Saturday, 3 October 2015

Passage To Madagascar

Two weeks ago Crystal Blues sailed the 400 nautical miles from Reunion to beautiful Ile St. Marie on the east coast of Madagascar - one big step closer to Africa.  The passage took 64 hours and for the final day we were hard on the wind, delightful sailing, but pushing hard to stay ahead of a cold front that was heading up from the south.

The first 24 hours out of Reunion were truly unpleasant, a real washing machine sea state with fast moving swells coming in from the east - typical Indian Ocean nastiness.  By the second day the swell had eased and the passage became a race to beat the cold front that was fast approaching, bringing big winds and seas.

We motored into the anchorage behind the island late in the evening (just as the wind swung to the south), anchored on sand in around 10 meters of water, and slept soundly.  We were in Africa at last !   By next morning it was blowing hard from the south but we were safe and comfortable.

Ile St. Marie / Ambidofotatra

Ille St Marie
Ile St. Marie is a long finger of tropical island just off the east coast of Madagascar.

Ambidofotatra (say that three times quickly) is the main town on the island, located on the sheltered west coast.

In the seventeenth and eighteenth century pirates used the island as a base, preying on the trading ships coming from the far east.  Famous pirates such as William Kidd lived here, building settlements and establishing family communities in the area.  There is a unique pirate grave yard just across the causeway, south of Ambidofotatra.

We spent our first day ashore seeking clearances and "stamps" from customs, immigration and the marine department, who all evidently learned their trade from the pirates of old.

Not surprisingly it didn't happen in a single day, perhaps because we refused to pay the big bribes that immigration was expecting.

Customs House
However we did pay 60,000 Aryary (about US$30.00)  to the "Marine Department" who are really like a Coast Guard, for a cruising permit that turned out to be worthless - had to pay again (later) to the Port Captain when we arrived in Helleville.  It seems the Marine Department have a nice little scam running - but that is Madagascar all over.

Immigration (at the police station) wanted a "gift", and we got off lightly by offering a token US$5.00.  Others paid up to $40.00 for the "gratis" 30 day visa.  And of course there was the customs team - everywhere we go these guys are the masters of deception.  Another 60,000 Aryary and we were done with them !  We're not complaining, in fact we're very happy to be here.  If only that money could be distributed responsibly - this is a very poor nation, where 60% of people live below the locally defined poverty line of $1.00 per day.

Here on Ile St. Marie the eco-tourism push has brought some prosperity to the island, and while it is still definitely third world it delivers its experiences comfortably.  Chilled would be a better word - the whole island has a relaxed pace, the population is very friendly and the scenery is beautiful.

Fast ferries connect to the mainland, and daily commuter flights run to the capital.  Local markets deliver all the fresh produce, meat and eggs that we could need.

It is a paradise, with very many European nationals running small businesses, restaurants and resorts in their own slice of tropical heaven.

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