Area Google Earth

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