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

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Madagascar nights

Marcy has been cruising down the west coast of Madagascar for a few amazing weeks, enjoying magnificent weather and truly interesting scenery. In some ways, it's as if we'd somehow been granted a chance to cruise a coast a hundred years ago, in that there are few powered vessels to be seen, and not much evidence of habitation. The thatch roofs and natural materials of most buildings, mostly only huts, make them almost invisible from a distance. Fishing and shipping is carried out under sail or paddle,
and since the roads are so bad, most goods move by boat. Dhows and schooners, pirogues and canoes all daily sail these waters. There is absolutely no light pollution at night. Aside from a couple of lighthouses at the major capes, there are no navigation aids, lighted or otherwise. The winds are made for sailing: consistent in direction and strength. The winds are thermal: a sea breeze roughly out of the west springs up in the morning, and increases all day to about 20 or 25 kts at sundown, then
dies. After a calm, a land breeze of 5 to 10 kts fills in, and lasts until sunrise. The local boats are engineless, and ghost in the lightest breezes. Marcy also - being short of fuel, as well as enjoying maneuvering under sail, we have taken it as a point of honor to use our motor as little as possible.

In the north half of the island, many nice sheltered anchorages are available. South of Cap St Andre, roughly halfway down the west coast, shelter is a rare thing. The anchorages are either on exposed offshore coral and sand islands or equally exposed stops in the shallow mud of the "mainland" side.

Since the charts are not very accurate here, we try to avoid moving at night. We hadn't realized how interesting and sometimes difficult the lack of artificial light makes cruising. A couple of nights ago we anchored just before sunset near a reef, and were rudely awakened at one AM as Marcy's keel tapped the bottom. The land breeze and associated chop had filled in, the boat had swung, and we had contacted a reef that the chart claimed was some distance away. With sleepy eyes and no moon we had
a difficult time maintaining a sense of direction. Even though a nearby island had hundreds of people living on it, and a major city was across the channel, no lights were showing. The most dramatic visual indicator of direction at night has been the heat lightning over the main island. With only sporadic lightning and our urgent need to get our bearings, Ginger finally spotted a faint light on shore, as we got the compass light turned on, and extricated ourselves from the reef. After a pleasant
sail in the light night wind we anchored twenty miles south the next morning in the light of day (10AM) - enough light to know exactly how far from the reef we were. The lesson re-learned here: anchoring near coral is a thing best done with the sun high in the sky. If we're out after dark, we'll stick to the safe and easy anchorages on the mainland side.

We plan to stay on the coast two or three more nights and then will set out across the Mozambique Channel at about 21 degrees south. It's about 890 miles to Durban from there and we expect consistent winds at that latitude and south.

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