We ended up making the decision to come to Madagascar on a whim after not being able to anchor in Peros Banos, so the usual build up to a long crossing was absent. I usually do some cooking for the night runs, have all the washing done, have a nap in the afternoon in preparation for the night watches, have all the charts checked and the route inputted to the computers, but this time we just made the decision on the spur of the moment and left. This was to be our longest unbroken sail to date at over 1500 NM and we had expected it to take about 10 days. There is an island called Agelaga which would be a great little stopover if we needed a break.continue reading …
We set off around 3pm and had some fantastic sailing – a south easterly nearly all the way. We were sitting on 7 to 8 knots and in the first day we covered 174 miles – we had a few squalls mainly at night but it was uneventful until the 4th day when Ian noticed a small tear in mainsail. As the winds were continually around 15-20 knots we couldn’t fix it under sail so we did call into Agalega to sort it out. Immediately the coast guard came out and boarded us. Agalega belongs to Mauritius and we had not got a permit from Port Louis so we were not able to stay overnight or go on shore. They did allow us to stay until dusk to fix the tear which we were happy with. It had the clearest water we had ever seen – we thought we were anchoring in 12 metres as we could see the bottom clearly but it was actually 120 m – and as clear as gin. We stayed, sewed up the sail and set off just before dusk.
We could not believe our speeds – we did 196 miles one day, just shy of the elusive 200. We were double reefed at night with a furled headsail but we were still sitting on 7’s. The wind direction stayed South East and we were chewing up the miles.
About 36 hours before we hit the coast of Madagascar was when things started getting hairy. It was getting really uncomfortable, with 2-3m swells with short seas. For the first time ever under sail I couldn’t cook dinner so cold baked beans out of the tin for the captain! The wind had increased to 20-25knots and so Ian put in a third reef and furled the headsail to a small scrap of material. I didn’t enjoy my night watch, I was worried we were going to sustain damage and the autopilot was not coping well and kept having a hissy fit and turning itself off. I was glad to hand over to Ian at 3am and try and get some sleep. There are two ways to round Cap D’Ambre at the tip of Madagascar coming from the East. Either head south to come in up the East coast by about ten miles and hug the coast all the way round the top or head north and cross the top about 20 miles out. We opted for the first option as being a cat we do not point and we did not want to beat into 25kt winds to get back down south. We knew the weather around the top of the Cape could be fierce with huge waves so we intended to cross during daylight – but even with a triple reef and practically no headsail we were still doing 12-15 knots and we were worried we would cross at night. It turned out we crossed at dawn but it was close. We flew around the Cape at the 30m depth mark – around half a metre off the coast. It was a bit disconserting to see the coast of Madagascar so close with the speed we were doing but further out was even rougher so we just watched and hand steered Indian Summer through and were very surprised to see that we had hit 22.2 knots at one point!! As soon as we were clear of the South Easterly wind and with the whole of the Island on our port side the wind just stopped…. it then took us three hours to go the further 9 miles to the nearest anchorage which is where we dropped our anchor and celebrated our arrival with a beer. We had crossed the Indian Ocean, our first ocean and we had done 1500 nautical miles in 8.5 days including a 6 hour stop over in Agalega. We averaged 182 miles per day @ 7.6 knots – a record for us.
Our max speed of 22.2 kts and rounding the cape.
We spent the night in Courrier Bay – a relatively calm anchorage and completely deserted. All we saw was a lady walking along the beach carrying driftwood on her head with her kids running alongside. Yep – we are definitely in Africa. the next day we went painfully slow with no wind at all and only made the 30 miles to Antsimaloto Bay where again we were completely alone. The third night we made it to Nozy Mitsio. I knew there was a village on this island so we arrived around midday and went for a walk along the beach.
There were a few people around and a young guy came up and introduced himself to us and asked if he could show us around. I did manage to communicate with him using my rubbish French and found out that there was a festival on the island this day. Everyone was in the same village – there are 6 villages on the island – and we were made so welcome. It was a fantastic day – we visited his parents house, the waterfall that all the villagers use for their water, the school, the small gardens they cultivate and everyone was so happy. Most cruisers come this way to get to Hellville to check in so the villagers in Nozy Mitsio must see a few of us, but as we were one of the first of the season I think we were a bit of a novelty.
We spent the night here and headed off the next day for Hellville. On the way we passed a massive school of whales – they were all around us and we were worried one of them may even hit the boat – there were turtles and dolphins – the waters here are so healthy and we are hoping to see manta rays and maybe even another whale shark. Having spent so long in South East Asia and around India where the seas have been severely fished out we were really happy to see such a prolific amount of large animals in the ocean.
We arrived in Hellville around 3pm and were immediately met by a guy called Jimi. Jimi is famous with cruisers in Madagascar. He has a great little business going looking after us all, and initially comes over, introduces himself and helps us get checked in. We went to the police first in their little hut just by the dinghy dock. The police sort out the immigration and the visa is $U25 per head for a month. They then ask for $US25 admin fee which is of course a bribe, but they have your passports so we paid up happily and were pleased to get our passports back with the visas duly stamped in them. Ian then went to the Port Authority to get his ‘cruising permit’ which is only issued from this office, no other office in Madagascar has them, so again its another ‘gift’ for the guys but it is still a lot cheaper to come into Madagascar than the other Indian Ocean countries who use agents and charge $100’s to check in. Jimi then told us where to get Sim cards for our phones, supermarkets, hardware shops, diesel etc. He has a few guys working for him and they watch the dinghys while we are in the town. He charges 5000 Ar for half a day and 10,000 for a full day, and when I gave him 15,000 he gave me back 5,000! He is a very honest guy and a godsend to us newly arrived cruisers. He works 7 days a week and has been looking after us for many years.
After all the business was finished, we were free to go into town and explore Hellville, the capital of Nozy Be. Nozy Be is an island off the mainland and is the major tourist region of Madagascar. There are a few french ex-pats living here but other than that, it only has a few backpackers – and feels very untouched. It is in a stunning location spreadout overlooking the bay and has quite a few restaurants, a great market, and a good supermarket. We found french cheeses, pates, salamis, breads and lots of different flavours of Rum – I think we just landed in heaven.