"Arctracer" Letters

Sailing South to Leave Madagascar, October-November 2011

We checked-out with Madagascar officials in Nosy Be in mid-October and started sailing down the west coast of the country toward Cap Saint Andre and South Africa. Nina fell and injured her ribs during this trip, so we moved even more slowly than originally planned. It was important to have them somewhat healed before crossing the Mozambique Channel. Our anchorages included Nosy Sakatia, Baramahamay River, Paradise Hole, Nosy Saba, Nosy Lava, Moramba Bay, Katsepe and Boina Bay. We had previously sailed down to Moramba Bay and back to Nosy Be so were revisiting some anchorages. Along the way we enjoyed good fishing, Humpback Whales, and the sights of many local boats under sail. Here are more details:

Checking Out in Nosy Be

We left "Arctracer" anchored in Crater Bay [13 deg 23.8 min S, 48 deg 13.1 min E] and rode a taxi to Hellville. Our visas still had a few days but we did not want to wait until the last day because some problem might arise. Some of our friends needed three days to clear out with the Nosy Be officials. We had no problems. We started at the port where the Immigration Police stamped our Crew Lists. Then we visited the Harbourmaster who checked our receipt for his dues paid when we checked-in. Then the office next door issued our Port Clearance and we returned to the Immigration official who stamped our passports. The whole process took less than one hour and cost us no money at all. We bought a few groceries and took a taxi back home.

Nosy Sakatia

We sailed to Nosy Sakatia [13 deg 18.1 min S, 48 deg 10.6 min E] for its clear water where we cleaned the barnacles from our propellers. We had hoped to use our computers with our modem and Telma's SIM card and mobile phone service to access the Internet as we moved south but were unable to connect at any anchorage south of Nosy Sakatia. We visited "Gambit" and talked with Dez and Nell, South Africans who made many trips back and forth between their home country and this anchorage. They were building a home here on Nosy Sakatia and planned to return to South Africa one more time to sell their boat. They recommended sailing in November down the Madagascar coast to Cap Saint Andre before starting across the Mozambique Channel. They often stopped at Bazaruto in Mozambique if strong southerly winds were forecast and gave us waypoints for that area. We appreciated their expert advice.

(view photos of Nosy Sakatia)

Nosy Iranja

Just south of Russian Bay was Nosy Iranja [13 deg 36 min N, 47 deg 50 min E]. This had large sandy beaches apparently used by nesting turtles. We considered anchoring there on two different occasions but never actually dropped our hook. The first time we went around the south end and started north into the shallow semi-lagoon which is protected from east winds. We saw reefs and realized we would have to anchor in a place where swells from the southwest would make us very uncomfortable, so we turned around and proceeded south to the Baramahamay River. The second time we considered anchoring on the eastern side of the island but found many coral heads and relatively deep water so proceeded north to Russian Bay.

Baramahamay River ("Honey River")

We had a nice sail to the Baramahamay River and anchored in the spot where we had been before [13 deg 42.7 min S, 47 deg 54.2 min E]. This was a very well-protected, calm anchorage though open to the east. Boys in small outrigger canoes paddled to us as soon as we were anchored. They offered honey at a standard price of 10,000 Ar for a one and one-half liter plastic bottle full. The honey came from wild bees in the forests and the people seemed to have large amounts for sale. Cruisers in the past nicknamed this the "Honey River." We found considerable variations in quality and preferred lighter-colored honey without extra material in the bottle. Villagers also offered crabs, usually for 2000 Ar. We soon learned that the best ones were those with large claws. Nina steamed them in salt water, then cracked the shells and picked the meat out of the claws and bodies. She usually turned it into crabmeat salad for delicious "Happy Hour" snacks on her bread.

This area had no telephone service, no electricity, and no road at all. There was a small restaurant and bar at the second village inside on the north side of the river where some of our friends had a few beers but we never ate there. Virtually everything came by boat from Hellville which was a day's sail away. There were other villages further up the estuary and those people worked the tides to get canoes up and back. Some of our friends traveled up the river hoping (in vain) to see crocodiles. We heard that these crocodiles sometimes grew to a length of seven meters (21 feet) and never came down to the salt water, but we did not know if those statements were accurate. We saw men diving to collect sea cucumbers (beche de mer), never used by the Malagasy but exported to China. This was apparently a business engaged in by local people all along the coast.

There were a few small villages on both sides of the river mouth. We met one of the schoolteachers who told us there were 78 students with just two teachers in their primary school. The school got no government funding so facilities, supplies and teacher salaries were not good. Selling honey and crabs probably helped the village pay for the school. We visited the school and were impressed. The students were working diligently and there were pencils and notebooks for them all to use. They were learning but their opportunities were certainly constrained. Further education was available in Hellville but was too expensive for most students.

(view photos of Baramahamay River)

Berangomaina Point "Paradise Hole"

The anchorage we used after leaving the Baramahamay River was an indentation in the south side of Berangomaina Point which other cruisers had dubbed "Paradise Hole" [14 deg 06.0 min S, 47 deg 54.3 min E]. This was a lovely spot open only to the west where we saw two green flash sunsets in three evenings. There were significant reefs around the entrance and along some of the shores but these were visible in good light and we avoided them without any problem when we entered. When we left in the flat light of early morning we got a bit near one reef but were warned by our depthsounder and turned away. There was a small village and a few other clusters of houses along the shores. The locals seemed a bit shy. Twice we watched a canoe paddle out and stop a ways from us. The people did not respond to our waves and eventually turned around to paddle home. One man did visit to trade limes for a few items and returned later with eggs to trade for more stuff. His friend came later with two crabs and went home with a pile of stuff.

Nosy Saba

We anchored one night at the southeastern corner of Nosy Saba [14 deg 21.8 min S, 47 deg 39 min E] when the wind was northwesterly. This was not a great anchorage but did give us temporary shelter. The island had no permanent residents but there were a few fishermen camped on shore. The morning's easterly wind might have pushed us onto the lee shore so we left early, before the breeze got strong.

Nosy Lava

We anchored at Nosy Lava [14 deg 31.6 min S, 47 deg 36.5 min E] with good protection from the westerly winds which were prevailing. This was a good anchorage in those winds but was open to the east and would not have been comfortable in strong easterly winds. There were several villages on the shores of this large island but no canoes visited us. A village visible to the south was once the site of a prison. Through binoculars we could see large buildings without roofs which were probably part of the prison complex. We had some brief rain showers, and after one of those Nina slipped and fell into our cockpit. She landed on her back and side, and it was painful enough for her to take Ibuprofen. With painkillers she was well enough to sail, but we did not know how serious the damage was.

Moramba Bay

We stayed in Moramba Bay at the end of August for ten days, tucked in among little limestone islets [14 deg 53.5 min S, 47 deg 19.9 min E] all by ourselves. Some other cruisers called this their favorite anchorage in Madagascar. It was a beautiful spot with Dimorphic Egrets and Sacred Ibis roosting on one islet, a Fish Eagle nest on another and Vasa Parrots flying noisily around all day. We had some days of strong easterly winds when we did not leave our boat because of wind and waves. Although the anchorage seemed well-protected there was considerable current and afternoon westerly winds brought waves between the islets to make us roll a little. We were comfortable enough on our catamaran but a monohull probably would have been uncomfortable. On days when the wind was not strong we explored the area in our dinghy and walked along beaches and paths. The baobab and pachypodia trees were numerous and remarkable. We found Cocquerel's Sifikas (white-furred lemurs with maroon trim) which we considered the prettiest lemurs we saw anywhere. Birds on shore included Paradise Flycatchers, Pied Crows, Sunbirds, Bee-eaters, Magpie Robins, Button Quail and Coucals. There were a few people living on the shore and they occasionally visited us to trade crabs, eggs and vegetables for items such as fishhooks, fishing line and clothing.

Westerly winds predominated when we returned for a second visit in November so we anchored where we had good protection from those winds [14 deg 53.3 min S, 47 deg 20.4 min E]. Other boats were also moving south towards South Africa and five of those anchored nearby. This became quite a social time with beach potluck suppers around campfires in the evenings. We stayed many days while Nina's ribs slowly got a little better. She probably cracked at least one rib but we will probably never know exactly what the damage was. The local people visited frequently to trade Mangrove Crabs, duck and chicken eggs and fruit for items we had available to give away. One day we were visited by the "President" of the area and his son who was an "ombiasa" (Malagasy natural healer or "witch doctor"). The ombiasa gave Nina a little massage but his magic was not as powerful as advertised and she didn't feel much better the next day. The President's daughter was a schoolteacher so we donated a big box of school supplies, and the President was building a sailing outrigger canoe so we gave him an old rope. He was very happy and later brought us over 80 limes plus some huge mangoes.

One morning the crews of "Geronimo", "Parpar", "Salsa", "Luna" from Norway and "Merlin" joined us aboard "Arctracer" on a one-mile trip across the bay to what the locals called "Sacred Island." There we walked across the island and along the far side to visit the "Sacred Baobab Tree" which was about 15 meters (50 feet) around. African Baobab trees grow approximately one meter in circumference in 100 years, so this tree was 1500 years old. A group of tourists from a resort came with a guide who had them walk counterclockwise around the tree wearing sarongs over their clothes. These actions apparently were intended to show respect. The tree had a phallic-looking projection on one side. The Malagasy made offerings there, hoping to increase their chances of having children. We saw Zebu bones, shells, and even a few coins left as offerings. There was a larger (21 meters in circumference) but not sacred tree of the same type in Majunga. After this nice little excursion we motored "Arctracer" back to re-anchor in our spot near the other boats.

Halloween found us still in Moramba Bay. For the beach party that evening we wore masks made by San Blas Indians in Panama. We didn't expect trick-or-treat visitors but were surprised by the two boys (8 and 6) on the French boat. They dressed in Spiderman and Batman costumes and paddled their kayak to visit us and all the other boats in the anchorage. We are sure they collected stuff more interesting than the candies most kids get in the USA.

(view photos of Moramba Bay)

Katsepe (near Majunga)

It was too far to sail from Moramba Bay to Majunga in one day so we anchored for the night along the shore just north of Tsimanenoakoho River [15 deg 22.3 min S, 46 deg 40.4 min E]. This was simply off the beach and exposed to the westerly afternoon winds and waves. It seemed to be without coral and had good holding across a fairly large flat area. We had a bumpy night but slept pretty well. The day after our bumpy anchorage we sailed into Majunga Bay and anchored across the estuary from the main town of Majunga next to the village of Katsepe. Majunga is an official port for clearing in and out but since we checked-out in Nosy Be a few weeks earlier we wanted to avoid officials who might be upset at our slow progress. We felt Nina's ribs were a valid reason for moving slowly but thought an official might want to fine us or at least pocket a small "gift" for being kind to us. Majunga also had a reputation for attacks on anchored boats and on people visiting the town after dark. This reputation was reinforced when four men boarded a friend's boat there at 3am while we were anchored across the bay. Fortunately, the men were scared off before they were able to do more than cut the main sheet, but they were clearly intent on taking ropes, the dinghy motor, and items from inside the cabin. Friends who cleared-out in Majunga said it was the most ridiculous official treatment they had ever received anywhere in the world, with final payoffs made in a bar drinking beer with an Immigration official.

Our anchorage [15 deg 46.1 min S, 46 deg 14.5 min E] was near the small town of Katsepe. This was protected from afternoon westerlies but waves generated by those winds wrapped around the point into our anchorage. We were also exposed to easterly winds in the mornings which produced waves across the broad estuary. Tidal currents through the anchorage were strong and often held us perpendicular to waves to make us roll. It was not bad on our catamaran but might be uncomfortable for a monohull. There was a road which cars and trucks used along the coast south of Katsepe. Several types of boats carried people and cargoes between the road's end and Majunga. There was no dock so cars and trucks were driven onto the beach and up ramps onto the ferries. The ferry which did most of the work could only take two cars at once, plus many people. The largest ferry carried a tank truck. Much was done by sailing canoes too. We saw Zebu cattle led down onto the beach, tied up, and lifted by several men onto outrigger canoes. Five cattle were tied up on top of each canoe and sailed across the bay. We could hardly believe this but saw it happen several times.

We got ready to leave by going ashore and spending out last Ariarys. There were no bananas for sale in Katsepe, which was a disappointment, but we bought 17 mangoes for 2000 Ar (less than $1) and 13 sweet potatoes for another 2000 Ar. Where again will we find bargains as good as those? Tins of sweetened condensed milk for Nina's coffee were available at a few small shops. The very last of our local cash was given to an onion seller in exchange for a big handful of her produce and a big smile. We lashed the dinghy on the foredeck, took down awnings, checked the engines and were ready to leave the next morning after breakfast. We caught the outgoing tide so with only 10 knots of breeze from the east we zoomed out of the bay past Katsepe Tower at 10 knots using mainsail and jib. There were red and green buoys marking a ship channel into Majunga, the only channel markers we saw in Madagascar.

Boina Bay

We sailed only a short distance down the coast to Boina Bay. There were many shoals which we tried to avoid though the local sailing outriggers seemed to sail right over them all. We used the deep channel next to Boina Bay's east side and finally anchored to the south of Antseranandava Island [15 deg 48.8 min S, 45 deg 58.6 min E] in 25 feet. We spent a couple of peaceful days there. The four boats which checked out in Majunga on the day we left Katsepe joined us the next day so we had some good social hours. Tidal currents through this anchorage sometimes held us perpendicular to the wind, but on the whole this was a peaceful place. We could see villages on the shore but no outriggers came over to us. The main topics of conversation among the cruisers were weather and strategies for crossing the Mozambique Channel. We all decided to leave Madagascar from here rather than move to Bally Bay which is closer to Cap Saint Andre. We departed Madagascar on November 13 and started towards Richard's Bay, South Africa.

(view photos of sailing south)