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.]