Sunday, 25 October 2015

Last Port - Mahajunga, Madagascar

Mahajunga is our final port of call or provisioning, before we head down the coast for South Africa. Like Helleville, its a bustling old time port, the old town filled with decaying French buildings and the new town growing up in a "1960's concrete modern" sort of way around the old port.

Here again we were captivated by the maritime culture, dominated by sailing vessels of all kinds.

Schooners, outrigger sailing canoes, dhows, just about anything that floated had a rig and sails of some kind.

Of course the sails were not hi-tech and they often had large pieces missing, but the boats still traveled well and the crews were always happy to see us.

That sailing bond works wonders, even when we don't speak the language.

The waterfront was a dynamic place, a blur of old and new, goods being loaded and unloaded on the backs of smiling young men, running along rickety wooden planks carrying everything from live chickens to crates of Coca Cola.

We provisioned here for our crossing to South Africa, a 1400 nautical mile voyage that crosses the Mozambique Channel and takes us south, eventually to Cape Town.  Majunga has fabulous markets, and we were able to stock up with everything we needed - fresh fruits, vegetables, local pork sausages and diesel to top off our fuel tanks.

To our surprise we also found a fabulous restaurant and brasserie, serving world class cruising with a local twist.  At La Rotonde, the Malagasy chef is a certified artist and we'll remember his plates fondly as we cross the ocean for the next few weeks.

Bartering For Fruit At The Market
The primary service locations for visiting sailboats (supermarkets, fuel stations, port captain etc) are relatively simple to find, however we marked them up on the Google map below.  Just click on the map to explore Mahajunga.

From here we will coastal hop south for another two days, then head west across the Mozambique Channel when we have a good weather forecast.  Our blog posts will be less frequent without internet access, but you can track our voyage on the live map at the top of the page, which updates hourly.

Saturday, 24 October 2015

The Helleville Festival Of Sail

After 50 years of sailing I still get a real buzz when I see a well handled sailboat, reaching across flat water on a sunny day - specially if it is a wooden sailboat.

In this part of the world that sight is all too common, as every coastal village and settlement is home to outrigger sailing canoes and larger sailing dhows, with lateen sailing rigs.  In the photo at right, this beautiful new vessel was launched only days earlier, and the builder was putting the finishing touches to her when we visited the island.

The largest boats here are gaff rigged schooners, still built on beaches all along the coast.   These are planked timber boats fastened with galvanised pins.  The lines are traditional locally made hemp, and the blocks are all hand made by shipwrights who carve the cheeks from solid wooden blocks.

When we arrived in Helleville, capital of the island Nosy Be in Madagascar,  the real extent of this sailing economy became apparent.   Literally hundreds and hundreds of sailboats work the coast - some fishing, some carrying cargo, others working as ferries.

Each afternoon they would ghost past us in the anchorage, working to windward on the first flutters of the strengthening sea breeze.  The big lateen rigged boats are incredibly quick and will sail seemingly into the eye of the wind, though the lack of any real keel means they sag away to leeward quite a bit.

The small fishing dhows would go to sea every morning, waking us at 5.00am as the crew shouted greetings to each other across the water, using the land breeze to head offshore.  Late afternoon they would all head back to shore using the unstoppable sea breeze, that comes in like clockwork around midday each day.

The sailing canoes here are incredibly fast, and use live (human) ballast to keep the outrigger on the surface when power reaching - the crew walk out onto a timber frame that is cantilevered to port, and so counterbalance the outrigger on starboard.

These amazing things are of course simply ordinary to these communities, who live and prosper by the sea and the wind.

However to us it is a constant source of delight, as dozens of these vessels come home each evening, scooting across the stern of our anchored vessel, smiling, waving  and sharing their joy with us - the real joy of sailing.

Thursday, 22 October 2015

Tohatsu Outboard Motors - Indian Ocean Cruisers Group Buy

Our beloved Tohatsu outboard motor has passed it's "use by" date.  Looking for another unit, we discovered that several other cruisers in the region are also wanting to buy new engines.  South Africa is also possibly the last chance we'll get to purchase a 2 stroke engine in the size we want, as Euro and US regulations have forced them off the market in those regions.

So we have arranged a group purchase through a vendor in South Africa, with a significant discount and shipping available to most ports.

So far we have six vessels in the group, but all boats traveling to South Africa are welcome to take advantage of this deal.  For further information please contact us by email, or by commenting on this post.

We have pricing on two models - the lightweight 5.0hp and 9.8hp 2 stroke units (short shaft), but others models including 4 stroke are available.

Wednesday, 21 October 2015

Eating More Fish - Just What The Doctor Ordered

Our family doctor, Jeff Farrow, has made it very clear that I should be eating more fish, to help deal with my high cholesterol readings.

Well Jeff, this one is for you.  As you can see, Ley is doing her level best to comply with your instructions.  This Spanish Mackerel is Four Star eating.

In the past week Ley has landed more fish than our freezer can hold and is now working on new ways of preparing fish to keep the meals interesting.

Last night it was a delicious Fish Pie - you can download the recipe here.

The ocean waters here in Madagascar are just loaded with fish - one of the few places where commercial fishing hasn't stripped everything out.

Two days ago we assembled a new hand line fishing rig for friends, complete with swivel, stainless steel trace, bungee cord and lure, as a birthday gift.

We delivered it to their boat just before dinner time, and over drinks I showed them how to deploy it and rig it to the boat with the bungee.

They joked that they might land a fish right there in the anchorage, and I explained it couldn't happen as it was dark and the fish would not see the lure. Also, we weren't even moving !

You can probably guess what happened next - a 1.5 meter Military Pike attacked the lure and we landed it within a few minutes.  That rig has since caught two more big fish, a very successful birthday gift !

Tuesday, 20 October 2015

Cruising In Good Company

For some weeks we've been cruising north western Madagascar in company with good friends on Le Papillon, a brand new 46 foot Lagoon catamaran.    They cruise with their four legged bosun Charlie, who swaggers around the deck pretending he was born at sea, and have traveled much the same route as us for the past six months.

Together we have been traveling around 25 nautical miles each day, anchoring each afternoon at a different bay, river or island.  This is a most spectacular cruising ground - many say it is far better than Thailand, and we are happy to agree.

Land breezes in the morning carry us out to sea, and by 11:00am the sea breeze kicks in and we reach along the coast in flat water at 7 and 8 knots.  Almost every day one of us catches a large fish, so the freezers are well stocked.  It is the finest sailing we've done in many years.

Keeping Very Busy

It hasn't all been island hopping and beach picnics.  Besides the usual (& never ending) maintenance tasks, we contribute to the regional cruising radio net on 6646Mhz.

At the moment I serve as net controller each afternoon at 17:00hrs local time (14:00hrs UTC), calling boats on passage in the region and logging position and weather reports.  There are currently 40 vessels on the tracking sheet, spread between Durban in South Africa, Madagascar and Mauritius.

This community safety net keeps us all in touch, and makes sure that no boats "drop off the radar".

Eating Very Well
Ley Trades A Fishing Kit For Fresh Prawns

We trade with the local people for mangoes, papaya, crabs and prawns.

A T-shirt is eagerly exchanged for half a dozen mangoes or half a kilo of large prawns. 20 meters of fishing line and half a dozen hooks will swap for a large Papaya or a even a live reef fish (Grouper etc).

We share the cooking and catering load, alternating dinner venues between the vessels.  With a shared love of good food (& wine), our dinners are usually fun events.

Supporting The Locals

This is a completely undeveloped nation - the small villages around the coast have no connection with the world except through passing boats and their own sailing vessels..  The people are happy and industrious, but poverty and health issues are evident at every stop we make. Like many other boats in the region, we stocked up on clothing and essential gifts for the locals, before sailing here.  Children's clothing, books, fishing equipment, clothing for men and women, tools, reading glasses etc, which are shared out on a daily basis.

At Maramba Bay, truly the most beautiful anchorage we've seen in years, we were advised about an elderly man who needed medical assistance - cleaning a wound and refreshing dressings.  Other cruising boats had helped before we arrived, and we took over for a couple of days, before we moved on.

He has a surgical wound that has opened up after the stitches were removed - it has obviously been that way for some time. 

This morning we cleaned and dressed it again, closing it a little and then protecting it with a large adhesive dressing.  He really should go back to hospital, but the family can ill afford that and the journey takes them over 24 hours (by canoe, then walking, then a bus).  Through email and the radio network we've now asked other boats to continue the assistance when they pass through Maramba Bay.

This is a stunningly beautiful country, but life for the local people is still very harsh.

Leaping Lemurs !

One of the delights we looked forward to in Madagascar was the wildlife, specially the Lemurs.

Not really like monkeys, and certainly not like our Australian possums, we discovered that there are more than 40 separate species of Lemur here - scary.

Fact is, we haven't seen a fraction of them.

Every village we visit, every island , every mainland beach, lemurs are somewhere there in the trees.

Maki - Maki - Maki we cry .... and so they come.  We just didn't expect the close up and personal "Lemur Ass In Our Face" kind of experience that we've been getting.  Geez - what these guys will do for just a little taste of banana.

Will they climb up my leg and into my shorts looking for the forbidden fruit ?  Sure they will.  Will they assemble en-mass on my shoulders, looking deep into my eyes, waiting patiently for me to (foolishly) pull the last piece of banana out of my pocket ?  Sure they will, then they'll stage World Championship Wrestling over my back and shoulders while they sort out who is the Alpha female.

Note to all males - the females always win here, go figure.  These beautiful brown and white creatures are all females - the males in this species are black.

At beautiful Nosy Mamoko the village was surrounded by forest. The lemurs lived in the trees close by and it didn't take much to bring them in.  Our friend Helmut on SV Lopto said they were "like cats and dogs there" and he was right.

These very cute creatures are amazing - standing on their hind legs like little fuzzy humans, they follow us around the bush. We spent hours with these creatures at several locations, and always ended up laughing.

Our private circus show also included the amazing banana leap - when this young lady worked out that I had (sneakily) passed the banana bag to Ley, she launched herself in a massive leap and thumped onto Ley's back.

Was Ley surprised ?

Click the link below to see the result !

Monday, 19 October 2015

Beatiful Boats - Money & Taste Don't Always Come Together

To be honest, right through my childhood I was influenced by my fathers view of what was beautiful in a boat or a ship.  We did spend a lot of time looking at boats.  I think his best quote on the topic was this - "All Boats Are Beautiful, Some Are Just More Beautiful Than Others."

OK, so I tried very hard to find the beauty in this vessel, anchored off Hellville at Nosy Be, Madagascar.  The MV Danah Explorer (check her out on the web) has had a couple of major refits, most recently in South Africa,  but neither seem to have added any cachet to the vessel's name.  What were they thinking ?

Yoiks, for a 900 ton vessel with a draft of only 12 feet, she looks kind of tall after that last refit, which added the complete private upper deck for the owners..  I'd love to understand the stability calculations.

The helicopter is just georgeous though, don't you think ?

Please - there is something about the beauty and functionality of boats that needs to be cherished, preserved and respected.  Money on its own is not enough.  I'm sure that MV Danah Explorer was happier in her first life.  Your comments are welcomed ....

Wednesday, 14 October 2015

10 Years Ago This Week - An Adventure Begins

When the lock gates in Darwin opened that October morning, we set out on a sailing adventure that is now 10 years in the making, and still happily developing.   

At that point we had been sailing Crystal Blues for eight years, and had already covered around 15,000 nautical miles.  Since that day in Darwin we have covered another 28,000 nautical miles.

It hasn't been without incident, but we've worked hard to keep Crystal Blues in top condition.  My father Dean always says that the boats are stronger than the people, and he is absolutely right.

While Crystal Blues is still looking young and strong, you can see here that just 10 years ago we both looked a little different (click the pics to enlarge).  The boat has benefited from a couple of major refits and Ley and I are now pondering the need for "personal refits" as we grow older.  No such luck !

This is a big milestone for us and the 10 years have flown by.  Every successful voyage needs a good combination of team work, skill and dedication.  I'm just so damn fortunate to have a partner on my team who has all the skill, dedication and love required.  Thank you Ley - the next 10 years should be even better.

Tuesday, 13 October 2015

Nosy Hara Marine Park

It is a sad fact that setting up and managing National Parks is still a challenge in Madagascar.  With the help of the WWF, and other sponsors, the Nosy Hara area has been declared a Marine Protected Area.  However that doesn't (yet) stop local boats like the one above from fishing the reef every few weeks.

We traded with these guys for a beautiful big crayfish they had speared, unfortunately before we understood that this was a park area.

That crayfish cost us some small lengths of spectra line plus a second hand wetsuit that I could no longer "accommodate" (ie climb into).  This boat carried a crew of two plus six free divers, who worked over the reef and shoreline with spear guns.

Our friends on the vessel Pakia Tea, both biologists, said the reef itself was in pristine condition, but that every fish big enough to spear was already taken.

The Park Rangers came out to us later that day in a small inflatable dinghy and we gladly paid our fees to stay in the area, though we didn't mention the crayfish.

Unfortunately the rangers are only in attendance some of the time, so many sailboats and visitors passed through the area without paying park fees.  Of course the fishing boats were also able to operate as well.....

Our stop at Nosy Hara was not all crayfish and sail repairs - we climbed the short trail to the viewpoint on top of the precipice, and recovered from our boisterous passage into the area. 

From here we travel about 100 nautical miles south to the tourist meca of Nosy Be and it's main town, Hellville.  The weather is becoming warmer, and we need to keep moving south before the cyclone season starts up here.

Saturday, 10 October 2015

Heavy Sailing, Ile St. Marie To Nosy Hara

We sailed up the east coast of Madagascar from Ile St. Marie in a strong South Easterly trade wind, building from 15 knots the first day to 35 knots as we rounded the northern cape (Cap D'Ambre) and then headed south west down the "sheltered" side of the island.  Despite the wind speed the swells remained manageable as we rounded the cape, mainly thanks to a 3 knot current moving with us.

Yes Warm Clothing - We Were Cold For The First Time In Many Years
"Sheltered" is kind of a relative word - once around the cape the wind blew even harder and we raced south in flat water watching a very dry and barren landscape ashore.  25 miles south of Cap D'Ambre we moved into a sheltered anchorage, welcomed by friends on the very fine Wharam catamaran Pakia Tea. We had covered 356 nautical miles in just over two days.

The last 24 hours of the voyage were completed under staysail alone, as for the first time we had some wear failures on our mainsail.  Nothing too serious - Crystal Blues has full length tapered battens in the mainsail, with adjustable tensioners to keep the batten curved.  At the forward batten ends the webbing attachments for the track slides were failing - two of these let go on the second day of the passage, so we lowered the main and kept running on just the staysail.

Nosy Hara is a stunning island, reasonably barren but with healthy reef.  We anchored on sand in 15 meters of water and spent the next two days working on the mainsail and island exploring.

The damage is obvious in the image at left, with the protective leather completely worn off and the webbing almost worn through.  Still, it was reasonable after 12 years and over 30,000 miles of sailing !  With two attachments already failed, we decided to replace all six attachments.

We cut away the worn materials and firstly shaped new leather protective pieces for the luff of the sail.

These were pre-punched to make the sewing easier, then fastened onto the sail with Gore Tenara thread.

This was the first time I'd hand-sewn with Tenara, and it is slippery stuff - kind of difficult to work with, but the best thing to use in terms of surviving long-term UV exposure (all our sails are sewn with Tenara thread).

Then we measured the webbing to length, allowing multiple turns through the mast slide and the batten end, for strength.  With the webbing clamped in place we drilled holes for the stitches using our small battery drill and a 2mm drill bit.  We still managed to break half a dozen needles on the project, but the pre-drilled holes were a real finger saver.  The batten ends were then fitted back into the Ronstan plastic holders and we were done.

Of course there are another seven slides (not attached to batten ends) that are still looking a little worn - we'll no doubt have to service them when we get to South Africa.

Tuesday, 6 October 2015

Yeah ! Madagascar Music

Our last night on Ile St. Marie was celebrated with friends at the fine local restaurant "Belle Vue", where live music is a regular feature.  Though it was "off season", management had promised a band. In the end not one but two bands showed up, both performing great local music.  Damy Magnedrake started the night playing older traditional songs, featuring the local "bush violin", a three stringed instrument called Lokanga that is small but surprisingly loud.  Check out his music here.

I had my Philippine "beat box" and "rain maker" under the table (gotta be prepared) so when they set up we joined in.  For me the percussion patterns were new and challenging, but as the night progressed I found my brain adapted, possibly in direct proportion to the amount of local rum in my glass.

The music became more modern as the night moved on, with Group Zaina playing more original work. Guitars and keyboard added to what was becoming a very big sound.  The kitchen staff, and even taxi drivers on the street all moved in for the performance.

Nine performers shared the lead, and also moved between the various instruments and vocal harmonies with practiced ease.  My wooden beat box was a popular instrument - all the players tried it, and loved the sound it added to their songs.

By late evening we'd moved into a sort of Malagasy blues, a mix of Regge and Blues with a strong local feel.  Haunting music, with beautiful vocal harmonies.  As in the Philippines last year, I discovered I could sing harmony and drum with these guys, and so the real fun began. This is the cruising life....these are the times when your heart is bursting with joy.  Just listen to the last track in the short video clip below - special times.  My thanks to Thomas and Annette on the yacht Anke-Sophie for sharing the evening with us and also for their fine video of the music.

Very Dangerous Fish

By Christian Grill (Own Work) CC BY-SA3.0                                                        
Returning home by dinghy a few nights ago, we followed friends who were in a second small boat.  It was a lovely moonlit night and very still, the water like glass.  Suddenly we saw fish jumping up ahead and immediately turned off our flashlight - these were Needlefish, (family Belonidae).  We've seen them throughout Asia - in Thailand they're called "Long Toms".  Unfortunately our friends had a red light shining above the hull, and one fish launched itself into their boat at high speed.

It speared into the leg of one occupant, right through his clothing, before launching itself out of the boat again.  The fish was possibly a meter long.  It created a very deep and ugly wound that at first glance looked like a gunshot, and certainly bled like one.

Fortunately an experienced nurse was at hand, who was able to treat the wound and administer the required anti-biotic and anti-inflammatory drugs.

Several deaths and many dreadful injuries have been attributed to these fish - check the Wikipedia link here.  When we shared this story with other cruisers, one young girl showed us an ugly scar on her leg where she was pierced by a Needlefish when swimming in Malaysia.  These attacks are more common than we thought !

We've had them land on the deck of Crystal Blues, both day and night, and many times had them jumping around the dinghy.   Now we'll be much more careful - dousing the lights when we see these guys around.

Monday, 5 October 2015

Update - Google Earth Navigation

Some months back we posted about the use of Google Earth Imagery as navigation charts - these highly (review the original story here).
accurate charts have been a fantastic information tool for us

You can make your own charts very simply, using the process we outlined.  You can also download charts from other sources, including this blog - click the tab in the top right of the page to review KAP charts for Sri Lanka and the Maldives.

Cruising sailor Mike Reynolds on the yacht Zen Again has also created a large database of KAP charts, combining his own downloads with images shared by other cruisers.  Our own files will be available on his site soon.

Review his excellent charting story here.

Also, access the Dropbox download site using the button at right.

Sunday, 4 October 2015

Tropical Ile St. Marie

There is no doubt now that we are in Africa .... though please don't tell the locals that !  They are proudly Madagascan, proud also of their cultural heritage, which is a mix of Borneo (Austronesian) peoples and Bantu immigrants from Africa.  Add a little blood from European slavers, pirates and Arab traders and you arrive at today's "Malagasy" people.  Here on Ile St. Marie the pirates contribution is perhaps more substantial....

Outside the towns people are mainly subsistence farmers, except where they find work in tourism.  A young restaurant waitress might earn $1.50 per day here - good money by national standards.  Most families have livestock and vegetable gardens, we saw chickens, ducks, geese, goats, sheep and many Zebu cattle.

Touring the island by motorcycle, we found a very young population - half of them seemed under 25 years.  Children are everywhere, rolling old bicycle wheels along the roads or doing the serious job of collecting water from community wells.

We met Sylvio, a local school teacher, who while still studying at University on the main island, spends his vacation time here in Ambidofotatra teaching English and sport.  Sylvio took us to his home - a spotless but basic shack not far out of town.  He (and his students) were very keen to practice their English language skills.  This proved challenging when mixing with the cruising sailors - Aussie accents were mixed in with Irish, American and German / French versions of the language.  

Visiting a local cemetery reveals another fact about local life - many children do not make it to adulthood.  Children's graves are everywhere.  While access to health care is improving, and the Government spends almost 15% of its budget on health, the standard of care and access for the wider community is still quite low.

Coiffure Anyone?
For tourists and travelers, if you need serious medical treatment the rule is to fly out to to South Africa.  One sailing friend received a very deep laceration on his lower leg, and was immediately repatriated to Johannesburg.  Of course repatriation can take time - flights and ferries are often cancelled, and the road system is (at best) dreadful - it can take days to cover just a few hundred kilometers.
Phone Doctor

Another boat crew member flew in from South Africa, but found the local connecting flights were cancelled - it took four days for them to connect with the yacht via rented taxis and small ferries.

In the towns and villages the standards of living and construction are on the improve, development is happening and we are optimistic about the future for this beautiful place.

The lifestyle is certainly relaxed - everything shuts down at noon and many stores and banks don't reopen until 3:00pm.  Curiously, even the ATM machines need a long three hour snooze at midday.

Tourism is making a positive contribution - the people are happy and well sustained.  More than half the population is Christian, with the balance following traditional animist or Islamic cultures.

We re-fueled Crystal Blues using our jerry cans and a hand trolley.  Standing in a crush of people at the gas station was a funny experience - people jostling for position, but in a good natured way, always with a smile.  Most were happy to recognise us as visitors and showed unusual courtesy.  I actually think they take pity on us as we don't speak French or Malagasy.  Of course you couldn't get diesel (or gasoline) every day - the pumps frequently ran dry, and the in-ground tanks were refilled manually from 44gallon drums barged across from the mainland.

From here we will move north up the coast of Madagascar and then around the northern cape to the sheltered west coast.  There are many other cruising boats on this same route, and we expect to meet with several friends when we arrive on the other side.