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.

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