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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Now in South Africa (Almost)

After 7 days and 7 hours, we arrived safely to Richards Bay, South Africa. We are just awaiting customs clearance before we can go ashore and make arrangements for Internet and get settled in a marina here. We only had one gear failure on the way, which was resolved on the first day before we left shore. We had some weather, but nothing unusually intense. We hove to (stopped) for a few hours to wait for weather to settle ahead of us and to get some extra sleep. We motored for only about 16 hours total on the entire trip (mostly to maintain speed to catch the next wind patterns. We had a wonderful last day making an average of 9.5 knots while riding the Alghulas Current for over 200 miles into Richards Bay.

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Enroute to South Africa

Sorry for the lack of recent updates. We had a weather window for South Africa pop up last week while going down the coast of Madagascar. It was too good an opportunity to pass up. Our friends on s/v Solace helped give us support as we made a quick last provisioning run, then we left the next morning. Solace has been providing radio support for us as we make our way down the Mozambique Channel south.

We have been able to sail almost the entire way, although today we are motor sailing a bit to get to the next pocket of wind, and so we keep our pace so we can arrive during daylight at our next port.

After we arrive and get Internet, we’ll report more on the passage. We also still have a number of posts to make on our Madagascar experiences. So, stay tuned!

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First Lemurs in Madagascar

We decided to leave Crater Bay and do some sightseeing in the area. It involved sailing across the bay to the far south side, spending a night, and then sailing back to the northeast to visit Komba – an island with a lemur tour where the lemurs are used to human interaction and you can feed them bananas. We also planned to do another tour on the east side of Nosy Be. We expected to take 3 or 4 days, which it did.

Whale tail

Whale tail

We started out with our sail south, and we didn’t go far before we started seeing whales! Whales passed right behind Solace and we got some far-distant telephoto shots. The whales continued and went behind us a mile or two away. Later we saw whales breaching far ahead of us and got some more telephoto shots. Then those same whales passed right in front of Solace who was behind us. It sure made for a more interesting sail than usual. The weather here has been fantastic with pretty much sunny skies, nice breezes, and cool evenings. Very little rain as well.

We ended up spending the night behind a quiet little island with a small village. In the evening a couple of women with four young kids came out to trade with us. We got some bananas (for the lemurs we planned to visit) and traded them some canned vegetables. We could hear wildlife on shore, but didn’t see more than a few birds.

The next morning we left early and sailed some, but ended up having to motor more than half the distance to Komba. The anchorage is on the northeast side and is a beautiful spot! There is a rock island just off the cove beach that has a small resort nestled on it. Beaches are available on either side of it. The one on the left (south) has a small bar and restaurant called “Yolande” named after the owner who we met. The picture below shows the view from the beach bar (click for larger). Yolande caters to visiting boats and provides a shower, water for tanks, and shows you how to get around the island.

Beach at Komba

Beach at Komba

Lemurs

Lemurs

We took the tour to see the lemurs first thing. Our guide showed us a variety of plants, fruits, trees, and wildlife along the way. We saw two varieties of chameleon, gecko, tortoises, a Madagascar boa snake, and of course lemurs! They call lemurs “Maki” here and he actually called them out “Maki, Maki, Maki” and they came through the trees looking forward to getting some banana. We each handed out pieces of banana and they would jump on your shoulder and politely take the banana out of your hand. Some were more eager than others, but it was all fun and they were quite gentle and curious.

Coincidentally, along the walk to the lemurs, there are lots of souvenir shops selling lots of things like embroidered table cloths, paintings, wood sculptures, fabrics, shells, t-shirts, etc.

We finished off our walk with cold beers at Yolande’s, and later went back after sunset to have dinner. The beach is very picturesque and a wonder to enjoy. The sunset from the boats was also a delight.

The next morning, Gina, from s/v Solace, and I went on a hike up the mountain. For different health reasons, our spouses are not well-suited for hikes like this. We didn’t know what trail to take, but found someone who showed us part way, then found a couple of young kids to walk us further up the trail. Unfortunately, the young boy seriously needed a shower and to launder his clothes. But, we only had to endure the smell for a couple of miles. We never found the top of the mountain, or a view of the anchorage we wanted. But, we did find an interesting new outdoor chapel with a christian cross mounted on the top of a majestic granite rock. They had steps to the cross which afforded a beautiful view of Nosy Be. We also saw some interesting trees and flowers along the way.

We took our boats up the east coast of Nosy Be and went to another park that has a wildlife tour. There we saw some more lemurs, who were more wild and did not approach humans. We saw a nocturnal lemur, a huge boa (about 12 feet in length), more chameleon and geckos, an interesting frog, and some other varieties of trees, plants, and fruits.

We also had a very unique sighting while riding our dinghy to shore here. We saw two or three zebra shark right at the surface, which was really unique. Unfortunately no pictures, but one of the most unique sightings we have seen in quite some time in the sea.

The following photo album gives you a peak at the interesting wildlife we saw including the lemurs! Definitely worth a viewing if you want a taste of what its like to see wildlife in Madagascar.


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The map below shows where we anchored at Komba. We ended up going there for another night after the second tour.

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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!

Whaleshark

Whaleshark

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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