September 2017 - Madagascar

1 September 2017   Nosy Mitsio, Madagascar
After being here for four nights, we finally motivated ourselves enough to go ashore.  We were met by a young man, who had been out to the boat and spoke a little English.  We told him that we’d like him to show us around the village and then we wanted to go for a walk up the hills.  

He didn’t quite grasp what we wanted and just walked us through the small village and then started to walk towards the hills.  He obviously didn’t think that there was anything interesting about his village.  We wanted to go walking by ourselves, so we parted company and asked him to get us some duck eggs and bananas.  These never appeared.  It’s like the villagers just can’t be bothered - so different to our experience in Andranoaombi Bay. 

Harvesting Satranas Palms

However, we had a pleasant walk up the small hills behind the village.  The hillsides are covered with Satranas Palms (Bismarckia Nobilis), which are thriving in these arid conditions.  The locals have a small industry of harvesting the leaves and drying them to sell as roofing.

There’s a resort called “Tropical Fishing” on the long beach.  We had a chat with the French owner, who told us that he caters for fishing trips, but is closed until the season starts in October.  He told us that the village has about 80 people and that they don’t do anything apart from fishing, selling  him goats & Zebu and selling the odd bit of palm leaf roofing.  They don’t even grow any vegetables - apparently the goats keep eating their vegetables and they can’t be bothered to build a sturdy fence.

I’ve had some email correspondence with “Echotec”, the manufacturer of our water-maker and they have told me that we can run the water-maker without the low-pressure pump as long as we purge the pipe work free of air before we start - we can do this using the “back-wash” valve.  I ran the system for an hour and filled our tanks to brimming again - I’m going to run the water maker every day from now on to make sure that we have lots of water in case the system fails.

Kids Fishing

In the afternoon, I donned scuba gear and spent an hour cleaning the hull below the waterline.  It’s in an appalling state with 1½ inch long green fronds of algae all over the hull, which sway like grass as the boat moves about.  It took me 30 minutes to scrape the propeller clean, which just had a thin layer of flat encrustation and a few barnacles.  However, the hull was a different matter, after 30 minutes, I’d only done a small patch.  I’ll have to do the rest another day.

2 September 2017   Nosy Mitsio, Madagascar
We’ve been here for five nights, so we were planning to leave today, but I was so disgusted by our Hairy Hull, that we decided to stay another day and clean it.  I filled a scuba tank and then we both started scrubbing - Glenys snorkelling on the surface doing the top two feet and me underwater with scuba gear doing the rest.  After two hours of intense labour, we had a clean, blue hull.  I’m pretty sure that we’ll go 1 knot faster now.

We spent the rest of the day pottering about, exhausted by the two hours of hard labour.  In the evening we were invited for a beer of two on “Inspiration Lady”.

3 September 2017   Nosy Mitsio to Tsara Banjina, Madagascar
The alarm went off at 06:30, so that we could get an early start.  Unfortunately, the weather had other ideas and, as we had breakfast, a huge cloud system spread from the east with rain in the direction we wanted to go.  It started to clear an hour later, so we headed towards Tsara Banjina, which was only 12 miles away.  We anchored at 13°01.47S 048°32.77E in 7 metres on good holding sand - the water is so clear that we can see the bottom, which makes a change.

We’re anchored quite close to the island and when the sea-breeze picked up during the day, we swung to face west, finishing up with a lee-shore only 30 metres behind us.  Our strategy was to tuck in behind the island, so we would be protected from the strong land-breeze, which usually kicks in from the east at night.  Nevertheless, it was very unsettling in the afternoon, when the sea-breeze strengthened to 15 knots, bringing 2 foot waves crashing onto the reef close behind us.

Glenys looking at a Nudibranch

Tsara Banjina is a small private island with very attractive white beaches.  We didn’t go ashore, but they don’t mind yachties going in to have a drink at their beach bar.  They have a scuba dive operation, but at $75US per dive we gave that a miss.

As soon as our anchor had dug in, we went snorkelling, Glenys explored the rocky shore line next to the anchorage, while I had a look at an isolated reef 40 metres to the west of where we anchored (right next to a boat mooring).  Both places were very good, but the isolated reef was very good and I spotted three types of Nudibranches - a Swollen Phyllidia, a Racing Stripe Flatworm and Another that I can’t identify.  

Unfortunately, my underwater camera is playing up, so my photographs didn’t come out as good as I expected.  I have a Strobe (an underwater flash gun) which is essential for taking photos of small critters, but it’s stopped working, so I have to use natural light, which makes life very difficult.

After lunch, I donned a scuba tank and did a 40 minutes dive on the isolated reef to try to find out what is happening to my camera and to give me some more time to take Natural Light photographs.  I couldn’t get the camera to work despite trying numerous settings, but I had a nice time poking about.  It’s only 8 metres deep, but there are thousands of fish, a couple of huge Grouper, hard coral, sponges, soft coral and I spotted more Nudibranches - it’s a very healthy reef.

Later in the afternoon, we went snorkelling next to the rocky islands to the west of the anchorage.  It was pretty good and we found some more Nudibranches; a Tiger Cowrie; and some Clarke's Anemonefish.   

It went dark at 18:00, by which time the wind had dropped to 10 knots and backed to south-west, making it a more settled anchorage, but the expected strong land-breeze never materialised, so maybe we should have anchored a bit further away from the shore.

4 September 2017   Tsara Banjina to Sakatia , Madagascar
I woke up determined to sort out the strobe on my underwater camera.  I put in a brand new set of alkaline batteries, but it still didn’t work.  The strobe is a “slave” unit that flashes when it “sees” a flash from the main camera.  The flash from the camera is transmitted along a fibre optic lead.  I removed the strobe and pressed it up against the camera flash, triggered the camera and magically, the strobe fired.

It looks like the fibre optic lead is broken somewhere.  A small amount of light is getting through, but obviously not enough to trigger the strobe.  If I was in the UK, I could have one delivered tomorrow, but where on earth am I going to get one in Madagascar?  It looks like I will be specialising in “Natural Light” photography until we get to South Africa.

Half a Fish

We upped anchor at 09:00 and set off on the 35 miles trip to Sakatia.  There wasn’t much wind at first, so while we were motoring, I made a few fishing lures and put out two fishing lines.  At our half way mark, we had two simultaneous hits.  Glenys started to haul in the hand line, while I reeled in the rod.  

Unfortunately, the lines were crossed, so I let my line out a little, locked it off and helped Glenys bring in a nice Bonito.  It took several minutes before I could haul my fish in, which was another Bonito, but by this time a shark had grabbed it, so I was left with just the head - bugger!   

The afternoon sea-breeze kicked in and we were able to sail for a couple of hours.  We looked at the bay where Sakatia Lodge is located, but there was a big swell coming in from the south-west, so we motored a couple of miles further north and anchored at the east side of Sakatia at 13°18.17S 048°10.74E in 8 metres on good holding mud.  “Red Herring” and “Full Circle” are hiding here as well.

We invited Paul and Monique from “Full Circle” over for a few sun-downers.  They have a Hallberg Rassy 46 and we first met them in the Galapagos Islands three years ago.  We’ve spent time with them in various places around the world, but we haven’t seen them for over a year, so we had a lot of catching up to do.  

While “Full Circle” were in the Maldives, Glenys contacted Monique and asked her to buy a small model boat from a particular island - Glenys had seen one, but hadn’t been able to buy one at the time.  Monique carried it 2,000 miles for us, Bless Her... 

5 September 2017   Sakatia , Madagascar
We had a quiet day.  I spent most of my day on board “Full Circle” getting their satellite phone to send and receive email.  My first challenge was that their laptop was all in Dutch.  I was trying to do some fairly technical things - installing device drivers and configuring their network.  Did you know that the Dutch for “Device Manager” is “Apparaat Beheerder” and “Cancel” is “Annuleer”?  Well, it was a nightmare, so we decided to change the computer’s language to English because both Paul and Monique speak excellent English.

Repairing the outboard

This seemingly simple task was also a nightmare because we had to download a “Language Pack”, which on our poor internet connection took ages…  After lunch, I had another go and succeeded in sending and receiving emails through the satellite phone, which was satisfying.

In the evening, we were invited over to “Full Circle” for dinner and did lots more reminiscing.

6 September 2017   Sakatia to Crater Bay, Madagascar
Our plan was to sail to Crater Bay and then onto Hellville.  Both of these places have a bit of a reputation for theft of outboards, so we stowed our 15hp outboard on deck and fitted the smaller 2.5hp outboard to our dinghy.  We don’t use this small outboard very much and when I turned on the fuel, the fuel valve fell to pieces and petrol flooded out.  I managed to stop the flow of petrol and then lifted the outboard into the dinghy to try to repair it.

After removing the valve, I found that a nut had fallen off the back of a spindle.  Fortunately, it’s a simple valve, so I was able to find a nut that fits and reassemble the valve.  After refitting the valve it only took half a dozen pulls to get the outboard started, which is a miracle since we haven’t run it for over six months.

We were able to get going by 10:00 and motored around to Crater Bay, with the light wind on our nose all the way.  Crater Bay is a mass of yachts at anchor and on moorings, so we anchored to the east of everyone at 13°23.98S 048°13.25E in 12m of water on mud.

After lunch, we went ashore, where there’s a small scruffy boat yard and floating dinghy dock owned by the “yacht club”.  There’s also a small restaurant, which is a favourite watering hole for the local yacht residents and transient cruisers.

Dhows in Crater Bay

The bay has long been a port for local boats, so there are dozens of traditional Dhows moored along the shoreline.  These wooden boats carry cargos of Satranas Palm leaves, sacks of river sand, wooden poles, gravel, etc., to the island of Nosy Be.  The Dhows are predominately sailed and it is a joy to see them weaving their way through the yacht anchorage, using the sea and land breezes to full effect.  

There’s a dusty road leaving from the yacht club, which goes past a thriving community, handling the building materials off loaded form the Dhows.  This isn’t a port with warehouses and cranes, the people carry the goods from the Dhows, mostly balanced on their heads and store the materials under wooden shelters, waiting for distribution across the island.  

We walked along the dusty road past wooden homes and small shops, until we came to a T-junction in the middle of the small town of Madirokely, which is spread along the main road.  The town is a strip of small shops lining the road, selling the usual range of items.  Turning left took us to a tourist beach, which had little of interest.  

Walking back past the T-Junction, we found the local vegetable market, which was very poor.  The place was swarming with flies, settling on the dried goods and vegetables.  One young lady was sitting outside on the floor with a huge bowl of whitebait fish, frantically swatting away the thousands of flies buzzing around her and the fish.  The meat was crawling.  We bought some tomatoes and ran away.

The small supermarket on the main road was surprisingly good, with a fair selection of items, including a refrigerated meat counter, which was fly-less, so Glenys bought some chicken.  They had some nice bread and we stocked up on as much beer and drinks as we could bear to carry down the long dusty road back to the boat.