Our last planned stop in Madagascar was the city of Mahajanga. We planned to do one last provisioning run there before we left to sail down the Mozambique Channel to South Africa. We had a weather window that looked good for Tahina, which indicated we might be able to sail the entire way. The weather is highly variable in the channel and you can end up with days of motoring, or having to stop along the coast of Mozambique to wait for the right weather, or get caught out in bad weather, or you can be lucky and sail the whole way.But, first we had to get there in time. That’s why we only stayed briefly in Moramba Bay. We sailed another 25 or so miles after our morning visit at Moramba and got to the mouth of Mahajambe where we anchored in a small semi-cove. We had sundowners with Solace and discussed plans to leave at the crack of dawn the next morning. The next passage to Mahajanga was 60 miles which is a long day for Solace which doesn’t sail as fast as Tahina. The map here shows the first day in red, and the second day in green (click for larger version). Thankfully, we had wind in the morning and we left shortly after Solace. We had to use our topping lift to raise the mainsail again, which took us a few minutes to get sorted. We soon sailed out the mouth of the bay. As we were rounding the headland, we saw a local boat on a converging course who had crossed the mouth of the bay. They were moving fast. We started turning along the coast so we were on a better point of sail. We had a race! They tried to catch up to pass in front of us, but I was having none of that. As we got closer to the wind our speed picked up and we were now up to 9 knots. Now they couldn’t cross in front, but they still tried to pass on our other side. The winds picked up even more and we started doing 10+ knots. That was beyond his ability and we finally gradually left him behind. I was really impressed these boats could go 9 knots like that! I think they were disappointed not to show how their boat could pass a modern boat. Later they probably passed Solace, so maybe they felt better then. We had a great coastal sail the rest of the day, with a land breeze, and passed many of the local boats along the way. The coastline was interesting with sandy beaches, little fishing villages, an occasional resort hotel, river mouths, and big cliffs with lots of the classic Madagascar red soil exposed. There’s a reason they call this “The Big Red Island”.
We saw a big resort beach which we later found is called Plage du Grand Pavois or Amborovy. They had dozens of umbrellas on the beach, jet skis, sailboats, restaurants and bars. Quite the popular place. I was very tempted to divert in and stop and get a beer! We had been sailing so fast, we had plenty of time to get to our anchorage before dark.
One of the most populated cities in Madagascar, Mahajanga is on the coast on a peninsula with a big bay with several rivers leading to it. Along the sea coast side there are several resort areas and beaches. On the bay side, they have a port which is harbor for many cargo vessels. Across the bay, to the south, is a mostly muslim town called Katsepy (we took to calling it Ketchupy). There is a small cove there which we had been told is ok for anchoring. The city is too populated, with too much crime, for anchoring at night.
We continued down the coast and as we started rounding the peninsula to go to the port of Mahajanga, we had another race with a similar local boat. He was right next to shore and we were a mile off initially. There was a break wall coming up and we both converged to cross near the end of it. As we got close, Tahina was winning. But, there was a local fishing boat at anchor and I ended up having to go outside of him to avoid a collision risk. We continued racing the other boat until we reached the port, then we dropped our sails and motored into the harbor. The port looked fine for anchoring, so we re-raised sails and sailed the 5 miles or so to Katepsy. There were a lot of local boats sailing all over the bay. We anchored a fair distance away from what looked like a pretty poor town in what was flat water.
Solace arrived a while later and investigated the town. They managed to find a small cafe and got a beer. Later they came to Tahina and we discussed plans to go to town the next day. Over night, the winds changed and it got a bit bouncy in the anchorage, but it was ok.The next morning we sailed both boats to the harbor and anchored close together. Using our bigger dinghy, Paul took Karen, Gina and I ashore and dropped us in the small boat harbor. This is a very crowded harbor as they seem to rely a great deal on these smaller sailing vessels for transporting goods in Madagascar. We found a small wooden dock and got ashore that way. Our first objective was to find the grocery store we had heard about. We went there, and it was pretty good. We got the provisions we had hoped for and then went to a fresh market and got veggies and fruits. Paul picked us up and after dropping the provisions and Gina and Karen off, Paul and I went ashore with gerry cans to get some diesel. The little motor tuk tuk had just enough room for all the cans and we soon had them filled at a gas station, and back to the boats after calling Gina to bring the dinghy to pick us up.
Later, Gina and Karen and I went ashore again to get lunch and do a bit of sightseeing. We found a little row of restaurants and picked one called “Pub Loock-ness”. We had seating in the shade next to the street. The beers were cold, but the food was only so-so. Later I had reasons to regret the food. After lunch, we walked through the city and took lots of pictures. It was early afternoon and many of the stores were closed for lunch. We stopped at some souvenir shops along the way. The photo album below shows these and other photos of our experiences in Mahajanga:
Mahajanga reminded us some of Diego Suarez. But, it actually seemed less crowded. Perhaps because the city is bigger and more spread out. It is also more of a tourist town than Diego Suarez.
After the lunch walk, we went back to our boats and sailed back to Ketchupy. Paul came over and helped us run our halyard back up the mast. We used a gadget Paul had made to run a lead line through the mast and then pulled the halyard through. After a few system checks including oil checks on the engines, we were ready for our passage. Paul and Gina came for one last get together and to say goodbye. Their boat isn’t fast enough to keep up with us on the 1200 mile passage to South Africa. They wouldn’t make the weather window before bad weather settled in. Our plan was to leave at the crack of dawn the next morning.