Crater Bay and Hellville

Sailing Through

Sailing Through

We next sailed the short distance to Crater Bay at Nosy Be. Crater Bay is the main “hangout” for foreign yachts with a partial-service marina. They don’t have dockage, but do have paid moorings, a carening area, a dinghy dock, a restaurant/bar, water, and other minor services. Crater Bay is also the primary “port” for local boats made up of primarily wooden dug-out canoes and wooden sailboats used for small transport between destinations around Madagascar. They would often sail right through the busy anchorage as seen here. The local boats parked near a beach where they mended fishing nets and loaded cargo. In the early mornings the bay would be filled with local dug-outs fishing. Some used small nets and we were glad to see such sustainable fishing. We have never seen large fishing nets or trawlers at use here.

Bar scene

Bar scene

We spent several days in Crater Bay organizing trips for provisions, fuel, souvenir shopping, and tours. We met up with other cruising sailors who were constantly arriving at Nosy Be. The usual meeting place was the marina restaurant and bar which was cleverly made out of a small train. The coal car was used for the toilet. Awnings near the locomotive providing the dining and BBQ area. The primary foods were beer and pizza which were both good. There’s some panoramas of the bar in the slideshow. That’s the crews of s/v Subuti, Mystic, Solace, and Tahina in the picture.

We went to Hellville again multiple times, and we visited the city market for local fruits and vegetables. Amazing variety of people and goods. And always a thrill to see local people in such an busy place. The oldest profession is thriving in Madagascar as in most places, but we were surprised to see a store called “Quality Girls” – it turned out to be a clothing store. It got our attention, and it was Gina from Solace who pointed it out first.

Other cruising yachts started arriving from the Seychelles. We saw s/v Smoke, s/v LeuCat, s/v Grommit, and s/v Solace all arriving at Nosy Be. It was great meeting boats who have nearly completed their journeys across the Indian Ocean and hearing some of their tales of their experiences, and their plans for future passages.

Here’s a slideshow giving you a taste of our experiences at Crater Bay and Hellville.

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And below is the map showing Crater Bay:

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Whale Sharks and Sakatia Next to Nosy Be

Solace left at the crack of dawn from Mitsio. Since Tahina is a bit faster Karen was able to get a bit more sleep. I am always an early riser usually up before dawn. So, I was able to do some blogging and after dawn I put on some snorkel gear and dove under Tahina to clean our props to improve our speeds if we ended up motoring. There was no wind in the bay in the early hours, and we had noticed a sea breeze usually builds in the afternoon. Otherwise, the weather was delightful with sunny skies and temperature very comfortable.

We left about 90 minutes after sunrise and motored out of the bay and started south. Along the way we saw many schools of fish jumping, sometimes with sea birds flying. We ended up motoring most of the way to the north side of Nosy Be. Our destination was an island just west of Nosy Be called Sakatia.

As we were going over some shoals northwest of Nosy Be, I noticed a couple of small fisherman in dug-out canoes. We were going between the two, so I was watching them at the helm. I was about to wave to the closest one when I suddenly noticed a large brown object just in front of us only a foot or two below the surface! We were still motoring and I had no time to alter our course, so I grabbed the throttle and move it to neutral. My first thought was that it was a large net, then I thought it was a whale! I cringed expecting a loud bang if our keels hit it. But, nothing happened! Whew! I ran around looking and there was no sign of it. It must have been a sea creature. That’s when it dawned on me that a large brown object big enough to go under both our bows (25 feet apart), just might have been a whale shark!



I called Solace on the radio, who were behind us now, and told them to keep an eye out for whale sharks. I told them we almost hit one. At this point, the wind started picking up and we raised our sails. We had not gone far, when I suddenly spotted another one and this time it was clearly a whale shark! Not a minute later I spotted a third one! Wow! I was tempted to stop the boat, drop the sails, and just watch them. But, I rationalized we might have another chance as it was only a short distance from Nosy Be. The photo is not good, but you can definitely see we captured a photo of a whaleshark.

We were soon arriving at Sakatia which is less than a km from the west side of Nosy Be. There is a nice anchorage there, and a South African couple lives on the island managing a small resort. The couple, Des and Nell, are long time sailing cruisers who gladly provide advice to cruisers arriving about both Madagascar and South Africa. They used to run a popular radio network to help cruisers with the passages to Madagascar and South Africa.

We visited Des and Nell the next day and they gave us a bunch of advice. They also let us know we would need to go to the port office and pay harbor fees and get a cruising permit for the area. The main town on Nosy Be is called Hellville. Nell called us a taxi driver they use and he agreed to pick us up on the beach on Nosy Be close to our boats.

Village market on Nosy Be

Village market on Nosy Be

The next day, we met the driver near the beach and enjoyed the bumpy drive through Nosy Be to Hellville, which took about 30 to 45 minutes. Along the way we saw a couple of village towns, and lots of interesting locals. There were both traditional African style clothing as well as more modern clothing styles. The town was flooded with a lot of people most of which were walking, but a few cars, motorbikes, and wood carts with Zebu (a local ox) pulling them.

When we finally got to Hellville, it was more of the same except on a larger scale. The driver took us to an ATM first (so we could pay our fees) and then to the harbor. We spent an hour or so getting the paperwork done and paying our fees.

We didn’t plan to do a lot of sightseeing on this day, so we drove back out of town. We did stop at a “new” supermarket outside town to freshen up our provisions. Although, we were disappointed the food stocks were less useful than the supermarket we visited in Diego Suarez.

Back in Sakatia, s/v Mystic arrived and that night we all went ashore for sundowners with Des and Nell again. We also heard some other boats arriving from the Seychelles were on their way arriving within the next couple of days.

We decided to move down to the popular anchorage called Crater Bay off Nosy Be. There we would be closer to Hellville and could organize some sightseeing. We left and sailed the whole way in light winds.

Here are some photos of Sakatia including a photo Solace took of a local wooden sailboat sailing past Tahina at anchor.

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There will be more about Hellville and Nosy Be in upcoming posts. Below is a map showing our location at Sakatia.

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Nosy Mitsio

Nosy Mitsio

Nosy Mitsio

We left Nosy Hara on the second morning after our arrival intending to continue heading south. If possible, we hoped to sail to an island called Nosy Mitsio. Unfortunately, we had to motor more than we expected (considering the strong winds from the previous two days. But, the final two hours in the late afternoon did result in some wind and we had a good sail the rest of the way. Again, we saw lots of fish and sea birds, but no whales this time.

There was a charter catamaran sailing to the anchorage at the same time as us called Lady Corsica. I recognized the lines of the boat and after checking with the binoculars confirmed it was an older sister of Tahina – a St. Francis 44. We also saw a sailboat already at anchor, it was a boat we know called s/v Mystic. I went over and chatted with them for a while to catch up since we had last seen them in Mauritius over a month earlier. They are also heading to Nosy Be, and we were the first cruising boat they had encountered since they arrived in Madagascar a few weeks earlier. We must have been pretty close behind them though.

We were approached while at anchor several times by local fisherman – both young and old – looking to trade fish or fruits for other things. I ended up giving some fishing line and hooks to a couple of them.

s/v Solace decided to stop at an island north because of their slower speed. But, the next afternoon they arrived at Mitsio. Something was out of place though, there was another person on board. It turns out Solace had been approached by a nice young man who was asking for a ride to Mitsio because he is a manager at the resort on the island. It was his job to prepare the facility to be re-opened for the coming season. Solace agreed to give him the ride since he spoke good English and seemed quite respectable.

Village refuse

Village refuse

After Solace arrived we went ashore to have a look at the island. The people living here are still a fair distance from any of the larger towns of Madagascar. They live a simple life in thatched roof houses built from local materials, with fishing and basic domestic animals, and agriculture as their primary sources of food. We saw no sign of regular electricity, but some of the houses had small generators. We were disappointed to see they are very lax in their trash management with lots of refuse throughout the housing areas. But, the people all seemed healthy and happy. The animals also appeared well fed and healthy.

laundrywomenOn the way back to our boats we returned to the beach and saw a group of local women walking down the beach carrying laundry. Gina from s/v Solace took this great picture of the women with their laundry on their heads.

Mitsio has a well-protected anchorage with some pretty scenery. And it was an interesting perspective on local isolated living. We were told there is good snorkeling and diving nearby as well.

Solace joined us for drinks that evening and we enjoyed the peaceful setting at the anchorage. Late in the day two other boats we know also arrived at the anchorage, as well as another two boats coming from the south. It was suddenly a busy anchorage! The next morning Solace and Tahina left hoping to get to Nosy Be – a much bigger island with lots of people and facilities, and Internet!

Here’s the map showing Nosy Mitsio and where we anchored:

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Snorkeling Nosy Hara

Nosy Hara snorkel

Nosy Hara snorkel

Many of our sailing friends following our trip to Madagascar will be curious to know what the diving/snorkeling is like here. Based on my first snorkel – at Nosy Hara – I can say it is definitely worth the time. The water was a little silty when we first arrived, but this was due to high winds we had been experiencing all day. In the morning, the water was very clear with visibility at least 30 meters. Nice coral and the usual variety of coral fish. Other reports of diving and snorkeling here have been quite good.

As soon as I slipped off the dinghy into the water the first time, I spotted a sea turtle. We have seen many sea turtles around our boat at almost every anchorage around Madagascar. The coral was a good healthy and colorful variety with both hard and soft coral, and I even found an anemone with one lone clown fish (but, there must be more). There were a nice variety of clams including large ones of almost giant clam size. And, finally I spotted a blue-spotted stingray hiding in the shadows under a coral.

Check out the album for a good taste of what was seen:

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Location of the snorkeling was here:

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Panoramas from Nosy Hara

To give you a more immersive impression of the cliff-tops of Nosy Hara, I took three spherical 360 panoramas while we were there. The climbs up to the cliff top is actually not that laborious, but it is stressful due to the large number of razor-sharp rocks. One tiny slip, just a brush of skin, and you end up with a bleeding laceration. Believe me, we had it happen. If you slipped and fell on some spots, you would be punctured in multiple locations and likely die! The limestone rocks are constantly eroded by wind and rain, and they are brittle. So, they end up in many locations with knife-like edges. The views from the top are quite interesting though, and worth the risk as long as you are careful.

The first day we arrived late in the day, and the two rangers took my friend Gina (from another boat called s/v Solace) and I up a set of cliffs. We had intended to get to a spot where we could see our boats, but the french-speaking young men didn’t understand our instructions. We still enjoyed the view at this first location south of the beach entrance to the park.

Nosy Hara Clifftops South

The next panorama was taken the next day north east of the beach area, from part way up the cliffs. This had the best view of the beach, coral in the bay, and Tahina out at anchor.

Nosy Hara mid-Cliff overlook

The final panorama was taken from near the tops of the cliffs. This involved the most challenging rocks (i.e. very sharp ones), but we managed to get this far. The view allowed us to also see the yacht Solace at anchor which is just to the left of due north in the distance. The landscape really appeared alien-like to us when we first got up there.

Nosy Hara clifftops

Hope you enjoyed the 360s! For more pictures of Nosy Hara, view the previous post.

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Rounding Cap d’Andre to Nosy Hara

Tahina heading out

Tahina heading out

Before dawn on August 22nd, we awakened to check our weather. We had anchored near the entrance to the bays of Diego Suarez on the northeast side of Madagascar. After five days where the winds had been showing 25-30 knots winds from the southeast at the top, we finally had a forecast showing only 20 knots. The top of Madagascar is Cap d’Andre, once we rounded that the forecasts shows much lighter winds on the lee (west) side of the island. At dawn, the winds were only 12 knots in the anchorage, but each night the winds eased like this and by 9 AM they would blow much stronger. So, we headed out hoping for the best. Here is a picture of Tahina going out the entrance as seen by s/v Solace. It was a bit swelly at the entrance.

Cape lighthouse

Cape lighthouse

It turns out, we were really lucky! The winds only blew up to 15-20 knots, and since we were downwind it wasn’t bad at all. We saw whales, birds and fish. And almost no signs of humans except for the lighthouse at the Cape. We also had timed it so we had the tides in our favor so we also had a 1-2 knot current advantage. We were around the cape by 11 AM and started turning south. This was the furthest north we will be on this side of the Indian Ocean. We go south now until we get around the Cape of Good Hope in South Africa.

Once we started south, our forecasts said the winds would be 5-10 knots. This is when our luck ran out. Instead, we saw the winds shoot up to 25-30 knots! The winds stayed this way all the way. The good news is that we were in the lee of the land, so the waves had very little fetch, so we just reefed in our sails and went faster! Since we were making such good time, we elected to go south towards either Nosy Hao or Nosy Hara. Tahina, being faster, got to Nosy Hao first. As we were turning around the reef, Karen and I spotted two whales ahead of us that soon disappeared. We got to the anchorage area, but those high winds were making it a bit bouncy, so we told Solace on the radio and decided to push on to Nosy Hara (Nosy means “Island” in the local language of Malagasy).

Nosy Hara

Nosy Hara

Nosy Hara has high cliffs, which help shelter the anchorage on the west side from winds like we had. As we approached the island mid-afternoon, we still had some 1 meter high waves, but as soon as we passed the north end it calmed right down. The anchorages were quite small, so we found a good spot for Solace, and then found another for us on the south end. Ours was the trickier spot due to reefs in the area, but it was near the beach that allows access to the island. The cliffs were awesome to behold with really wild looking rock on the top.

Gina and I were both anxious to go ashore and try to climb the cliffs. We are both avid hikers and photographers. So, we went ashore to the little beach. Two young local men came out to greet us. It turns out they are the “rangers” of the National Park here. They spoke a bit of English, and explained there is a daily fee of about $4 per person, which we agreed to pay later since we didn’t bring money with us. We explained we wanted to climb the cliffs to take pictures, and they proceeded to walk us up a cliff. Apparently we just hired guides. We were impressed to find they were paving the trail through the wooded valley and had put in concrete steps along the way. The money they are collecting is being put to good use!

Gina and rangers

Gina and rangers

Along the way, they showed us their rare and very small local chameleon (less than an inch in length). It turns out they were walking us to a cave that is the island’s main attraction. We explained we wanted to go up the cliffs, so they found another trail that led straight up. It was a steep climb, and as we got near the cliffs it became very rocky with extremely sharp edged limestone rocks. We were treated to some nice cliff views and could see the ocean, but not our boats. Oops! We told them tomorrow we wanted to climb some different cliffs. We took some pictures and then headed back. Picture here shows Gina and the two young rangers.

Back at the beach, they showed us they were building a picnic area with tables and shade covers, and also a BBQ area. And, they have built a toilette as well. Money well spent we think for the ranger fees. Before we left, we told them there were four of us on the two boats and I came back a short while later and paid them. They asked if we had any whiskey, I offered them beers instead and brought them a few the next day.

In the morning, I went snorkeling off the very lively reef we saw. The coral was colorful and lots of fish. I took pictures which I will share later. We have been noticing that the marine life in Madagascar is plentiful and very natural. We have seen fish jumping everywhere, dolphin, whale, turtles, and more. There have been no signs of fishing nets, and fishing only in small 2 person dug-out canoes. We sure hope they keep their marine environment this way, it’s an amazing example of the way marine life is supposed to be without mankind totally exploiting it.

Razor-sharp rocks

Razor-sharp rocks

Later in the morning, we all went ashore. We asked the two young men to take Karen and Paul to see the cave, while Gina and I tried hiking the cliffs closest to the shoreline for some pictures. We discovered these cliffs are much more treacherous to walk. The limestone rock has been carved by wind and rain into razor sharp rocks and as we got higher they were everywhere. We had to be extra careful with every step and avoid using our hands even. We both found that even a tiny brush with a calf or ankle could result in cuts. Our guide picked a reasonable trail and occasionally he would pick up a rock and throw it on the sharp rocks to make a clear spot.

We were treated to some great views of both the anchorages and the tops of the cliffs. When we got to the very top, it was like we were on another planet. Vast areas of rock that did not look natural compared to normal mountains. We were glad we went, but we were not going to attempt to cross those fields of razors. I stopped and took two 360 panoramas which I’ll share later. But, here is a photo album showing photos from the sail to Nosy Hara, and lots of pictures of this strange, but beautiful, little island. Check it out:

View full-sized slideshow

After we all got back to the beach, we asked the two young men how they got water. They said they are waiting on rain. So, we offered to bring them water from our boats. I later brought several containers of water which they gladly accepted and thanked us.

We still had a couple of days of travel ahead of us to get to Nosy Be, so we left the next morning. Here is a map of our track to Nosy Hara from Diego Suarez.

View Rounding Cap d’Andre in a larger map

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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 RĂ©union.

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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