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_________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________ Marcy home Walvis Bay Angling Club club AFASyn Ushuaia Marcy and crew

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Madagascar Dhows

Caution: read no further if boats are boring to you……

dhow on port

While Marcy lay at anchor in the harbor at Nosy Be, we watched graceful lateen rigged dhows come and go. They are entirely engineless, and supply Hellville’s daily needs – bringing produce, building materials, livestock, fish and people. The dhows arrive loaded and leave light.

dhows passing

As they approach the quay, the sail is dropped and the crew pushes the dhow the rest of the way in with poles. This dhow is loaded with sacks of rice.

poling dhow

The quay is thick with unloading dhows, cargo and people.

rice at quay

unloading lumber

unloading lumber 2

Waiting for a turn to unload, or waiting to depart for the return trip, scores of dhows ride at anchor just off the quay.

dhows at anchor

As sailors, we were fascinated by the big lateen sails. This can be a windy part of the world - how is so much sail area tamed? How are dhows tacked and jibed, how is sail reefed, set and doused? We decided to charter a small dhow for a day and find out first hand.

Marcy's charter boat

We boarded early in the morning, poled out of the harbor, and set out for a nearby island in fluky light wind. At times we were becalmed. Our sailors showed immense patience, no doubt strengthened by years of sailing without motors.

becalmed dhow

As we picked up speed, the water burbled cheerfully at the stem.

cutwater dhow

Ginger settled in under the umbrella, while our captain and crew sprawled on the quarterdeck.

comfy Ginge

We saw all the familiar operations – everything we do on Marcy, but a bit different. For example, we pump the bilges by pushing a button on Marcy. Our dhow was pretty leaky. The dhow crew bails first with a small bucket, then pours the bilge water into a bigger bucket.

bailing dhow 1

Then the bigger bucket is poured on deck in a special spot.

bailing dhow 2

Then the water pours overboard through a scupper.

bailing dhow 3

On Marcy, we cook on a propane stove. On the dhow, a fire is lit under the foredeck.

dhow lunch 1

dhow lunch 2

Rainwater is collected and stored in this barrel.

dhow water tank

The blocks and parrels are all hand fabricated, a bit crude looking but strong and functional.

dhow parrels 1

dhow parrels 2

dhow block

After anchoring at the island for lunch, we hauled anchor and headed back to town.

hauling dhow anchor

We accomplished our goal and learned all about the lateen rig – tacked only in very light winds, they wear about (jibe) usually. This dhow has let the sheet go before jibing, and will let the sail whip like a flag as the yard is moved to the other side.

jibing dhow

They rarely reef, either relying on whippy yards to relieve wind pressure, or partially lowering the yard (downwind only) or hitching the sail near the top of the yard like this dhow.

reefed dhow

Just like a racing dingy, the sheet was kept ready to let fly in case of emergency.

dhow sheet cleat

Back at the quay at low tide we noticed leaky dhows getting caulked by their crews. A fire melts the pitch while oakum is pounded into the seams.

caulking dhow 1 caulking dhow 2

The boats are used hard, and may not last long. We understood our dhow was only a year old. It looked much older! At low tide there is evidence of many dhows that will never sail again.

dhow remains Hellville

We felt lucky to observe such ancient technology in daily use. The dhows are graceful and practical, and it was great fun to watch them go about their business.

sunset dhow

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